What is "the perfect soldier"?

Because I really, really don’t want to get censured for inappropriate behavior in GQ, I present to you a brand-new GD thread!

Now, I was reading this thread when Beware of Doug’s post (#12) really got me thinking. (Don’t get me wrong, this is meaning no disrespect to Doug.)

When I think of the military, I see it as the ultimate in delegation. Head Honcho has a big, ultimate plan; s/he delegates a couple of his or her most senior officers to carrying out specific parts of that plan, who each delegates parts of that to less senior officers, and so on, and so forth, right on down the line to foot soldiers. All your regular, everyday soldiers are doing is acting as agents to physically carry out the Head Honcho’s big, ultimate plan. As such, ought not a soldier to be a person who is/has


Is it really appropriate for soldiers to go off and do their own thing, in the heat of battle or otherwise? (Not talking about Lynndie England so much here.) Is there any point in which a soldier can be reasonably expected to say “No, I’m not doing X”? Ought a soldier to sublimate his/her conscience to Military Duty?

What, in other words, is your definition of


It is absolutely required of a soldier that she examines her orders, and if she finds them to be illegal, refuses to follow them.

Mm. I’m not thinking so much illegal as…morally dubious? Even though it’s perfectly legal to kill enemy soldiers in wartime, I’m willing to bet there are rather a number of soldiers who have severe moral issues with it–yet they go ahead and do it anyway, because it’s their duty as soldiers. If faced with something of that nature, what then? I seem to recall that a fellow who had something to do with dropping bombs on Hiroshima or Nagasaki–flew the plane, maybe?–had severe moral issues with doing it, yet of course he didn’t say no. Where does one draw the line (especially if the issue at hand doesn’t have to do with something as essential to military operations as physically killing people)?

It’s your responsibility to understand certain basic aspects of military law so you can recognize illegal orders. If you refuse to make follow an order because you find the order moral but not illegal during wartime then you ought to be arrested and sentenced to death. And that’s actually one of the proscribed punishments for such behavior.

A part of being a soldier is giving up your freedoms that you enjoyed in civilian life. Contrary to some ideas people have soldiers shouldn’t be robots. But when the CO gives a direct order in combat you cannot refuse to execute that order (again, unless said order is illegal), it will destroy the whole system if that is seen as acceptable behavior.

It’s also your responsibility to recognize that when you join the military you will possibly come into a situation where you have to kill other soldiers. If you aren’t comfortable with that then you shouldn’t join the military. If you become uncomfortable with that idea while in the military you need to try and make your way out of the military.

If you become uncomfortable with that idea in combat you need to suck it up and do your duty or you need to accept the fact that you are becoming a criminal who will spend years in prison.

To respond about more to the specific question of the OP instead of the implied question about England:

For instance, in WWII with the first paratroopers–these were a bunch of guys dropped in the middle of nowhere, split up from other members in their group, out of communication, and probably nowhere near their own target. But, they all knew what needed to happen and were of the proper mindset of “go out and do the bad guys some good damage, for America” rather than a “w00t, got me a big honkin gun; lets go blow shit up!” or “Well that plans mucked up, guess we’ll just have to go back!”

In a large extent this was what made the paratroopers good soldiers. They didn’t mindlessly follow orders–and if things had already got messed up midway through, go back for new instructions. They just figured out a new plan that still went along with the general gist of what they knew needed to happen according to the big plan. And soon after they were able to set out kicking butt and still able to get things reorganized again while still out in the field.

While mindless masses can be good if you just need something done now, without needing any backtalk–over the course of an entire war have the rank and file be able to keep themselves alive and still do damage without having to be meticulously controlled is best. Similarly, in terms that those soldiers will one day need to become the next generation of leaders it is best if they have brains that work. The only case where, I think, this wouldn’t be true is if the government was a corrupt dictatorship.

Well, why don’t we look at some of the most famous and successful soldiers of all time? Take this group: Nelson, Grant, Zhukov, Hannibal, Patton, Wellington, Yamamoto, Rommel, Suvarov, Saladin, Genghis Khan.

In fact, NONE of these guys were known for following orders (before they become top honchos) no matter what. Zhukov would openly tell Joseph Stalin to go piss up a rope; Patton didn’t care what anyone told him; Rommel, of course, was famously independent-minded. Grant was so uninterested in military protocol that he once told someone he could only remember two marching songs; “one of them’s Yankee Doodle, and the other one isn’t.”

All were relatively free thinkers, smart, open minded, willing to try new things, and disinterested in military protocol while very interested in military victory. Nelson summed it up perfectly when he pointed out that his overriding order was defeating the French, and any other lesser order he thought conflicted with that, he felt he could happily disobey.

I was a soldier, and here’s my perfect buddy:

  • Intelligent
  • Interest in accomplishing the mission rather than just following orders
  • Open-minded; free of biases
  • Genuinely self-confident
  • Morally and physically courageous
  • Intelligent - it bears repeating

Sometimes you should follow orders and sometimes you should not. How do you know? There’s that intelligence again; you have to learn how to balance mission versus organizational needs.

But what if things are going on that genuinely are immoral? (And yes, I could go into my whole moral relativism spiel here, but let’s not and say we did; I’ll assume for purposes of this thread that there are Things That Are Inherently Good and Things That Are Inherently Bad.)

The standard defense at Nuremburg seems to have been, “But I was just following orders!” And while that may be a copout in the vast majority of cases, I’m willing to believe that’s true to some extent. I’m sure there were quite a few soldiers and high-level officers who weren’t exactly gung-ho about the whole Jew-killing thing–even if not actively opposed to it, they probably wouldn’t have done it of their own accord–but they did so because they were ordered to do so.

Yes, I know I’ve got a major case of Godwin’s going on, but what ought to be done in such cases? I’m fairly sure it was not actually illegal to kill Jews/put them in concentration camps, but it surely was immoral. But what viable option did Nazi-soldiers-with-a-conscience have? It wasn’t exactly easy to avoid military service at such a time and place, and one would likely have no better fate than the Jewish people if one spoke out against it or refused to perform such actions.

So if you’re a good soldier…then you perform immoral-but-not-illegal actions, regardless of what they are? Oy. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it, I suppose.

I think, as has been mentioned, that a good soldier looks at the bigger picture and tries to get things done to achieve that bigger picture, as with the Paratrooper example. Other good attributes would be intelligence and I think above all else, creativity. Looking for somewhere to hide? Finding somewhere that isn’t obvious takes a level of creativity and intelligence under pressure which a lot of people I don’t think would have. Look at some of the things officers and soldiers have done in the past and you can see this demonstrated. One example that comes to my mind, without knowing details just a sketchy picture, was the setting up of decoy trucks/tanks in North Africa against Rommel. This scared him into thinking the force was bigger than he expected, or something like that, I’m sure someone knows what I’m on about. I’d want the person who thought of that giving orders during wartime.

When you use the phrase “the perfect soldier,” that inevitably brings to mind Robert Minor’s classic WWI era cartoon


Its caption goes:
Army medical examiner: “Ah, at last, the perfect soldier!”

Bwhahahahaha. Lovely, Johanna. Thanks for the link!

In the Nazi world, the perfect soldier was indeed one who didn’t think. In fact this was considered the perfect civilian too. In the real world, every time people just start turning off their brains, because everyone else is turning off their brains–you have a problem. Which has nothing to do with the military but rather people not receiving both a healthy dose of liberal education (i.e. enforcing on you from an early age to think) and a sense of honor (i.e. willingness to fight and die to uphold what is right.)

And since the US expects–its soldiers at least–to be both independent thinkers and to hold honor over orders, failing in these categories would not be looked upon as being a good soldier. But–to discuss the case at hand–it doesn’t necessarily mean the person is a criminal. If a soldier blindly follows orders to do something blatantly immoral–well is that a case of the person being herself immoral or simply being so terribly stupid that convincing her something wasn’t immoral could be accomplished by a five year old?

No, training in the waffen-SS emphasised thinking for oneself, to be able to take initiative and always being prepared to have to take over command.

That was true of the regular German army too. Training there stressed tactical flexibility, and decision making on the squad level.

Moral consideraiton aside, the perfect soldier can

(a) comprehend the larger srategic goal. If neccessary, he or she will pursue it independantly or orders, taking such opportunities as he or she finds.

(b) accomplish a set goal without direct instructions, ascertaining the best path to acheive said goal and taking it.

I think it needs to be said - the perfect soldier is a ninja cyborg armed with a 1920s style Death Ray.

One thing I believe that I heard was that to qualify for the paratroops in WWII, you needed a very high Army Classification Test score, and that the Army Classification Test was, more or less, a general intelligence type of test. In other words, the paratroopers were, through their selection process, some of the most intelligent troops (or at least enlisted troops) in the army. The intelligence required to meet the cut might have been a factor in their ability to adjust when plans went awry.

La Llorona, your idea of the general creating the plan and everyone else obediently carrying out the plan fails because of a will known problem. No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. The other side has generals, colonels, majors, captains, lieutenants, seargeants, corporals and privates too. When your side attempts to carry out your brilliant plan the other guys are going to try to fight back. If they have to wait for orders on how to respond to your plan they’re going get slaughtered. If they can respond intelligently on an individual basis they’re likely to defeat your plan. And all those intelligent guys taking initiative on each level are going to come up with plans that are going to kick your guys in the shorts while they’re waiting for orders from above.

Soldiers can’t just follow orders, they all have to give orders–sometimes even privates–and carry out those orders intelligently. If your soldiers can’t do that then you’ve got a recipe for getting most of them killed and losing the war.

That’s simply not true; if it were, the war would have been over a lot sooner than it was.

In fact, German soldiers were known for being more independent and given to taking initiative than their Allied or Soviet counterparts.

The simple truth, which a lot of people don’t want to admit, is that the set of German soldiers who were killing Jews mostly didn’t mind killing Jews, and in fact some of them really enjoyed it. Sadly, not many people had to be really strongly convinced to take part.

One of the primary strengths of the American military is the training and trust given to the individual. When the situation is fluid on the battlefield, a split-second decision by someone relatively low on the chain of command could make the difference between success and failure.

In todays world, the perfect soldier is a technician, a diplomat, intelligent and a self-starter.