III DISCIPLINE AND LEADERSHIP

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III

DISCIPLINE AND LEADERSHIP



I ONCE met, in an obscure corner of the world, a young priest of the Roman Church who confessed to me quite openly that he was a complete skeptic. He thought, it seemed, that, though the Church had played a necessary and useful part in the development of mankind, the time was very near when its function in history would have been fulfilled, and that it would then share the fate of all obsolete institutions. It was obviously a great relief to him to say this to anyone who mattered as little as myself, and whom he was never likely to meet again; but my reception of his confession astonished him almost as much as his confession had startled me. Of course what shocked me was that, holding the opinions that he did, he should remain a priest. I felt that his position must be an intolerable and humiliating one, and I immediately offered to help him to make a fresh start in some other profession, where he could regain his self-respect. He thanked me, but coolly informed me that the training which a clergyman received in the Roman Church and the mechanism which he had to use were so perfect that the individual views of the priest did not matter in the least. He himself was perfectly able and content to carry on his work without believing in it, and in many ways it was work that suited him. He understood my amazement. He agreed that in the Reformed Churches such a course would be impossible. There the training of the clergy was so inadequate, and the science of souls so little systematized, that every thing depended on the sincerity of the individual minister; but he assured me that in the Roman Church it was not so.



I do not for one moment suggest that this young priest was in the smallest degree typical of the Roman priesthood; but I can see his point---that where the discipline is strong and procedure stereotyped the strain on the individual leader is very greatly reduced. I have often thought of this point since I enlisted in "Kitchener's Army." Indeed, the difference between the old and new Armies is not at all unlike the difference between the Roman and Reformed Churches.



In the old Regular Army it has always been recognized that all officers and N.C.O.'s could not be expected to be born leaders of men. The whole system of military discipline has been built up with a view to relieving the strain on the individual. The officer's authority is carefully guarded by an elaborate system designed to give him prestige. He is a man apart. He does not mix with the men under his command.



They may not even approach him directly, but only through the medium of an N.C.O. He is always something of an unknown quantity to them, and omne ignotum pro magnifico. The N.C.O. is protected by the machinery of discipline. His authority is made to depend as little as possible on his own force of character. He exercises an authority which is vested in the whole body of officers and N.C.O.'s throughout the Army. The smallest piece of impertinence offered to the most junior lancecorporal is, if he likes to make it so, an offense against the discipline of the whole battalion, even of the whole Army, and is punishable as such. He too has to be as far as possible a man apart. He must not have friends among the private soldiers, nor be seen in their company. When he receives his promotion first, he is generally transferred from one company to another. In fact the Regular Army is a magnificent example of the efficiency of discipline.



Theoretically the "New Army" is under the same law as the old, the standard of discipline as high, and the method of enforcing it identical. But as a matter of fact it is quite impossible to enforce such a system in practice. In a Regular battalion the tradition, when once established and accepted, is handed down automatically. The recruits arrive in small batches, and have to adapt themselves to the conditions which they find to be already in existence. If a recruit fails to adapt himself, he is heavily punished, and his life made a burden to him. He has sold himself to his country for a term of years, and his feelings do not have to be considered. He is either "made or broken"---and that is the very phrase which my priest used to describe his training at the seminary. Discipline can be enforced because there is always a majority which has already been inured to it, and an executive of N.C.O.'s who have it bred in the bone. But in a battalion of the New Army the conditions are wholly different. The vast majority both of the N.C.O.'s and men are, at the time of formation, recruits. They are quite new to discipline, and full of pernicious civilian ideas about "liberty" and "the rights of man." Even if it were possible to enforce discipline by rigorous punishment, such a course would be inadvisable. Recruiting depends for its success very largely on the reports of men newly enlisted as to how they are treated. As long as we have to obtain the largest possible number of recruits in the shortest possible time, the good-will of the men already enlisted is a primary consideration, and discipline must be tempered with tact.



The net result is that a greatly increased strain is thrown on the individual leader. To some extent this applies to all ranks; but it is more especially true of the section leader. The commissioned officer, even in the citizen Army, has a good deal of prestige as long as he does not give it away. He appears, by virtue of his immunity from manual work and competition, his superior dress and standard of living, to be a higher sort of being altogether. The senior N.C.O. also has a prestige of his own, due to the fact that he is usually an ex-Regular, and has an intimate knowledge of his job, and the manner of one who is accustomed to be obeyed. But the young lance-corporal who is put in charge of a section has absolutely no prestige. A few weeks since he was a recruit himself. Of the work he knows little more than the men. He lives and sleeps and messes with them. They know all his faults and weaknesses a great deal better than he does himself. They are inclined to be jealous of him, and have no respect for him except what he can inspire by his inherent force of character. To a great extent he is dependent on their good-will. They can cover his deficiencies or emphasize them as they like. If he tries to establish his authority by reporting them, he can by no means count on the sure support of his superiors. Unless they have a very high opinion of him, they will be quite likely to conclude that he is more bother than he is worth., and reduce him to the ranks. In fact, if one wants to study the conditions of sheer natural leadership, one can hardly choose a better subject than the average section leader in a "service battalion."



Of course the types vary enormously. At first it is generally the men who want promotion that obtain the stripe, and they mostly belong to one of two classes. They are either ambitious youngsters or blustering bullies. The youngster who wants promotion has probably been a clerk and lived in a suburb. He is better educated and has a smarter appearance than the general run of the men. He covets the stripe because he wants to get out of the many menial and dirty jobs incidental to barrack life; because he thinks himself "a cut above" his fellows and wants the fact to be recognized; because, in short, he thinks that as a lance-corporal he will find life easier and more flattering to his self-esteem. He soon finds his mistake. He annoys the sergeant-major by his incompetence and the men by his superior airs. Soon he gets into a panic and begins to nag at the men. That is just what they hate. The whole situation reminds one of nothing so much as of a terrier barking at a herd of cows. As soon as the cows turn on him the terrier begins to waver, and, after trying to maintain his dignity by continuing to bark, ends by fleeing for dear life with his tail between his legs. So the young lancecorporal begins by hectoring the men, and, having roused them to a fury of irritation, ends by abject entreaty. Finally he is reduced to the ranks. The career of the bully is different. He is generally a vulgar, pushing fellow, who likes boasting and threatening, likes to feel that men are afraid of him, likes to be flattered by toadies, and likes getting men punished. The men hate him; but he sometimes manages to bluff the officers and sergeants into thinking that he is a "smart N.C.O." Usually he comes to a bad end, either through drink or gambling. When he is reduced to the ranks his lot is not an enviable one.



A deplorable number of those who are first promoted finish by forfeiting their stripe. Then comes the turn of the man who does not covet rank for its own sake, but accepts it because he thinks that it is "up to him" to do so. Generally he is a man of few words and much character. He gives an order. The man who receives it begins to argue: it is not his turn, he has only just finished another job, and so on. The N.C.O. looks at him., and repeats "Git on and do it." The man "curls up," and does as he is told. An N.C.O. of this sort is popular. He saves any amount of wear and tear, and this is appreciated by the men. He gets things done, and that is appreciated by the sergeants and officers.



Finally, there is the gentleman, who is the most interesting of all from our point of view. He is generally a thoroughly bad disciplinarian in the official sense, and at the same time he is often a magnificent leader of men. He is fair and disinterested. He has a certain prestige through being rather incomprehensible to the average private. He does not care a scrap for his rank. He is impervious to the fear of losing it. He takes it from a sense of duty, and his one idea is to get things done with as little friction as possible. He often succeeds in gaining the confidence of his men, so that they will work for him as for no one else. But, on the other hand, his methods are apt to be quite unorthodox and highly prejudicial to the cause of discipline as a whole. His authority is so personal that it is very hard for an ordinary N.C.O. to take his place.



A man of this sort was given the strip while his battalion was in a rest camp in Flanders, and was put in charge of a section which was quite new to him. It was a very uncomfortable camp, and there were endless tiresome fatigues to be done. The men, who had just come out of the trenches, and had been looking forward to a comparatively easy and luxurious time, were in the worst of tempers. The lance-corporal did his best. He tried to be scrupulously fair, and to put each man on fatigue in his turn; but the men were "out for a row." In the afternoon he entered the hut, and detailed one of the worst grumblers for a fatigue. The man started to grumble, and made no sign of moving. The corporal took out his watch and announced that if he did not go in two minutes he would "put him on the peg," which means report him to the captain for refusing to obey an order. The man was defiant, and remarked that that was all "lancejacks" were for, to get men into trouble, and that they could not stand up to a fellow as man to man. This was a peculiarly subtle taunt, because of course it would mean instant reduction if an N.C.O. were found fighting with a man. In the interests of discipline, the offender ought to have been made a prisoner at once. This course, however, did not commend itself to the corporal. He was the sort of man who, if he could only maintain his authority by such means, would rather resign it. He put back his watch; explained for the benefit of the audience that it was this man's turn, that he was not an N.C.O. for his own amusement, and that it gave him no pleasure to get men into trouble; and finally ended up by inviting the man to step outside there and then and see whether or no he would stand up to him. The man collapsed and did as he was ordered, and the lance-corporal was well on his way to winning the respect of his section; but of course he had committed a dire offense against military discipline.



If I am not mistaken, it was the same N.C.O. who, a few days later, was guilty of a similar neglect of duty in the trenches. It was at night, and the trench had been badly damaged by shell-fire during the afternoon. It was necessary to build up the parapet, and owing to the sodden nature of the ground it was not possible to take any more earth from the floor of the trench. In order to fill the sandbags required, someone had to get out of the trench at the back and dig in the open field. The corporal detailed a man for the job, and the man flatly refused to go. He had not been out long; his nerves had been shaken by the shell-fire that afternoon; he did not like the idea of going out into the open; he was afraid that when the flares went up the Germans would see him; he was, afraid of the rain of random bullets which always falls at night. Of course he ought to have been put under arrest, and tried for (1) cowardice in the face of the enemy, and (2) refusing to obey an order. His punishment might have been "death" or "any less penalty." The corporal knew that there was very little real danger. He looked at the man contemptuously, and went and did the job himself. He had not been at it more than two minutes when the boy---for he was little more---came and joined him.



This N.C.O. certainly gained the respect and confidence of his men, and there is no possession better worth having from the point of view of the individual; but his authority was purely personal, and on the whole bad for discipline. He was to realize it a little later. An officer, who was in charge of a big working party, called for two volunteers to accompany a corporal in stalking a German sniper. Not a man volunteered. After some minutes, during which the officer appealed and rated in vain, a boy came up to this N.C.O. and asked: "Who's the corporal that's going?" The N.C.O. replied that he didn't know. "Oh.," said the boy, with obvious disappointment, "if it had been you I would have volunteered." For the corporal it was at once his reward and his condemnation. He realized then that though it is a fine thing when men trust their leader and will follow him anywhere, it is a still finer thing when they will stand by any leader, whether they know him or not; and this last is the fruit of perfect discipline.


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