In war, said Napoleon, the moral is to the material as three to one. To use the word "moral" in the contest of war at all may seem grotesque at the end of a century of particularly horrific warfare. As if in nod to the seeming unnaturalness of the connection, in ordinary English usage a slightly variant form of the word, morale, is used to describe the readiness of troops to perform in battle. Indeed, whichever variant of the word is used, the idea expressed is more primitive than in the more formal sense of morality.
Soldiers have fought with grit, determination, and courage for wicked causes, while other soldiers, enlisted in what we regard as good causes, have collapsed, deserted, or surrendered at the first blow. Indeed, it is a commonplace of soldiers' memoirs that they fight first and foremost for their immediate fellows, their buddies or comrades, then for their larger unit, such as the regiment, and only least of all for their country, or for an abstract ideology.
Once thrown into the chaos and terror of the battlefield, these larger abstractions are terribly remote. Yet, except perhaps for those soldiers born into a warrior family or community, it is these larger, more abstract elements that recruit them in the first place, deliver them to the battlefield, and--if they are to fight with success--provide the initial impetus that allows the more primitive commitment to their fellow-soldiers to keep them there.
Commitment in war thus operates both on the immediate level of the battlefield and on the larger scale, of "national will" or ideological fervor, that makes it possible for battlefield morale to emerge. Even on the battlefield itself, the influence of the larger background is not wholly unfelt. Governments and causes can do little to instill the primal commitment of small-unit cohesion, the mutual support of "buddies," that is the basis of battlefield morale. They can do much to undermine it, how...