Yeah, I'm full of these things this week. Sue me.
It is impossible to have an effective fighting force without discipline.
Actually, scratch that.
It is impossible to have an effective fighting force that's not a scourge on the land without discipline. You can throw together a band of badasses that rape, pillage, and then burn and be pretty effective without, but then you're little more than an armed mob and will still probably get your clock cleaned the first time you meet an equivalent force that knows how to work together.
There are a number of factors that affect a military's ability to fight effectively and discipline is one of the most important. Discipline keeps troops at their posts when the food runs out and the easy thing to do would be to slip away in the darkness and make for home. Discipline makes troops follow orders that they know might result in death or injuries to which death might be preferable. It keeps troops fighting when they'd rather run and hide. It keeps them awake when they've been on their feet for thirty hours and can barely stand. When all else fails and your ass is well and truly in the fire, discipline will be what gets you out of it alive.
The best equipment in the world means nothing without discipline.
There have been two primary schools of thought when it comes to instilling discipline.
The first is that it's better to be feared than respected. If your men are more afraid of their officers than the enemy, they'll charge through the gates of hell if ordered. They'll do nearly anything, because the alternative doesn't bear thinking about. Charge a shield wall, massacre a village, storm a castle, you name it, they'll do it. Not because they want to, but because you've left them no choice.
This method is most effective when dealing with poorly trained conscripts. It's an easy way to get them in line in a hurry, which is the main reason to raise an army of poorly trained conscripts in the first place. These aren't experienced veterans. You don't want them doing too much thinking for themselves, because chances are, they don't know enough about fighting to do any good. You want them doing exactly what they're told, exactly how they're told to do it.
If instilling the fear of God in your troops isn't your thing, the other widely accepted method of instilling discipline is to rely on respect. Building respect is incredibly difficult, and it takes a massive investment of time and effort. You're basically trying to get your troops to follow you by showing them that you're worthy of their loyalty, and that's way easier said than done. If you can pull it off, however, the effort pays huge dividends.
This leadership style is best used for more elite troops. Trying to scare them into line won't work; you don't get to that level by scaring easily. And if you try to shoot one of them to prove a point, you'll like as not end up strung up as a lesson to others. By relying on respect, you can encourage your troops to try new things without fear of retribution. They can take risks that might make the difference between success and failure in a firefight.
What most leadership manuals won't tell you is that it's often a mix of the two that's most effective.
That's because no one likes to admit that they have the scare people to keep them in mind. That sort of business is seen as the realm of thugs and uninspired leaders. There's this perception that an effective leader should be able to inspire their troops without having to resort to making their lives miserable in order to get the job done. And that presents a set of very serious problems.
Remember that your average grunt is an alpha male, somewhere between 19-22 years old. They're often out on their own away from their parents for the first time in their lives, and they've not got a whole lot of experience with dealing with the real world. They're young, horny, and full of themselves. The lucky ones grew up with a hardwired respect for authority, but the vast majority have a chip on their shoulder, and they're just daring someone to knock it off.
That's where basic training comes in. The usual rhetoric is that we break people down for the purpose of building them back up. By subjecting them to months of stress far above and beyond anything they've ever experienced, we're teaching them to function in situations where lives are on the line and death is a very real possibility. That's part of it.
The other part of it is teaching them to both respect and fear authority, and backing up that lesson with pain. And no, beating privates within an inch of their lives is not an option, not anymore. Don't get me wrong, I've ran into quite a few cases where a good beating might have made the difference between a good soldier and a worthless oxygen thief, but that's not how it's done. Instead, punishment usually comes in the form of "corrective training," colloquially known as smoking.
A good smoke session is a series of targeted exercises designed to inflict as much pain as possible. You're not beating the private, they're beating themselves. For most folks, exercise hurts. Keep it up long enough, and it's agonizing in a way that mere punches can't keep up with. Everything hurts. You're exhausted, physically and mentally. Every muscle is shaking, and you just don't think you can do another pushup, another squat, another sprint. The sergeants smoking you have explained in agonizing detail exactly how you screwed up, exactly why this is happening.
That's where breakthroughs happen.
There are, of course, some irredeemable screwups that are too busy trying to blame everyone else for their predicament to accept responsibility. For them, they're suffering to set an example to the others of what happens when respect just isn't getting the job done. For others though, you can see when they turn the corner from feeling angry and defeated to realizing that there is a lesson to be learned through pain. You see it in their eyes, a spark somewhere between acceptance and defiance. Their muscles stop shaking. Their posture straightens. Suddenly, they find it within themselves to push, harder than they were even at the beginning. That's how you know it's time to stop. They got the message. Anything further is just gratuitous.
80% of the time, the message sticks. You see the problem child start to improve. They might not become a supersoldier overnight, but they're well on their way to being a useful contributing member of the unit. From then on out, you don't have to tear them down and make them hurt to get the message across. You can build them up, build report, and establish a base of respect.
How are you supposed to work that into your writing? Hell if I know. Sort of musing on the subject after an incident at drill yesterday, seemed like a good time to write it down. If you've any questions or comments, you know where to leave them.