Conference Program


85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History

 Landscapes of War and Peace

April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky


Title: The Landscape of the Mind: The Ultimate Battlespace
Abstract: It is morale, above all else, that most determines performance in combat. As du Picq remarked: 'Man is the fundamental instrument in battle ? Nothing can be prescribed ? without knowledge of the fundamental instrument, man, and his state of mind, his morale'. Clausewitz regarded the object of war was to render the enemy compliant to one's will, while Sun Tzu noted that shaping the enemy's state of mind was as important, if not more important than actually fighting.

In modern war, the dispersal required by weapon systems, surveillance and the devolved nature of command have placed significant stress and isolation on belligerents. Commentators nevertheless advocate a number of approaches to mitigate these effects. This panel, consisting of scholars from the Oxford, King's College London and the US Army War College, presents a selection of findings on how war is fought in the minds of men. The landscape we are concerned with is the landscape of the mind, and how various elements can play upon it to change outcomes on the battlefield or the willingness of the participants to engage, fight and die for their cause.

Johnson will present a paper on the desert war of T.E. Lawrence ''of Arabia'' and the emphasis he placed on the psychological aspects of warfare, using the landscape to his advantage while working with local forces. Bailey will present a paper on his work on the psychological preparation of personnel for Special Operations Executive (SOE), in operations deep behind enemy lines, where there was a landscape without fronts. Fennell will address landscapes of meaning, such as what motivates soldiers to fight, the reasons why some groups fight with more determination than others, and the extent to which expressed willingness to act equates with real battlefield behaviors.
 
Jonathan Fennell, King's College London
Participant's Paper Title: Landscapes of Meaning: A Quantitative Approach to Historically Tracing the Contours of Combat Motivation
Participant's Paper Abstract: Too little is understood about how war is fought in the minds of combatants. The first two comprehensive scientific studies of combat morale and motivation, by S.L.A. Marshall and Samuel A. Stouffer et. al. on American soldiers in the Second World War, still underpin most of our understanding of how men psychologically approach combat. More recent studies on the will to fight among fighters against Islamic State have introduced fresh approaches to the combat motivation debate but many suffer from methodological problems. They are typically based on small sample sizes that leave questions about the widespread applicability of their findings, and they are highly contextualized in terms of group, time and space; their meaning for other combatant nations, wars and environments, is, therefore, highly contestable.

By making use of 925 censorship summaries, based on 17 million letters sent by British, Australian, Canadian, New Zealand and South African troops during the Second World War, this paper seeks to identify the key influences on morale in weekly, biweekly and monthly periods between 1941 and 1945. These sources will be used not only to describe and 'quantify' levels of morale in sequential periods, but also those factors that influenced morale over the course of the war. This detailed presentation of reported levels of, and influences on, morale will be compared to quantifiable behaviors, such as sickness rates, absenteeism and desertion rates, compiled from contemporary reports, and combat performance, as described in the historiography. By use of statistical analysis, the study will address key questions in the combat motivation literature, such as: the weight that should be given to endogenous versus exogenous influences on combat motivation, the reasons why some groups fight with more determination than others, and the extent to which expressed willingness to act equates with real battlefield behaviors.
Robert Johnson, University of Oxford
Participant's Paper Title: Elusive Enemies: T.E. Lawrence 'of Arabia' and the Desert War, 1917-18
Participant's Paper Abstract: Faced with a well-equipped, mobile and more powerful enemy, the Arab revolutionaries and their British liaison officer, Captain T.E. Lawrence, stood little chance of success. The Ottoman Army was far too strong for the Arab forces to apply the conventional doctrines of war. After the first setbacks, Lawrence knew that he had to reconceptualise the existing norms of war for his Arab partners. He recognised that the traditional military emphasis was on concentrating maximum force against the strongest element of the enemy, to bring about a decisive battle and complete operations in the shortest time, and to avoid exhaustion of limited resources. Lawrence stood this idea on its head. He minimised the 'algebraic' aspects of physical force, numbers and equipment, in favour of pressure on the 'bionomic' necessities (food, water, rest) of the enemy and greater stress on the 'diathetic' or 'hecastic' elements, that is, the psychological. Lawrence intended to use space and time to his advantage, to make his Arab partners elusive by using the depth of the desert, and, ultimately, to make the Ottoman soldier afraid of his environment. The alienating experience of the desert created a 'distance' for the Mehmetciks in their own territory.
The war in the desert was a hard struggle, primarily against the environment but also involving great nerve against a more numerous and better-armed adversary. This was a conflict where the fighting was secondary to the psychological aspects of war. Lawrence not only captured the spirit and atmosphere of the region of the Middle East, but understood the psychology of men, and how to combine it with a broader understanding of war. This was his gift and he used it to great effect.
Roderick Bailey, University of Oxford
Participant's Paper Title: 'Special Duty: Minds Behind the Lines'
Participant's Paper Abstract: Elite forces are a frequent feature of modern battlefields, and growing interest exists in how suitable personnel are selected and prepared for such demanding roles. Regret, though, is consistently expressed at the 'limited empirical literature' available, one proffered explanation being that modern military methods are too shrouded in secrecy. Extreme employment is not new, however. During World War II, Britain's Special Operations Executive (SOE), a cousin of the American OSS, dispatched thousands of specially selected personnel into enemy territory to attack key targets and assist resistance movements. Working clandestinely on their own or in small groups, SOE operatives were expected to endure conditions of prolonged exposure to extreme physical and psychological difficulty, in which the consequences of failure could be catastrophic: capture, for example, was known to risk torture and execution. Drawing on primary source research in archives in the UK, the United States, and Australia, this paper discusses how SOE addressed the psychological stresses to which its agents in enemy territory were exposed. Shedding light on human responses in a landscape described by one psychiatrist as a vast no-man's land, it explores the pioneering methods by which prospective agents were selected; the degree to which training prepared them adequately for their experiences; and the care forthcoming for personnel who, as a consequence of their work, developed psychological problems.
Antulio Echevarria, US Army War College



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