Colonel Panter-Downes: Not a Warrior Army?


Greetings readers. Welcome to another discussion piece provided by our British Army officer corresponding from America. Today’s piece challenges the rhetoric of warrior self-identification within the US Army particularly and its armed forces more broadly and questions its effects. I think there is something very poignant to questioning whether those ideals which are meant to describe the positive qualities of these institutions and their people may not in fact do more harm than good. And it further bears considering whether such an identity is necessary to serve military needs. Remember that when assembling the army which would go on to contend successfully against the British Army, as well as defeat at critical junctures, George Washington did not set exquisite ideals as his object, merely the utterly reasonable Respectable, in their discipline, skills, and behaviour.  And it is arguable that even accepting the improvements to military technique by the ranks, officers and units, the American military establishment retained that quality of performance until well into the 20th century. So, read the Colonel’s piece, check out the links to the Strategy Bridge conversation and join the conversation on Twitter at #CCLKOW.


The colonel looks left, he looks right, he checks his “six” and confirms, no warriors seem present. There are a lot of very hard-working staff officers masquerading as cubicle gophers, but apparently no warriors.

To be honest when I arrived here to be ensconced in the warm embrace of the US Army one of the bigger differences that I was expecting was that of the US Army’s Warrior Ethos.  As an outsider looking in from afar it is pervasive, but from the inside looking out the effect seems less certain. Indeed the recent CCLKOW and Strategy Bridge Twitter discussion on the military profession elicited but two tangential references to Warriors that I could find.

From the service publication, Army Leadership: “The Warrior Ethos refers to the professional attitudes and beliefs that characterize the American Soldier. It reflects a Soldier’s selfless commitment to the nation, mission, unit, and fellow Soldiers.” (ADRP 6-22, 3-21) While the Service Ethos is comprised of the entire list, those attributes pertaining on to the warrior are highlighted in bold below:

I am an American Soldier.

I am a Warrior and a member of a Team.

I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values.

I will always place the mission first.                      

I will never accept defeat.                                       

I will never quit.                                                        

I will never leave a fallen comrade.            

 I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.

I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.

I am an expert and I am a professional.

I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy, the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.

I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.

I am an American soldier.

(ADRP 6-22 Fig 3-1)

The US military often refers to its personnel as “Warriors”, the recruiting brochures for Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines I browsed last week all referred to their personnel in such terms. Many of the motivational posters that I see on the walls adorning my camp reference this warrior identity and LTG McMaster’s erudite 2014 Veterans Day address to Georgetown University explicitly referenced both a warrior identity and the warrior ethos. Yet in my day to day dealings I work with a fine bunch of professional men and women who are more like than not, to the men and women I serve with in the UK, and in the UK we certainly do not see ourselves as warriors.

We are divided in many ways both by the Atlantic and by a not so common language and culture where the differences can be slight but can lead to misunderstandings large. On arriving here in the United States it took me a while to realise that one cannot hire a car (but renting is permissible) and that while we both refer to ‘tea’ as a beverage one is hot, can be drunk with milk and sugar, and the other is cold and comes with ice-cubes and a life changing amount of fructose corn syrup. Perhaps this reference to ‘Warriors’ is of the same ilk? A different way of expressing a concept we have in the British Army; except the British Army does not have anything that corresponds to either the Soldier’s Creed or the Warrior’s Ethos. This is partly a reflection on the more tribal nature of the British Army where the identities and ethos are bound much more closely with the Regiment than with the organisation as a whole and partly cultural in that as a society we tend to prefer the implicit to explicit (we are the Nation that lacks a written constitution). I think however that it is also of form and function. We have toyed with the idea of a Soldier’s Creed before in discussions, but it jarred with who we are and there did not seem to be a need for it. The British Army does articulate Values and Standards (Courage, Discipline, Respect for Others, Integrity, Loyalty and Selfless Commitment), but not a creed per se and it does not explicitly inculcate a Warrior Ethos or identity.

In articulating its Values and Standards the British Army states: “It is operational effectiveness that requires the Army to have Values and Standards that are different from society – ‘need to be different’ not right to be ‘different’.” Herein is the heart of the matter. How different from society is its military? My perception prior to arriving here was that the US Army’s Warrior Ethos would be a marked departure from the British Army’s ethos, but its effect is much more understated than that, certainly where I work. But if my perception is that the US Army was very different, how far does that perception go? Is it widespread? At a time of growing debate on both sides of the Atlantic on the seeming growing rift between society and its military, as much a matter of scale as anything else, does the self-identification of the military as Warriors help or hinder in binding the military to society?

Warrior to me is more than being a soldier. A warrior to me lives to fight, a soldier fights for a living. The language of being a warrior is closely linked to the language of caste and status within societies (one thinks of Spartan warriors and Roman soldiers) and it seems to me that in self-identifying as warriors the US Army may be fostering a perception of itself as a breed apart from society as a whole that is entirely unintended, but very real.


So the questions for this week are:

Are we Warriors or are we military professionals?

Does the language and identification of Warriors separate us from wider society? If so, are the benefits of the identity worth that cost?



[Simultaneously posted at CCLKOW on Medium.]




“If You Tolerate This…”

“…then your children will be next” – the chorus of The Manic Street Preachers’ 1998 ode to (Welsh) foreign fighters going abroad (to Spain) to kill people (Fascists) because of their beliefs. It also happens to be the kind of sentiment that is currently driving anti-Islamic/immigrant demonstrations across Europe, most notably in Germany this week, many of whom were quick to jump on the killing of 12 people by Islamic terrorists in Paris 2 days ago. If you happen to be non-French and would like to get up to speed on French counter-terrorism, check out War Studies’ own Frank Foley, and his book “Countering Terrorism in Britain and France”.

Last night Andrew Parker, Director General of MI5, gave a speech highlighting the attacks (full text) that displayed a degree of caution (“It is too early for us to come to judgements about the precise details or origin of the attack…”) as well as a call for, well, the sustainment of communications intercept powers granted in emergency legislation last year (“we need the capability to shine a light into the activities of the worst individuals who pose the gravest threats”). It is, in my mind, a decent speech – one that we should expect from a person in Parker’s role – and highlighted MI5’s commitment to oversight and accountability. It is also, I think, a speech that will persuade no-one who isn’t already a believer in this institutional commitment.

The bit I liked in Parker’s speech was a turn of phrase – “crude but potentially deadly plots” – to describe a number of recent attacks. You know, the ones defined as “lone wolf” attacks, or as the metaphor of the lone terrorist is now being stretched, “wolf pack” terrorism. Lone individuals can do a lot of damage – see Anders Breivik, Timothy McVeigh, or Ted Kaczynski – but the spate of individuals committing murder in the name of Islam (much to the horror of many Muslims) is seen as a growing threat to the ordinary way of life in the West. Something must be done.

The reason I liked Parker’s turn of phrase is that he somewhat unintentionally put his finger on the limits of his service (and all security forces in democratic states). Almost every single adult is capable of carrying out a “crude but potentially deadly” terrorist attack. It doesn’t take much training to stab someone, like Roshanara Choudhry, who stabbed the MP Stephen Timms. If you ask any A&E doctor or nurse, they’ll probably give you a sober description of quite how fragile the human body is when it encounters sharp objects. Any society where humans possess some degree of agency will be full to the brim of people capable of “crude but potentially deadly” attacks on one another. Guns help, of course, as do explosives, and training. Restricting access to these is the right and proper function of a government. But nothing can save us, 100%, from our fellow citizens. The kind of society in which individuals could not replicate Kaczynski, Choudhry, et al would be a prison. As Rebecca Solnit wrote (on a different topic): “the perfect is not only the enemy of the good; it’s also the enemy of the realistic, the possible, and the fun.” Unless a person cuts themself off from all human contact – like a hermit or sociopathic executive in an ad for premium London property – then they have to put up with imperfect safety from others.

There is little doubt in my mind that in the coming days and months politicians, analysts and securo-crats will offer up any number of “solutions” to lone wolf terrorism. Preventing general access to guns, explosives and training is good, but that will never stop the truly driven: nothing will. More to the point, there’s nothing that can prevent said lone individuals from taking cheap hits at society. Regardless of the motives of all involved, your average muslim waking up to find the internet flooded with offensive images of the prophet Mohammed is likely to be offended, just as if Christians were to wake up to a billion re-tweets of mocking death metal depictions of Jesus, or if atheists wake up to find the world’s papers full of images celebrating executions for blasphemy around the world. All that offence and division from a single attack, conducted by a handful of people. That said, such offence isn’t a knock out blow, and for the life of me, I can’t see how lone individuals ever could land one.

The point, I think, is that democracy survives on the tensions that states with blasphemy laws seek to eradicate. Most average people can reconcile the right to free speech and the general principle of “don’t be an offensive idiot” (Ross Douthat has a great piece on Blasphemy re Paris here). Democratic states are all the better for that, even if it does mean that, from time to time, cowards will murder people in cold blood. We tolerate the latent threat of our fellow citizens to our own lives, and those of our children, because there is no way to eradicate it without changing the fundamental principles of freedom that underpin our society.


‘If you can keep your head': Some intriguing reading for a new year

Hello, Dear Reader. Have you noticed just how swell 2015 is so far? Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose and all that, I suppose.

Today I want to share three pieces of writing that have come out recently. They are all worthy of your reading, albeit for different reasons.

1. James Fallows’s “The Tragedy of the American Military” in The Atlantic.  This is a compelling piece of long-form journalism.  It goes beyond the usual platitudes and begins to get at the underlying challenges facing not only civil-military relations in the US, but also with American foreign and defence policy and practice in general.  Fallows’s characterisation of America as a ‘Chickenhawk Nation’ is powerful, and to my mind, largely justified.  That is not to say that Fallows gets it all correct; I, for one, am not a fan of the idea of a return to compulsory military service.  However, Fallows does include, in his blog, a number of the comments and critiques shared by a number of his readers.  The article and the responses are well worth your attention.

As this is an academic blog (how could we forget that, Dear Reader?), I would say that what Fallows says is not new.  Andrew Bacevich, for instance, has covered, in scholarly detail, the issue of American militarism in a number of books.  I would recommend his (originally published in 2005) aptly titled The New American Militarism: How Americans are Seduced By War.  Christopher Coker’s Men at War: What Fiction Tells Us About Conflict treats the various roles that the military has played, across times and cultures in more detail than Fallows can in the beginning of his article .

2.   Nassim Nicholas Taleb and Gregory F. Treverton’s “The Calm Before the Storm” in Foreign Affairs.   I found this article, like most of Taleb’s writing, to be simultaneously intriguing, thought provoking, and incredibly annoying.  The idea that stability, in and of itself, should not be seen as the ‘be all and end all’, as it often masks (what Taleb calls elsewhere) ‘silent risks’, is both wise and timely.  Perhaps even more important is Taleb’s reminder that prediction (based on an assumption of predictability) is not as important (or possible) as flexibility.  Amen.  However, the application of this idea to ‘everything’ from teacups, to bodybuilders, to firms, to economies, to ecologies, to geopolitics cannot be assumed to hold true, at least not without serious empirical proof (and not just endless ‘thought experiment’ and mathematical QED ad infinitum).  This article is a follow on to Taleb’s previous Foreign Affairs article of 2011, and an extension of his longer, most recent book Antifragile.  While the shorter length of the article means that some of the key concepts are glossed over, at least we are spared the unbearable snark that almost drowns out the strong thinking in the fuller, book-length treatments.

3.  Steven Pinker and Andrew Mack’s “The World is Not Falling Apart” in Salon.  If we are to follow Kipling’s suggestion and not panic in the face of seemingly dismal and disintegrating circumstances, then perhaps reading Pinker and Mack’s piece is just the thing.  According to the authors, the world is not coming to an end.  Indeed, across any number of indices, we have never had it so good.  I can not help but agree with the conclusion, “an evidence-based mindset on the state of the world would bring many benefits”, but at the same time, it is somehow hard to be convinced.  The ‘data’ don’t fit the worldview, and vice versa.  I am sure this an indication of a deep-seated shortcoming on my part.  The read was instructive, though, for it highlights that emotions, first impressions, and the ‘facts’ are not always in alignment (as my astrologer reminds me on a daily basis).  Take a look and I leave it to you, Dear Reader, to make up your own mind.

Here’s to another 356 days of 2015, whatever they bring.


The Officers' Mess, 5th Manchesters, Halluin Art IWMARTLD196

Colonel Panter-Downes: A Messy Business

In this week’s installment of blogs intended to generate professional discussion, we have a bit of fun from our British officer abroad in America.  It is the week of the holidays, so a piece on the Mess is perfectly in the spirit of the times.

This is a subject near and dear to my scholarly heart as I have been researching and writing on military dining for several years now. I have dined in a British Army mess and it is an institution. In fact, until WWII the US Army boasted a mess tradition that, if not so bound to unit as merely to officer ranks, was a close rival to that of the British Army, particularly in expeditionary settings. (1)  The influx of citizens into uniform in the WWII kicked over most of the traces of a custom that had existed since Washington’s family table in the Revolutionary War. Although “O Clubs” remained in the post-WWII Army, their appeal – as places to dine and drink socio-professionally has declined. On the other side of the landpower divide, the Marine Corps as well does not institutionalize socializing. There are, however, the odd turns in both the Army and Marine Corps when Mess Nights are held. Often formal affairs, these can be conducted with and without guests. It is, for example, an institution of the Basic School – Marine Corps finishing school for new lieutenants – to celebrate the conclusion with a Mess Night. And I know that while he was 7th Marines CO, the Colonel Mattis held field mess nights during certain regimental exercises at 29 Palms, though these were anything but formal affairs. However, there is no regular socializing to which officers or enlisted are bound or beckoned. Given the value identified in the bonds forged and renewed at the table, this absence is to be considered.

So, raise an imagined glass of Port in toast to our Colonel and enter the world of the British Army mess. And as it’s the holidays, I would simply ask that our band of merry discussants sip and ruminate on the role of professional socializing in the US armed forces. Where the Colonel identifies the value of the Mess for adding “soul” to the officer, consider where it is that the same is shaped for the American officer shaped. Add your comments to the hashtag, #CCLKOW.


The Colonel enjoys working with the Americans.  I find them professional, courteous and mostly lacking the cynicism that is every British officer’s birthright.  What has fascinated me the most about living and working in the United States are those nuances of culture, both social and organisational that delineate the two countries and armies.  It is very easy for a British officer to think that he understands his US counterparts, such is the relationship built up over the past decade of conflict and the prevalence of US culture in the UK, but the truth is that we are subtly divided and it is often in the small things that large consequences can be seen.  One of these matters is that of Messes.

I live and work in a large US Army base.  I doubt that it is the largest base, but it certainly is not the smallest; by UK standards it would be a super-garrison.  Having lived and worked here for some time it was with a growing sense of disbelief and not a little dismay that I realised that there was no Officers’ Mess on base, in fact there were no Messes at all.  A British Officers’ Mess is analogous to an American Officers’ Club.  If the general staff is the brains and the Senior NCO (SNCO) corps the backbone of an army, then the British mess system is its heart and soul.   There are messes for junior NCOs, SNCOS and officers and they are present in every unit, HQ and garrison.  The best glimpse of what a Mess means to a British officer can be glimpsed in this excerpt from John McMasters’ “Bugles and a Tiger”:

In the mess lived an echo from silver trumpets of the past. There were impressions of light and tone muted and wavering as in a cathedral under the sea.  At dinner the Colours, cased and capped and crossed, stood like huge black rockets against the wall behind the president.  On guest nights they were unfurled and lit the room with the embroidered battle honours of two hundred years.  In their silken richness I saw all that glory, and all of those muskets buried in the mud of forgotten fields, and all those men – my uncle’s generation, Major Tom’s young friends – who had died, broken on barbed wire.

This regiment had a long association with India.  As the 32nd Foot, it held the residency of Luckow through the famous siege of 1857, during the Mutiny.  When the walls crumbled the mess silver, crated, was used to plug the gaps.  At dinner we now ate off some of that silver; the rest, the pieces that had been twisted by enemy fire, hung in glass cases on the walls.  Among them was a soup tureen with a hole in it where a musket ball had entered – and dents where the ball had ricocheted round and round – and the leaden ball itself.  A little farther along hung a long row of bronze medals, each with a short piece of dull crimson ribbon.  These were the Victoria Crosses won by the men of the 32nd at Lucknow. So, in the glow of the Lucknow silver and the self-effacing sheen of the Lucknow Crosses, we laughed and talked and quarreled and felt ourselves lapped in the warm continuity of tradition…(2)

For a British Officer on commissioning, the Mess will be home. (3) He will live in a Mess until such stage as he is either married or of such seniority that his presence is likely to cramp the style of his younger brethren.  I use the term “brethren” deliberately because even without the bonds of shared campaigning the Mess forges a family ethos.  Officers live and socialise together even before they fight together and as a result of these shared social endeavours and not least “in vino veritas” very quickly get to know the whole person and form extraordinarily tight bonds very quickly.  I still count as three of my closest friends the officers I joined my regiment with over twenty year ago.  Only I remain serving but we remain inextricably linked not just by shared bonds of experience but of friendship and family.  As subalterns we ate together and drank together, we became field marshals at the bar in the evening and reverted to subalterns at breakfast in the morning; we saw the best and the worst of each other in the three years we lived together before assignments split us apart.   I was there when they met their girlfriends, present when they married their wives and celebrated the arrival of their children; they are my extended family.

That is not to say that the Americans do not socialise, they do. In fact they are very sociable and generous with their hospitality. I have been on receipt of numerous invites (and I am always open to more, especially if there is red wine or brisket involved), but the socialising is very much individual and not collective, an officer will invite friends and colleagues around for drinks and a barbecue. What I have seen very little evidence for is collective socialising in manner with which the British Army conducts it. The U.S. Military seems to socialise off base (metaphorically), not on base. Whereas the British place the Mess at the centre of base and unit life.

The Mess is also where the junior officer will absorb the ethos of the regiment.  Its history will stare down at him from the pictures and trophies on the walls, the silver will tell tales of past campaigns and characters and even the furniture will normally have a story to be tell.  All this the officer will be expected come to know and in time cherish.  The Mess is where guidance is given, standards are elaborated on and very often measured.  An officer who sets poor standards at home, is hardly likely to set good standards elsewhere. As there is no rank in the Mess, at least not in mine, mentoring is both relaxed and pervasive. (4)  Messes are the trustees of both standards and traditions. If Sandhurst makes the officer, the Mess refines him, adding polish and lustre; Sandhurst builds character while Messes add soul. (5)

There is another aspect to messes and mess life that is often overlooked, and that is of networking.  Messes socialise both formally and informally.  Most messes will hold one, if not two balls a year as well as regular Regimental Guest Nights.  At Regimental Guest Nights the unit and its officers are showcased to guests and relationships either established or confirmed.  Guests are normally from the wider military and garrison community and usually chosen on the basis that they have dealings with the unit; the nights are seen as a way of expressing hospitality and building constructive relationships.  Guests are formally dined and then less formally entertained afterwards. (6)  Informal socialising is simply a matter of the mess bar and common courtesy. Your mess, whether at unit, HQ or garrison level is your home and one should always be hospitable towards one’s guests. What this means in practice is that British officers socialise vertically and laterally within the chain of command and where officers socialise and wine flows so networks are established and the “good idea fairy” springs to life.  My previously recounted expedition to the Hindu Kush was the result of a Regimental Guest Night and said good idea fairy settling on the shoulder of the very senior (albeit retired) officer sitting to the (now) Colonel’s right and recounting when he was on the North West Frontier. (7)  It is at such gatherings that the brigade deputy chief of staff (S4 in US parlance) can for example hear the solution to his logistics issue from the infantry platoon commander who unaware of the issue until then, had a sister whose company solved precisely the same issue the previous year.  In these gatherings alliances are made, deals are struck and things get done; juniors speak to senior and both esoteric knowledge and hidden talents can shine brightly.

What does this mean? Well as an intimate observer the non-deployed U.S. Military does rather seem like a nine-to-five organisation in a cultural sense. There is not the degree of social intimacy that is found in the British Army. Partly because of the lack of a Mess, but also it must be understood, partly the result of 13 gruelling years of campaigning during which the focus was on allowing individuals family time in between deployments. The current US military is without doubt a team, forged in the crucible of operations since 2001, but I wonder if it has lost sight of what it means to be a family, and indeed if it was ever thus? For while I am not blind to the weaknesses of the British Army, one of the strengths of our system is that we remain at heart familial in our social ethos.

So I am somewhat nonplussed by the lack of a mess. Pragmatically I wonder just how to Americans socialise laterally and vertically across their profession; where and how are networks formed? Culturally I wonder, if not in the Mess, then just where does the heart and soul of the US military reside?  Both these matters are best pondered with family and friends, a glass of Islay whisky in hand, over the coming weeks as 2014 draws to a close and 2015 stands to. So I wish you all a Happy Christmas and a safe and prosperous New Year, whether you are at the spear’s tip or the families that keep us all strong.




1 Although lengthy, this excerpt from a Fort Leavenworth 1917 manual of Customs of Service prepared by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Miller provides a thoughtful and thorough explication of the form in the US Army at that moment:

The main purpose of a regimental mess is to promote cordiality, comradeship, and esprit de corps, especially regimental esprit de corps, and while such a mess is social in its nature, the meals, especially the dinner, are, in a way, semi-official functions. Do not consider it merely a place where the bachelor officers dine, but rather as the regimental hearthstone where at certain intervals it is compulsory on all the regimental officers to dine together. It should be the place where the old regimental colors are displayed, where all the old regimental relics in the shape of books, pictures, plates, etc., are on file to be looked up and referred to. It should be the place where the colonel and the lieutenant meet in the social equality of gentlemen in that camaraderie and good fellowship which teaches the youngster respect and affection for his seniors, and the elders, kindness and consideration for the juniors; it should be the place where are forged the links that bind the regimental front unbroken to the outside world, and where in their own privacy their can deal with questions affecting the honor and tradition so dear to them; it should be the place where dwells the spirit and the soul of the principles that have made the regiment and that have preserved intact its prestige, its honor, its tradition. There is no single means more full of bright and promising good for esprit de corps than your regimental mess on a firm and zeal-inspiring basis. (Lieutenant Colonel Charles Miller, USA, The Customs of the Service; also Some Suggestions and Advice, p. 16, emphasis added.)

2 Reprint Society, London 1957, John Masters “Bugles and a Tiger” p. 26-27.

3 I will focus on the officers’ messes as that is where my experience is, but many sentiments hold true for JNCO and SNCO messes.

4 I will focus on the officers’ messes as that is where my experience is, but many sentiments hold true for JNCO and SNCO messes.

5 The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, where all British Army officers undergo training.

6 ‘Bucket Reels” and “Fireball Hockey” were both favoured forms of post-dinner entertainment in my mess, quite probably due to the high likelihood of physical harm being incurred by participants in both.

7 Which gives some indication of how senior and retired the officer was, the Colonel is not that old.


‘O four-foot brother': Onolatry at Christmas Time

Well hello there, Dear Reader.  Yes, it has been a long time.   Technical problems (which, you won’t be surprised, baffled all of us historians and social scientists here at KOW) have kept us from our (self) appointed rounds.  That ends today.

I wanted to post something timely, something that combined both the Yuletide and subject matter near and dear to the Kings of War readership.    I’ve done it before, and some of those posts, upon my re-reading them–with a smallish sherry in my hand–seem worthy of re-posting.  Consider this one the Post of Christmas Past.  Just as good today as it was when it was first written, I dare say.

In that vein, you almost got a story about the effect of surveillance on the thorny problem of pecan theft, but I thought better of it.  What with North Korea and all the rest, I reckoned you would have had enough about nuts this year.

I could have done a bit on the fable-ulous WWI Christmas truce footie match, but everybody’s doing that just now.  Besides, you can see original footage below. Don’t those men look old, Dear Reader?  There is an interesting story behind this film, about how an alliance of four unlikely companions was put asunder by the actions of one reckless outsider.  The result was, simply put, terrible; the implications would plague the world for decades to come.  The horror.  Beyond describing, really.  Wings.  The Travelling Wilburys.  It makes me shudder just to think about it, so much so that I need another small(ish) sherry to just to screw up enough courage to carry on.

So, no Dear Reader, neither nuts nor football for you today, I am afraid.  So what, I hear you cry, what instead?  By way of answer to that I have but two words: Donkeys.

[Yes, donkeys.  Donkey would be one word–more than one is donkeys.  ‘Are’ donkeys.]

Donkeys are very much tied up with the Christmas story. (Although one would rather not comment on this particular specimen, if you don’t mind terribly.)  Some versions have it that Mary rode to Bethlehem on a donkey and that a donkey was present in the manger when the ‘Reason for the Day Off’ was born.  As a matter of fact, donkeys are implicated in the stories of both the beginning and the end of Jesus’s life: he rode to Jerusalem on a donkey on what would be known as Palm Sunday.  Donkey here stands for humble and lowly.  All good things to keep in mind at Christmas.

Donkeys, too, are immensely involved in military affairs, not as mounts, but as beasts of burden.  Used from Antiquity (the Egyptians and Roman armies were famous for their use of these hardy animals), they are still in use today, in areas such as Pakistan and Afghanistan.  There are legendary tales of those attending Quetta staff college needing to master the mathematics of donkey to ammunition to fodder ratios as the logistics component of their final exercise.  There are even plans to create robotic pack-‘animals’, modeled on…can you guess?  [Seriously?!  What have I been prattling on about for the last four hundred words, Dear Reader.  Yes, very good: donkeys.]  Donkey here stands for reliable and robust.  Both very good attributes for things martial.

Military donkeys are not restricted to utilitarian purposes, though: thanks to my subscription to Modern Farmer, I read recently a touching story of rendition, whereby US Marines kidnapped a donkey from Fallujah and took it home to Iowa in 2008, where it died four years later.  The Australian army has its own myth, that of Simpson and his donkey, who together rescued wounded soldiers at Gallipoli.  Donkey here stands for friendly and faithful.

Of course, there are more pejorative connotations for donkeys, too.  Old King Midas had his ears turned into those of a donkey by the god Apollo and Pinocchio suffers the same fate in Disney’s 1940 film.  Apocryphal or not, no one can (thanks in part to books like this one) think of the British Army of the First World War without conjuring up an image of ‘lions led by donkeys’. Donkey here stands for stubborn and stupid.

But for all its association with simplicity and plodding, there is a sinister side to donkeys, too.  They have been used as delivery systems for IEDs in Lebanon (1985), in the West Bank and Gaza (1995-2014), in Iraq (2004), and in Afghanistan (2009, 2013).  Interestingly, one of the earliest uses of exploding donkeys is attributed to the Union Army in the New Mexico campaign in 1862.

So, Dear Reader, do not  think badly of our friend Equus asinus this Christmas.  Bear in mind, perhaps, G.K. Chesterton’s donkey, who rises above the usual humble portrayal, to say

Fools! For I also had my hour

And from hour, we move to years, which also has a donkey connection via a process of hemiteleia, which allows me to wish you, one and all, in my own right and on behalf of my fellow contributors here at Kings of War, the very best for the rest of 2014 and a safe and rewarding 2015.


War Museums, Huh, What are they Good For?

It appears that the government has picked a great time to slash £4 million from the budget of the Imperial War Museum, threatening the closure of its library, and ceasing support for educational visits. The ghost of Malcolm Tucker is probably head butting a table (or PR flunky) in Whitehall on hearing that someone chose the centenary of World War 1 to start hacking off the IWM’s core social functions. I’ll freely admit my bias in this matter – I used the IWM library for my undergraduate dissertation, and the place was my first exposure to working with archival sources. There is also the academic equivalent of ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’ – a research library closing is a cause for concern, regardless of its content.

The argument will play out in the same way that these arguments tend to play out: the government will say “Why should the taxpayer pay for these things?” and then a multitude of those interested will fight, perhaps in vain, to preserve an irreplaceable bit of British culture. I say irreplaceable, because it is. I have no doubt that a home could be found for the IWM’s collection somewhere, but removing the library from the institution pretty much hollows out the IWM. A national museum without links to academia, or school-level education, isn’t a museum: it’s a warehouse that charges an admission fee. I’m sure this fits with the contemporary role of cultural institutions as tourist honeypots, but it makes me uneasy.

The reason for my unease is that I have no doubt that the government will encourage private donors and philanthropists to help preserve the IWM’s functions. War, and national memory of it, will be increasingly defined by the whims of private donors. The top floor of the new IWM is a monument to this vision: one man’s trophy collection of Victoria Crosses, presented in a boys’ own history style reminiscent of a school playground. It is, to the best of my recollection, the only exhibition where I have encountered explanations urging the visitor to disregard context and revel in personal stories. Oddly enough, my BA dissertation was a comparative study of the politics of the Victoria Cross and the Medal of Honor. It was hours of study in the IWM’s now-threatened library that gave me the perspective on the changing use of ‘heroes’ and heroism in the decades since both awards were created. Without experienced curatorial staff able to explain the contents of the IWM to school children, the narratives written on walls will become the only narratives that they take home with them. There will be no one to explain to them why the hell people were fighting and dying for the British Empire in dozens of mostly forgotten places around the globe. The Ashcroft gallery is one of the few places in the IWM where Britain’s colonial past is readily apparent, but all they’ll get are heroes.

(Header by Martin Stitchener)


The Blogshop: Mike Denny’s “Forgetting Hate: A quick lesson on battlefield conduct from the Légion Étrangère”

The flowering of writing within the military community is commendable, but with reservations. Without wishing to spoil the enthusiasm, I do want to offer the caution that simply putting pen to paper (so to speak) is not sufficient, not the end, but rather the beginning of a process which, for the best works, requires seemingly endless and brutal cycles of revisions. Ideas and the frameworks within which they are constructed need to be rigorously challenged, questioned, poked and prodded, and then brought back to the drawing board. A process which I have referred to elsewhere as a good intellectual rogering, a necessity both to keep “bright ideas” from going too far as well as to allow brilliance to justly emerge. And so, in this week’s CCLKOW installment we are introducing the Blogshop, a variation on the academic Workshop, wherein the writing itself is presented for critique. We have a piece provided by one of the regular participants in the weekly dialogue. However, rather than the usual question and discussion upon the substance of the piece, our purpose in this case is critical commentary, which the questions at the end are intended to generate. Additionally, I have recruited colleagues to provide more in-depth responses, which I will post tomorrow in the comments section. So, enjoy the piece, consider the questions, and join the conversation on Twitter at #CCLKOW.


Mike Denny’s “Forgetting Hate: A quick lesson on battlefield conduct from the Légion Étrangère”

When I was replacing the outgoing Infantry battalion in eastern Afghanistan in 2010, an outgoing staff officer and I were casually discussing life, combat, and the year ahead. He said something that stuck with me throughout my second deployment, “You know, if you want to be successful here (in Afghanistan), you have to keep hate in your heart.” This statement to civilians seems spiteful and monstrous, resonates with many Veterans that I have discussed our views on combat, the enemy, and our way of war. Hate viewed as a motivating force, a driving factor to defeat the enemy, overcome internal bureaucracies, and the numerous distracters to mission accomplishment. Often these statements might not come out until after a few beers and heated discussions, often in hushed tones and maybe with a little shame. It’s not an official doctrine, but in historical examples vilification of the enemy to the point of hatred seems to be a part of the American way of war, and maybe any nation’s way of war. Theorists often look at the role of hate towards the resistance for killing, that aversion to killing enemy forces is often driven by several factors proximity to the killing and aversion to the act. A strong training foundation and organizational culture can assist Soldiers in overcoming the aversion to the act of killing throughout the recruit process. When creating a service culture there are several necessary facets: Integrity, Selfless Service, Teamwork, Generating Organizational Loyalty, and in my mind, you have to mention the enemy. The French Foreign Legion does this well, recognizing the inevitability of killing enemy combatants, they engrain in new recruits the important of conduct against the enemy in combat.  In evaluation of creating a service culture in new recruits and developing battlefield ethos, what really matters in creating a Soldier from a civilian?

Why the Legion? I discovered a series of documentaries on YouTube on the modern French Foreign Legion covering troops in combat in Afghanistan and recruits during their basic training. I witnessed the professionalism and capacity of these troops in Afghanistan, and have always held the Legion in high regard. As a small all-volunteer force with incredibly high standards always embroiled in conflicts in undesirable lands they certainly hold some valuable lessons for our all volunteer force. In the American way of war, it seems easier to conduct operations against an enemy you hate. Hate of an enemy combatant allows a Soldier to dehumanize or detach from the involvement with the acts of war. A quintessential tenant of American warfare is to be the combatant in the right protecting the world or allied nation from the evils of the opposing force. Detaching our military from the emotion of killing enemy combatants has been discussed fully in various texts including SLA Marshall’s Men Against Fire and Grossman’s On Killing and On Combat. Grossman wrote in an early article, “If we understand the role of hate in the soldier’s dilemma than we can use it to obtain an understanding of the psychological underpinnings of maneuver warfare.” [1] Many of the battlefield indiscretions of U.S. forces over the years are often blamed on the emotional toll of war. I am not suggesting that the creation of robot like soldiers would make war easier, but simply evaluating how other forces mold their recruits and enforce their battlefield standards. The US Army Soldier’s Creed and the Legionnaire Code of Honor share several key themes on duty, mission, and battlefield conduct. One missing point of the Soldier’s creed is captured very aptly by the Legion.

Au combat, tu agis sans passion et sans haine, tu respectes les ennemis vaincus, tu n’abandonnes jamais ni tes morts, ni tes blessés, ni tes armes.

The seventh stanza of the Legionnaire code d’honneur: In combat, you act without passion and without hate; you respect vanquished enemies….. This emotional detachment from the situation is important. This code brings a complete focus on mission accomplishment, and even when we vanquish an enemy, to hold them in respect as our defeated adversary. This mindset is instilled starting in basic training and carried forward into combat operations. No cheering as CAS hits enemy positions, no joy in the death of an adversary; merely a continuation of a necessary part of the mission. When a target pops up, the legionnaire knocks it down and continues on towards a cold beer at the end of a mission (regardless of the country of operation). The Legionnaire does not hate his enemy; they are two parts of a transactional relationship necessary for survival in war, and in the life of a Legionnaire. This focus on eliminating a major part of the psychological underpinning of combat certainly improves their productivity and strong espirit de corps. Unlike the US Military Soldier’s Creed or Airmen’s creed, the Legion does not mention “I” as an individual in their code of honor. The code is addressed more in a third person, removing the individual identity and contributing to the group identity. The American society particularly in this era, values the individual and the US Army overly focused on this point in the past during the Army of One Campaign (well intentioned as a team ethos, created an overt focus on individualism). If we shed the individual identity in basic training, and create a team or organization ethic, how do we expect Soldiers to display an Army ethic on the battlefield instead of allowing their individual thoughts and ethos to govern their actions? Admitting to the realities of warfare from the beginning is an important first step because it instills respect for the enemy combatant as a means to maintain vigilance from hubris and prevent battlefield indiscretions.


CCLKOW Blogshop Questions: these are a departure from the usual questions on substance and are instead intended to generate critical discussion of the writing

1. Last week Tom Ricks posted on the quality of the writing in the Army’s institutional publications. Who writes institutional publications? You do. Taking one of the “sins” identified in his work, upon what unexamined assumptions does Denny’s argument rest?

2. Is the comparison between organizations – the US Army or armed forces and the French Foreign Legion – reasonable? If the two are not well matched for comparability, does this fatally weaken the argument? 

3. Does the problem he sets out to address in the piece exist? Is it worth critical attention within the military community? 

My thanks to Mike Denny for being a good sport in allowing me to use his piece this way. He has set a standard here for future and further intrepid warrior scholars. 



1 David Grossman, “Defeating the Enemy’s Will: The Psychological Foundations of Maneuver Warfare,” Maneuver Warfare: An Anthology, R.D. Hooker (Ed), Presidio Press, 1994.



Colonel Panter-Downes Introduces the US Armed Forces to British Adventure

Today’s piece is a departure of sorts from that usually provided for the professional discussion. It marks the first in what will be fairly regular pieces from a new author, whom we will be calling Colonel Panter-Downes. This name is taken from a famous London “correspondent” to America in the early years of WWII, Mollie Panter Downes. She wrote regularly for the New Yorker, describing her view of the life of London and the UK at war for an American public. In our contemporary case, we have a British Army field grade officer reporting from the US in a time of different conflict. We can consider these pieces his “American War Notes.”

Obviously it is a delicate thing for a serving officer to report and remark upon life with the armed forces of an important ally. But if done well, a professional observer able to reflect and comment sensibly can offer a novel and valuable perspective of the institution’s many sides. Our author is more than adequately experienced of service in the combat arms, repeated deployments, as well as the rigours of military administration. That is, our author has a trustworthy voice, the fruits of which are what we hope to bring to Kings of War readers.

Today’s piece was commissioned. I had heard about the program from the author and thought it a fascinating thing to put before the American readers. I shall take a small bow now for my prescience in selecting a topic that would resonate so perfectly with the publication of the Army Operating Concept. Many 1s and 0s have already been spilled on the topic over at The Bridge. Here we narrow the focus to a specific idea. 

So, dear #CCLKOW readers, I give you this British idea for your consideration. Read Colonel Panter-Downes’s piece and the accompanying questions and join the discussion on Twitter.


20 years ago as a platoon commander I led the planning and deployment of a small team of British soldiers to the volatile North West Frontier Province of Pakistan. [1]  I was responsible for all elements of the operation, from conception, to execution and then exploitation. I researched and developed the concept of operations, arranged the logistics, selected and trained the team, organized the movement and conducted the follow up briefings. In country I liaised with the Embassy and Pakistani government agencies, recruited the in-country support team, dealt with the unexpected when caught up in an anti-Western riot in Peshawar, practiced the robustness of my contingency plans when we suffered casualties [2] and conducted numerous impromptu shuras and medical clinics in my area of operations. All this was done in the absence of radio or cellular communications to my higher headquarters.  Despite already being operationally experienced from a deployment to Northern Ireland, this was the defining moment of the start of my army career. I learnt more about the art of leadership and the loneliness of command, of logistics and working across cultures in this deployment then I had before or even since in structured training. I was adventurous training.

Adventurous Training (AT) is a singularly British military activity and is a fundamental element of its training ethos and regime. Defined as “Challenging outdoor training for Service personnel in specified adventurous activities that incorporates controlled exposure to risk,”[3] AT is invaluable as “the only way in which the fundamental risk of the unknown can be used to introduce the necessary level of fear to develop adequate fortitude, rigour, robustness, initiative and leadership to deliver the resilience that military personnel require on operations.” [4] There are currently nine core AT activities [5] and all UK Service Personnel are required to undertake this training as part of their basic training as well as post-operational decompression activities. I had my first taste of AT as an officer cadet and have continued active participation ever since, progressing through experience from participant to practitioner in my chosen disciplines. In all this time I have trained in many different countries, developed new skills and learnt hard lessons; I have been a planner as well as a climber, a logistician as well as a skipper and I have placed myself outside of my comfort zone and to confront my fears on more occasions than I care to remember.

The US Army has recently released its Army Operating Concept (AOC), a conceptual doctrine which “determines how we think about what the Army does”. [6] Much of the AOC emphasizes the human aspect of conflict and stresses the requirement to develop its human capability, in particular developing agile and adaptive commanders.  What is the connection between the AOC and AT? If the US Army is serious about developing its human capability, if it wants to develop leaders who “think critically, are comfortable with ambiguity, accept prudent risk, assess the situation continuously, develop innovative solutions to problems, and remain mentally and physically agile to capitalize on opportunities,” [7] then it should consider AT as a means to achieve those goals.

Now not everyone is going to undertake a high altitude trekking trip to the Hindu Kush, attempt Everest or challenge the Antarctic. [8] But year in, year out, U.K. service personnel conduct adventure training exercises in the U.K. and overseas, and in fact most overseas warfighting exercises have an adventure training element incorporated into the deployment. In all circumstances the value is always that this training challenges practical and leadership skills in uncertain environments with real risk. The skills they use are fundamental to soldiering: leadership, planning, and risk management. Conducted out of uniform and in small groups these personnel also often encounter a significantly different dynamic with the locals than when in uniform. Overseas adventure training is by definition expeditionary and physically the conditions are very often austere. Not that the U.S. Army need conduct significant amounts overseas, being blessed with some of the finest adventure training opportunities within its own boundaries, but it can incorporate adventure training into the rising tempo of small scale deployments already envisaged under the AOC.

Important to the training and the value it would offer the needs of the AOC, less specific highly qualified experts, AT tends to be a junior officer and senior NCO dominated activity. This allows these two elements to operate with normally significantly more autonomy than they get in conventional training; it fosters trust up and down the chain of command, that vital and often lacking ingredient in inculcating Mission Command. Significantly AT is also cheap compared to conventional military training. Infrastructure costs are minimal and the expertise can be brought in from a thriving civilian sector. Lastly AT is recruitment and retention positive. Soldiers enjoy adventure training and most activities undoubtedly have an element of glamour to them. [9]

If the U.S. Army is serious about developing its next generation of leaders to win in a complex world, then perhaps it should consider AT within the AOC framework.  If so, perhaps the ‘Ascent of Rum Doodle’ [10] will in future become as well read in the U.S. Army as ‘The Defence of Duffer’s Drift’ currently is.


Questions: Today’s questions are brought to you by the Editor.

First, and simply, what do the Americans think of Adventurous Training as a form of military training?

Second, do the US armed forces have the manpower flexibility to allow the pursuit of such activities? Consider personnel policies and routinized progress of billets and promotions.

Third, do the US armed forces have the institutional flexibility to allow and foster the initiative necessary for such a program? Does it trust junior leaders sufficiently?

Finally, how many of the Americans briefly wondered whether there was an exchange program to get on one of these expeditions?


Join the discussion on Twitter at #CCLKOW and keep an eye out for the Colonel’s next posts.



1 The expedition staged through Peshawar before undertaking high altitude trekking towards Gilgit.

2 Two casualties total; one was bounced over a car in Peshawar and one suffered from altitude sickness.

Joint Services Pamphlet 419 ‘Joint Service Adventurous Training Scheme’ 3-1, para 7.

4 Ibid, p 1-1, para 1.

5 Offshore Sailing, Sub-Aqua Diving, Canoeing and Kayaking, Caving, Mountaineering, Skiing, Gliding, Mountain Biking, Parachuting and Paragliding.

6 Army Times, Interview with TRADOC Commander General David Perkins, Oct 13, 2014.

7 TRADOC Pamphlet 525-3-1 ‘The U.S. Army Operating Concept’ page 19, para 3-4 a. (4).

8 Everest and the Antarctic have been recent significant U.K. military AT expeditions.

9 Less caving, in my opinion a strange sport for strange people!

10 A comic novel on how not to run a mountaineering expedition.


Putin the ‘Strong Man’ has not protected his people

Despite his publicly cultivated image as a strong leader protecting his people, Vladimir Putin’s Russia still sees terrorist attacks with depressing frequency.

It is the twelfth anniversary of Moscow’s Nord-Ost theatre siege in which 130 people were killed, partly by terrorists and partly by Russia’s botched storming. Here is the story.

In 1999 Prime Minister/soon to be President Vladimir Putin raged about terrorists who blew up Moscow apartment buildings that, “we will waste them on the toilet…. the issue has been resolved once and for all.” More than one respected journalist has since cited what they say is evidence that Putin and the Russian state may have blown up the apartment buildings themselves in order to create popular support.

It was in September ten years ago that North Caucasus terrorists took hundreds of children and teachers hostage in a school in Beslan. Again the terrorists, and again what some say was a botched storming lead to more than 330 deaths, 186 of which were children. 447 Russians have gone the European Court of Human Rights to argue that Russia breached the victims’ right to life over Beslan.

These are a few examples which should prove that that Russia’s large, military and regular ‘anti-terror’ operations don’t work. In its turbulent North Caucasus, the home of Chechnya, Dagestan and countless terror attacks over the past 15 years, a suicide bomber recently blew himself up in Chechnya’s capital Grozny, which Moscow had previously thought pacified. Elections there have regularly returned near 100% of votes for Putin. But don’t mistake toleration, under the barrels of Russian guns, as support for Putin and Moscow. The security forces are about the only ethnic Russians left in the North Caucasus.

Putin may make a macho show of things. But the words of a Russian government spokesman at the European Court hearing into Beslan are more telling: “It is no secret that terrorist attacks, particularly hostage-takings, are very difficult to predict. The sad experience has shown that even the strongest states, with a high level of public security, are not guaranteed against such cases and very often have nothing in the face of the terrorist threat.”

Before and since Beslan, huge expenditures of Russian money and the heavy handed use of force have failed for ignoring the root causes of terrorism in Russia. Kicking in people’s doors all over the North Caucasus, killing people there, and moves like trying to make the families of terrorists pay for their acts do nothing to endear the Russian government to locals. And it is that continued antipathy and fear on the part of non ethnic Russian populations which fuels the continued recourse to terrorism.

Russians shouldn’t believe in Putin’s strong man image. He promised to protect them. But he hasn’t.