What is "the perfect soldier"?

Not to mention that the general does not have the omniscient view of the battlefield that one has while playing Command & Conquer and simply cannot and should not make every decision down to the squad level.

Some years ago I read about an Australian group fighting in the African desert in WW II. The inexperienced officer in charge of the unit told them to go down into some enemy trenchs and hunt out the germans. The sergeant from the unit protested and told the officer that it would just be suicidal to chase the Germans through their own trenchs. The officer insisted that they go. The sergeant told his men to defy the order and not go, So another squad was sent and they were all killed when they came upon the Germans in the trenches.

The guys who refused the order, and stayed alive, were dishonourably discharged and received none of the benefits that serving military personnel receive…pensions etc.

As an old soldier whose war was one that was ill advised and poorly conducted, let me suggest that the soldier who is perfect in one setting is a highly flawed soldier (or Airman or sailor or Marine) in another setting.

All too often the perfect soldier is conceived of as a 19 year old in top physical condition, little concept of his own mortality and a willingness to shoot anything that moves. That may be true of some jobs, like being a rifle carrier in an infantry squad at the pointed end of the spear. Just as soon as you move that young infantryman up the ladder to a position of minimal authority, the leader of a rifle team of four or five heavily armed 19 year olds with no concept of their own mortality for instance, the parameters of perfection change. The team leader must be able to think and make rational and informed decisions in dangerous and changing circumstances. At this point the head starts to gain in importance over a strong back and a sure eye. As you look up the ladder of the military hierarchy the requirements for perfection become more related to the ability to the mentally accomplish the mission. This may well be why young college kids are assigned as platoon leaders instead of grizzled veteran sergeants. The platoon leaders job requires that the incumbent do things that are intuitive and with which the veteran sergeant has had little experience.

That said, I’ll resist any contention that the primary characteristic of the perfect soldier is to be dumb, unthinking or un-imaginative. It is just that at the pointed end of the spear there is less opportunity to exercise the cerebral traits. Remember, however, that there are relatively few soldiers (or Airmen or sailors or Marines) who are actually at the pointed end. Anybody who has been there knows any number of effective service people of long and distinguished service who have never fired a shot in anger and whose talents are primarily intellectual.

Two words: Steve Rogers

I bet being alive more than compensated for that.

That strikes me as being somewhat false–but I can’t admit to knowing any specifics in this regard. Does this include the grunt soldiers, or just the officers?

Let me add another thing. The idea that the perfect soldier is one who unquestioningly obeys orders and should have absolutely no initiative I think goes back to black powder pike and shot armies.

In those days firepower was very low. It would take you a minute to reload a musket. You couldn’t reload a musket lying down, you pretty much needed to stand up to reload. Accuracy was low. Horse cavalry was a very real threat to infantry. Infantry might get a few salvos off before a cavalry charge hit home. So tight formations of men were essential. Individual guys on their own would be run down by cavalry, but tight formations could protect each other, men with pikes could defend the musketeers, guys with muskets could protect the pikemen.

And in those days, an iron willingness to stand shoulder to shoulder with your comrades and trade shots with the enemy was the key to victory. A formation twice as dense could concentrate twice as much firepower on the enemy. If your unit broke formation everyone would be hunted down and killed piecemeal by cavalry. The side that broke first would be killed, the side that stood there and accepted their losses would win. Under these tight formations, every man was clearly visible to the officers, no man was out of the chain of command. Every man had to march in formation or they’d trip each other. A soldier’s only hope was to march in step to wherever the officers lead them and fire when ordered and hope he didn’t get killed.

But around the time of the civil war, cannons and firearms had improved so much that it was clear that standing there trading volleys was suicidal. Cavalry charges were no longer effectiveSoldiers had to take cover. Lines could thin out. Marching in formation no longer was the key to victory, rather it was suicide. And suddenly, soldiers could no longer be under the direct visual supervision of the officers. So the old soldierly virtues of dumb obedience unto death no longer applied, although it took quite a while for the officers to realize this…and so we have the slaughters of WWI, where officers still couldn’t quite believe that a machine gun didn’t care how brave you were.

To add to Lemur’s point, it seems to me that the distribution of ranks in the current U.S. army varies significantly from prior armies, in that there are very few privates/PFCs compared to the number of NCOs.

This PDF chart shows the current numbers of U.S. active duty military personnel by rank. It shows that in the active duty army, there are currently 104,369 grade E-1 to -3 (Pvt./PFC), 112,970 E-4 (Spc./Cpl.), and 191,173 E-5 to -9 (Sgts. of all grades), and 80,458 warrant and commissioned officers. In other words, for each private in the army, there are almost four senior people to boss him around.

This “grade inflation” no doubt stems from many factors. One thing it shows, however, is the model suggested by the OP – Head honcho delegates to senior officers to . . . to the foot soldiers to carry it out – isn’t really current, in that there are relatively few grunts on the low end of the totem pole.

So it seems that focal point of the question of what is the “perfect soldier” in the modern U.S. army shouldn’t be what soldier will be the best type of private. Rather, the question should be what is the “perfect soldier” in the NCO ranks that make up the bulk of the current army.

But they lived. They made a conscious choice to deal with the consequences.

Your mission is NOT “return unhurt” it’s “hurt the enemy.” A stupid order is still a lawful order, however uncomfortable that makes us.

NCOs and lower ranking officers. Hitler’s staff either followed HIS orders or got sacked, but the Heer’s NCO and ju8nior officers were trained to think for themselves.

The German army tends to be portrayed in film and such as being goose-stepping foils for Indiana Jones and whatnot, but in practice the Heer was in some ways a surprisingly modern organization. (Of course, in some ways they were fatally primitive, such as relying on horses throughout the war.) German officers tended to be closer and more informal with their men than Allied officers, in many respects. Mind you, I’m talking about regular army formations, not concentration camp goons.

German officers and NCOs were trained at some length in German doctrine, but given a degree of freedom to apply it. Within reason, of course; you were supposed to follow orders, but the expectation would be that you wouldn’t wait to be asked if things needed to get done.

In practice this has both positives and negatives; one negative, according to some people, is that it may have resulted in more casualties than would otherwise be the case, since German officers and NCOs would generally always attack when given the freedom to make their own decisions, as they’d been trained to go over to the offensive to gain initiative. Allied formations, by comparison, might have missed some good opportunities but would have found it easier to avoid losses and conserve forces in some circumstances.