No board in the few moments at its disposal can hope to fathom the character of a recruit, but it should be able to detect in him the signs and symptoms of nervous instability. Such a man may, for example, lack moral sense, without which no soldier can long endure the stress and terror of the modern battlefield. His conduct sheet often betrays him and this document ought to be in the hands of the Board. It is primarily because we have no testaments of that kind that our task is so difficult, for when the past is the surest guide to the future we cannot turn to it for guidance, whereas the Germans have records of their soldiers from childhood. It is more common to find the recruit ‘simple’. An intelligence test applied to all recruits would eliminate those whose minds have not developed – who form perhaps a majority of those we wish to exclude from the army.
It is a modest programme, but it is at least a beginning. To leave it there satisfies no one. Here and there a man is found with a gift for the measurement of men, but his methods evade definition; his tests are subjective, they cannot be taught to others. There is therefore a search for objective evidence of a recruit’s intelligence, of the task for which he is most suited and perhaps of his temperament and capacity to remain calm under stress. Tests have been devised and their value is just now much debated. Within their limits they seem to serve a useful purpose. It is true that we have as yet no test of pugnacity, no test of leadership, no test of temperament. We have found no short cuts to such knowledge. For this we must still rely on individual judgment. It is difficult too to check the value of such tests as we have; our conclusions must be tentative until they are proved in battle. At present that proof is often wanting. But if these tests do not help to pick aces, they do help us to get rid of men who will not make soldiers, in particular they detect before he has an accident the pilot who is not fit for the job. The value of tests that seek to sift men according to their aptitude for some particular duty are less firmly established than tests of intelligence, but some at least are worth a trial.
The exclusion of these misfits is so vital to the peace of mind of armies that I shall make a brief scrutiny of selection practised for that purpose in England and America. The recruiting methods of the British Army before 1914 have been quoted as a triumphant example of successful selection. The outcome of many years experience, they were said to be responsible for an army which the Germans themselves had dubbed ‘a perfect thing apart’. But it was perhaps less simple than that. Apart from the exclusion of men with gross physical deficiencies and an attempt, frequently abandoned, to maintain certain physical standards, selection seems hardly to have been practised. The recruiting sergeant was content if the fish he hooked was in fair condition and a decent weight. Even these modest demands were not always met.
I have wandered into a field where it is easy to make large assumptions foreign to my training. It has been roundly affirmed that these men enlisted because they were either unemployed or unemployable. This may be the truth, but it is not the whole truth. That no place can be found in the scheme of things for these lads who when tried in the hell of war did not fail in fortitude, but were guided in their short day by pity, by toleration and by a simple unselfishness – the graces of civilization – amounts, as I see it, to an indictment of our social architecture.
There are other grounds for my reluctance to use the quality of the British Expeditionary Force of 1914 – a matchless army – as an example of what can be done by selection. Though I shall maintain that good soldiers are not bred from bad stock, I do not doubt that many unpromising specimens were transformed by training; in particular by that part of training which consists in inculcating esprit de corps. I remember men recruited at the street corner by starvation who came to act on the principle that if the Regiment lived it did not matter if they died, though they did not put it that way. This was their source of strength, their abiding faith, it was the last of all the creeds that in historical times have steeled men against death.
It was not until the final year of the war that any serious attempt was made to discriminate between recruits who were, and those who were not, of normal nervous stability.
In America this tale of ineptitude with its deep stirring of the public conscience had been noted; there was a fixed purpose to do better. A young nation priding itself on its business methods could not tolerate such muddle, such waste. Intelligence tests were applied to nearly two million recruits. The term is perhaps a little misleading. Those who were responsible for the examination, a perfunctory affair lasting ten to fifteen minutes – were poorly equipped for that purpose. Further, even when instability was recognized, the board commonly took no action. There was manifest scepticism as to the value of such new-fangled tests and active antagonism to any examination of this kind. The medical officers were the chief passive obstacles, as they had been in England; they were, according to the War Office report of 1922, slower to recognize the value of military psychology than the combatant officers; they could not bring themselves to believe that a training which transformed poor physical specimens into robust fighting men could fail with recruits whose only trouble was some bother with their minds, a nervous or mental disability. The combatant officers were in the main hardly more sympathetic; they would maintain that if the specialists did not stop eliminating the unfit there would soon be no army left; the introduction of special examinations of so many kinds threatened too to interfere with established military routine. Besides, as ‘the men looked all right they probably were all right’; after all war was war. The recantation of the Americans when it came was complete, but the change of heart came too late; the project for a scientific examination of recruits launched with such hopes had been destroyed by man’s inveterate dislike of the novel in thought or action. No conclusion of any value can be drawn from that vast experiment. Yet I do not think we can accept that failure as final; the price is too high.
Can courage be judged apart from danger? When I first asked that question in France in 1914, there was an air of novelty about the contention that courage is a quality that can be judged apart from danger, quietly and without haste, perhaps in some sleepy hamlet miles from the track of the man of action.
Yet when we have read all [Trotter] has to say, we are driven to the conclusion that a practical psychology is as yet in its infancy, so selection is still wholly dependent on a knowledge of the real ingredients of courage – what courage is – and an exact appraisement of the degree in which those ingredients are present in the man concerned.
Can courage be judged apart from danger? Can we say, while there is yet peace, of those about us that if war came they would acquit themselves as men? I may as well admit at the outset that there are some who have little faith in any such sifting process. They will say that men must be put to the crucial test of war before labels are attached to them. War, they affirm, has a way of discovering the true nature of a man; it pays scant attention to the standards of peace, which they assume are different from those of war.
It is altogether a most comfortable doctrine. They would have the best of both words. They believe that while there is yet peace a man must do the best for himself; it is the only rational thing to do. He must live for himself, his standards are naturally self and mammon. Suddenly there is war and as suddenly human nature is transfigured. The stir and fervour and exhilaration of the social atmosphere in times of excitement bring out qualities which in peace are dormant. They would imply, those sleek citizens, that beneath a coat of selfishness in peace lay all the qualities we have learnt to prize in war. As practical men, too, they find little profit in these vague speculations about the springs of human conduct. They have not thought of courage as self-discipline, a moral quality.
It is a grey world these clever people live in; they see in human nature only its frailty. These little servants of routine, these poor spirits whose hearts are with their bankers, who sought safety in life and still seek it in the turmoil of a bloody strife, can they impart the secret of constancy in war? ‘All warlike people are a little idle and love danger better than travail.’ That love of danger has the ring of another day, but it is still true that the pick of men, as we knew them in the trenches, were not always the chosen of more settled times. These clever people when it came to the choice between life and death called vainly to their gods, they helped them not at all. Success, which in their lives had meant selfishness, had come in war to mean unselfishness. If we once believe that the capacity to get on in life is not everything, we shall be in a fair way to employ in peace tests of character as searching as those which the trenches supplied in war.
I contend that fortitude in war has its roots in morality; that selection is a search for character, and that war itself is but one more test – the supreme and final test if you will – of character. Courage can be judged apart from danger only if the social significance and meaning of courage is known to us, namely that a man of character in peace becomes a man of courage in war. He cannot be selfish in peace and yet be unselfish in war. Character as Aristotle taught is a habit, the daily choice of right instead of wrong; it is a moral quality which grows to maturity in peace and is not suddenly developed on the outbreak of war. For war, in spite of much that we have heard to the contrary, has no power to transform, it merely exaggerates the good and evil that are in us, till it is plain for all to read; it cannot change, it exposes. Man’s fate in battle is worked out before war begins. For his acts in war are dictated not by courage, nor by fear, but by conscience, of which war is the final test. The man whose quick conscience is the secret of his success in battle has the same clear cut feelings about right and wrong before war makes them obvious to all. If you know a man in peace, you know him in war. ‘The thing a man does practically believe – if you tell me what that is, you tell me to a very great extent what the man is, what the kind of thing he will do is.’
If we throw up our hands and confess it is not possible to separate the intrepid soul from the inconstant mob, then the men of an Arctic expedition might be chosen at random. Selection can be done, for it has been done; the only doubt is on what scale it can be practised.-Baron Charles Wilson Moran. The Anatomy of Courage (Chapter 17: Selection)
A serious country would assign this book as required reading in middle school, just as young men are hitting puberty. I don’t know what the feminine equivalent is (something about not taking life advice from your ham sandwich), but I suppose no one else is going to figure it out so I’ll get back to you on that. I’ve heard good things about Jane Austen and the Keira Knightly movie was excellent.