The New War #4 Ethos and Values


Peter McIntyre, The breakthrough, Minqar Qa'im, 27-28 June 1942

While searching for something totally unrelated, I cam across this extract from a Department of Corrections handbook which i think fits nicely into today’s item on ethos and values and their relevance and importance to successfully navigating the complexity and uncertainty of the contemporary environment. [yes, this paragraph was added AFTER the initial post when I realised that I had skipped off the opening paragraph from my original paper.]

What is culture?

Every culture:

  • has its own internal logic, coherence and integrity
  • has an intertwined system of values, attitudes, beliefs and norms that give meaning and significance both to the individual and group identity
  • is equally valid as a variation of human experience, and
  • provides the individual with some:
    • sense of identity
    • regulation of behaviour, and
    • sense of personal belonging.

All persons are to some extent bound by culture.

Our army relies upon other nations for a large proportion of its military doctrine, and has been referred to as the ‘doctrinal packrats of ABCA‘. This is a pragmatic and sensible approach based upon its limited resources to develop – and maintain – a complete library of national land operations doctrine; and upon the reasonable degree of conceptual commonality between the ABCA ‘Tight Five’. We are the only ABCA member to rely so heavily on externally sourced doctrine and thus have created a unique publication to manage this.

P(ublication) 50 Land Operations Doctrine consists of three parts:

Part One.  This details the management/development requirements and processes for Land Operations Doctrine.

Part Two.  An on-line dynamic database of authorised Land Operations publications.

Part Three. An on-line dynamic database of non-authorised Land Operations publications.

Why P50 and not 7, 42 or 657? No idea but rumour has it that the Army got a good deal on the original Lotto ball selector…

Part 2 is the authority for any land operations publication or other reference to be used i.e. if it’s not listed, it doesn’t get used. The flip side of this is that there is a short loop system in place for rapid approval of publications for general or specific use.

Right then, one of the trends we noted during the COIN Review was the high rate of turn-over of COIN/CIA/CIT-related concepts and that much of the cutting edge material was less in traditional doctrine publication format and more in the form of papers, blogs, articles, etc and short-loop doctrine notes. The operating environment was also noted as being far more complex and theatre-specific than in the good old days of the Fulda Gap. How then to control what and how doctrine was applied, managed and controlled by end-users?

In formal coursing in schools and units, it seemed fairly simple: the authority is Part 2 of the P50 as this is developing the science; similarly in collective training in units where there will be more flexibility to develop more the ‘art’, the Part 2 remains in vogue although is tempered by the experience and training of company and unit commanders; but what to do on operations? Clearly dogmatic adherence to the P50 failed to provide the flexibility to meet the demands of an operational contingency, but equally clearly there is a need to provide a degree of national guidance.

The penny dropped during a doctrine brief to a warrant officers course where this question was discussed. A student stood up and stated with total conviction that “…what counts when the heat is on, is what’s in the heart, not in the head…” He felt that you could have all the disciplinary and compliance mechanisms on the planet, but when the pressure is on, an individual, or even a group, will be most guided by their ethos and values. This is why setting and maintaining standards starts the minute a recruit steps off the bus at the recruit training centre and doesn’t stop until it is well embedded – ideally it will be an ongoing and enduring process throughout their career, be it for three or for thirty years…thus…

Doctrine is the body of knowledge on the nature, role and conduct of military operations. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines doctrine as “…what is taught, body of instruction; religious, political, scientific, etc, belief, dogma, or tenet…” It is that simple: doctrine is the foundation of what is:

Developed in individual training,

Practised and further develop in collective training, and

Applied with judgement on the job.

Doctrine guides our actions in support of national objectives and is an important element of capability. Doctrine is not a black and white set of rules for success: it is guidance that should be tailored to account for the factors unique to each situation and requires judgment in application. Management and mitigation of risk is what we do and all personnel must be prepared to make decisions based upon the current situation but supported by the foundation of doctrine and experience developed through training.

When the situation is for real, be it on operations or in routine activity, it is the commanders and soldiers on the spot who must combine the science and art into making the right decisions and doing the right thing – here, where it really counts, it is how well we have embedded the ethos of Courage, Commitment, Camaraderie and Integrity (C3I) that ultimately defines how a solder or officer will react and respond under pressure.

Personally, I think that there should be a fourth ‘C’, for Competence, otherwise you may have a bunch of well-intentioned numpties running around the mission space but that’s another story…

The use of terminology like “…on the job…” and “…when the situation is for real...” instead of perhaps the original “…on operations…” recognises that real decisions are made very day, not juts when the start line is crossed, and that we want soldiers to make considered decisions all the time, to resist the easy path of least resistance…I’ve quoted Jerry Pournelle here before on this theme “…the hardest decisions is probably the right decision…

While ethos-driven decision-making may be a quality we would like to think that all soldiers apply all the time, it is far more vital in the contemporary environment than it ever was in the mass-oriented doctrine of the Fulda Gap. As covered in The New War #1 the new war is the war of the individual where one poor decision by one individual or group can have far-reaching and perhaps strategic consequences. Much as I hate compliance for its own sake, it may be that we accord ethos and culture the same level of emphasis in peacetime training as we do shooting and job-specific skills maintenance; AND that we practice it continually to both reinforce and develop the attributes and also to identify perhaps those who can’t make the cut…

When we talk about cultural sensitivity training for force generation, it’s already too late: force generation should focus on developing those mission-specific skills and capabilities for the assigned mission NOT on things that should be part of daily routine. If the ethos and culture is not embedded by the end of recruit or officer training, then it is not likely to ever truly take hold. When the bean-counters rock and want to cut training, ethos and culture has to be a keeper. I actually think we could save way more and become far more effective if we just got rid of the bean-counters…

Just like it is sometimes difficult to justify the retention of drill as a core skill, so it may be challenging to justify a high emphasis on intangibles like ethos and values…right up to the point where the brown stuff hits the spinny-round thing…

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