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On Motivation

December 23, 2010 | Sergeant Neal Murray

Since we are only a few days from being deployed, I have developed an interest in finding motivational speeches that have been used, either historically or merely in fictional art, to inspire courage in combat soldiers. It is a difficult to find anything,  partly because I don't have access to the relevant sources but partly, I think, because the task of motivation is so inherently spontaneous, drawing on emotions that exist only in a few sublime moments. The majority of speeches, by contrast,  get written in a mood of solemnity and reflection, so very often they come out sounding too rehearsed and too sterile. "For as long as wars have been fought, one imagines that there would be a vast database of inspirational rhetoric from officers throughout history, but from what I can tell this sadly appears not to be the case, since much of what has been offer has simply not been written down, and much of what perhaps has been written down is too contextualized to be useful to posterity.

The classic example of a Huah speech comes from Shakespeare's Henry V. Though always famous to literary nerds, the speech was given a broader audience by a reference from Stephen Ambrose, the celebrated historian who wrote the book from which the miniseries "Band of Brothers" was made. A cinematic version of the speech can be found here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dDZVxbrW7Ow

Turning this speech over in my mind, I am struck by how much the basic themes resonate still today, for better or worse. To start with the worse, notice how much contempt there is for civilians in the speech. The reader is led to believe that the "gentlemen in england" are a bunch of panty waisted sissies who lacked the stomach to share the battlefield with noble KingHenry, rather than ordinary people who assumed, not without evidence, that the esoteric dispute over the correct interpretation of Salic Law as it applies to Monarchical accession was not worth fighting over. Eleoquent as the address may be, the reasons for which his men are called to fight are astonishingly shallow. Its like Henry is saying "Fight with me and you can show hot babes at the bar all your cool scars and call all the men there pussies."  Much of the speech is basically a medieval approximation of the quote  "Marines are at War. Americans are at the Mall!". I sympathize with this sentiment, but I think its unfair for military professionals, all of whom volunteered to be here, to look down on civilians. If I might speak for the Army and defend civilians against Naval triumphalism,  I will remind everyone that we are at war, too, and if Americans want to spend time at the mall I can only wish them a pleasant shopping experience.

Some themes are superior. My favorite line in the speech comes before the most famous one, which leads me to believe Ambrose was mistaken for titling his book "Band of Brothers". Comparing soldiers to brothers is pretty conventional stuff, nothing at all like the paradox contained in "We Happy Few". Since the fact that there are "few" of them is precisely a reason they should be miserable, Henrys declaration of them is happy is quite a sensation, one which most infantryment should recognize as familiar. The euphoria that comes with extreme agony has been memorably described as "embracing the suck", although psychologists would probably prefer the good old term "insanity". Whenever he is in a bad situation, the mind of the soldier passes through three stages, which I describe here as follows:

1) This isn't so bad. Im a bit sore, but I can hack it

2) Man this totally sucks

3) Man this sucks so much its actually funny in a sick way

The purpose of motivation is to get you from stage 2 to 3 as smoothly as possible, for it is in the last stage where, against all reason, one is happy.


5 Comments

  • Trenton W.
    12/24/2010 1:30 PM
    My favorite insirational speech in from Goerge S patton to the Third Army. Here is what I think is a fairly accurate transription of it from one of the soldiers. I have censored it but left it intact.

    "Men, this stuff that some sources sling around about America wanting out of this war, not wanting to fight, is a crock of bull-$#!%. Americans love to fight, traditionally. All real Americans love the sting and clash of battle. You are here today for three reasons. First, because you are here to defend your homes and your loved ones. Second, you are here for your own self respect, because you would not want to be anywhere else. Third, you are here because you are real men and all real men like to fight.

    When you, here, everyone of you, were kids, you all admired the champion marble player, the fastest runner, the toughest boxer, the big league ball players, and the All-American football players. Americans love a winner. Americans will not tolerate a loser. Americans despise cowards. Americans play to win all of the time. I wouldn't give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed. That's why Americans have never lost nor will ever lose a war; for the very idea of losing is hateful to an American."

    The General paused and looked over the crowd.

    "You are not all going to die," he said slowly. "Only two percent of you right here today would die in a major battle. Death must not be feared. Death, in time, comes to all men. Yes, every man is scared in his first battle. If he says he's not, he's a liar. Some men are cowards but they fight the same as the brave men or they get the hell slammed out of them watching men fight who are just as scared as they are. The real hero is the man who fights even though he is scared. Some men get over their fright in a minute under fire. For some, it takes an hour. For some, it takes days. But a real man will never let his fear of death overpower his honor, his sense of duty to his country, and his innate manhood. Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge. It brings out all that is best and it removes all that is base. Americans pride themselves on being He-Men and they ARE He-Men. Remember that the enemy is just as frightened as you are, and probably more so. They are not supermen."

    "All through your Army careers, you men have &!%@#ed about what you call "chicken $#!% drilling". That, like everything else in this Army, has a definite purpose. That purpose is alertness. Alertness must be bred into every soldier. I don't give a ^*@$ for a man who's not always on his toes. You men are veterans or you wouldn't be here. You are ready for what's to come. A man must be alert at all times if he expects to stay alive. If you're not alert, sometime, a German son-of-an-@$$hole-&!%@# is going to sneak up behind you and beat you to death with a sockful of $#!%!" The men roared in agreement.

    Patton's grim expression did not change. "There are four hundred neatly marked graves somewhere in Sicily", he roared into the microphone, "All because one man went to sleep on the job". He paused and the men grew silent. "But they are German graves, because we caught the &@$%@*# asleep before they did".

    The General clutched the microphone tightly, his jaw out-thrust, and he continued, "An Army is a team. It lives, sleeps, eats, and fights as a team. This individual heroic stuff is pure horse $#!%. The bilious &@$%@*#s who write that kind of stuff for the Saturday Evening Post don't know any more about real fighting under fire than they know about ^*@$ing!"

    The men slapped their legs and rolled in glee. This was Patton as the men had imagined him to be, and in rare form, too. He hadn't let them down. He was all that he was cracked up to be, and more. He had IT!

    "We have the finest food, the finest equipment, the best spirit, and the best men in the world", Patton bellowed. He lowered his head and shook it pensively. Suddenly he snapped erect, faced the men belligerently and thundered, "Why, by &@#, I actually pity those poor sons-of-&!%@#es we're going up against. By &@#, I do". The men clapped and howled delightedly. There would be many a barracks tale about the "Old Man's" choice phrases. They would become part and parcel of Third Army's history and they would become the bible of their slang.

    "My men don't surrender", Patton continued, "I don't want to hear of any soldier under my command being captured unless he has been hit. Even if you are hit, you can still fight back. That's not just bull-$#!% either. The kind of man that I want in my command is just like the lieutenant in Libya, who, with a Luger against his chest, jerked off his helmet, swept the gun aside with one hand, and busted the hell out of the Kraut with his helmet. Then he jumped on the gun and went out and killed another German before they knew what the hell was coming off. And, all of that time, this man had a bullet through a lung. There was a real man!"

    Patton stopped and the crowd waited. He continued more quietly, "All of the real heroes are not storybook combat fighters, either. Every single man in this Army plays a vital role. Don't ever let up. Don't ever think that your job is unimportant. Every man has a job to do and he must do it. Every man is a vital link in the great chain. What if every truck driver suddenly decided that he didn't like the whine of those shells overhead, turned yellow, and jumped headlong into a ditch? The cowardly &@$%@*# could say, "Hell, they won't miss me, just one man in thousands". But, what if every man thought that way? Where in the hell would we be now? What would our country, our loved ones, our homes, even the world, be like? No, &@##@%^it, Americans don't think like that. Every man does his job. Every man serves the whole. Every department, every unit, is important in the vast scheme of this war. The ordnance men are needed to supply the guns and machinery of war to keep us rolling. The Quartermaster is needed to bring up food and clothes because where we are going there isn't a hell of a lot to steal. Every last man on K.P. has a job to do, even the one who heats our water to keep us from getting the 'G.I. $#!%s'."

    Patton paused, took a deep breath, and continued, "Each man must not think only of himself, but also of his buddy fighting beside him. We don't want yellow cowards in this Army. They should be killed off like rats. If not, they will go home after this war and breed more cowards. The brave men will breed more brave men. Kill off the &@##@%^ed cowards and we will have a nation of brave men. One of the bravest men that I ever saw was a fellow on top of a telegraph pole in the midst of a furious fire fight in Tunisia. I stopped and asked what the hell he was doing up there at a time like that. He answered, "Fixing the wire, Sir". I asked, "Isn't that a little unhealthy right about now?" He answered, "Yes Sir, but the &@##@%^ed wire has to be fixed". I asked, "Don't those planes strafing the road bother you? And he answered, "No, Sir, but you sure as hell do!" Now, there was a real man. A real soldier. There was a man who devoted all he had to his duty, no matter how seemingly insignificant his duty might appear at the time, no matter how great the odds. And you should have seen those trucks on the road to Tunisia. Those drivers were magnificent. All day and all night they rolled over those son-of-a-&!%@#ing roads, never stopping, never faltering from their course, with shells bursting all around them all of the time. We got through on good old American guts. Many of those men drove for over forty consecutive hours. These men weren't combat men, but they were soldiers with a job to do. They did it, and in one hell of a way they did it. They were part of a team. Without team effort, without them, the fight would have been lost. All of the links in the chain pulled together and the chain became unbreakable."

    The General paused and stared challengingly over the silent ocean of men. One could have heard a pin drop anywhere on that vast hillside. The only sound was the stirring of the breeze in the leaves of the bordering trees and the busy chirping of the birds in the branches of the trees at the General's left.

    "Don't forget," Patton barked, "you men don't know that I'm here. No mention of that fact is to be made in any letters. The world is not supposed to know what the hell happened to me. I'm not supposed to be commanding this Army. I'm not even supposed to be here in England. Let the first &@$%@*#s to find out be the &@##@%^ed Germans. Some day I want to see them raise up on their %!@@-soaked hind legs and howl, '&#$($ @#%!$%, it's the &@##@%^ed Third Army again and that son-of-a-^*@$ing-&!%@# Patton'."

    "We want to get the hell over there", Patton continued, "The quicker we clean up this &@##@%^ed mess, the quicker we can take a little jaunt against the purple &!$$ing Japs and clean out their nest, too. Before the &@##@%^ed Marines get all of the credit."

    The men roared approval and cheered delightedly. This statement had real significance behind it. Much more than met the eye and the men instinctively sensed the fact. They knew that they themselves were going to play a very great part in the making of world history. They were being told as much right now. Deep sincerity and seriousness lay behind the General's colorful words. The men knew and understood it. They loved the way he put it, too, as only he could.

    Patton continued quietly, "Sure, we want to go home. We want this war over with. The quickest way to get it over with is to go get the &@$%@*#s who started it. The quicker they are whipped, the quicker we can go home. The shortest way home is through Berlin and Tokyo. And when we get to Berlin", he yelled, "I am personally going to shoot that paper hanging son-of-a-&!%@# Hitler. Just like I'd shoot a snake!"

    "When a man is lying in a shell hole, if he just stays there all day, a German will get to him eventually. The hell with that idea. The hell with taking it. My men don't dig foxholes. I don't want them to. Foxholes only slow up an offensive. Keep moving. And don't give the enemy time to dig one either. We'll win this war, but we'll win it only by fighting and by showing the Germans that we've got more guts than they have; or ever will have. We're not going to just shoot the sons-of-&!%@#es, we're going to rip out their living &@##@%^ed guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks. We're going to murder those lousy Hun (@#%suckers by the bushel-^*@$ing-basket. War is a bloody, killing business. You've got to spill their blood, or they will spill yours. Rip them up the belly. Shoot them in the guts. When shells are hitting all around you and you wipe the dirt off your face and realize that instead of dirt it's the blood and guts of what once was your best friend beside you, you'll know what to do!"

    "I don't want to get any messages saying, "I am holding my position." We are not holding a &@##@%^ed thing. Let the Germans do that. We are advancing constantly and we are not interested in holding onto anything, except the enemy's balls. We are going to twist his balls and kick him in the @$$, we're gonna kick the living $#!% out of him all of the time. Our basic plan of operation is to advance and to keep on advancing regardless of whether we have to go over, under, or through the enemy. We are going to go through him like crap through a goose; like $#!% through a tin horn!"

    "From time to time there will be some complaints that we are pushing our people too hard. I don't give a good &@##@%^ about such complaints. I believe in the old and sound rule that an ounce of sweat will save a gallon of blood. The harder WE push, the more Germans we will kill. The more Germans we kill, the fewer of our men will be killed. Pushing means fewer casualties. I want you all to remember that."

    The General paused. His eagle like eyes swept over the hillside. He said with pride, "There is one great thing that you men will all be able to say after this war is over and you are home once again. You may be thankful that twenty years from now when you are sitting by the fireplace with your grandson on your knee and he asks you what you did in the great World War II, you WON'T have to cough, shift him to the other knee and say, "Well, your Granddaddy shoveled $#!% in Louisiana." No, Sir, you can look him straight in the eye and say, "Son, your Granddaddy rode with the Great Third Army and a Son-of-a-&@#-#@*^ed-&!%@# named George Patton!"
    • Trenton W
      12/24/2010 1:56 PM
      Just noticed some typos in that post. Sorry, my fingers move to fast for my own good. :) The quote IS (not "in") from GENERAL GEORGE Patton (not just "goerge patton"). And any other mistake I made I apologize for.
  • Bao-Hanh Tran
    12/24/2010 3:18 PM
    "No man dies alone" is what is tattooed on my friend's arm. It was inspirational for me because it pushes me to remember teamwork and never leaving anybody behind. We never leave a soldier behind is also my favorite quote. These words push me every day
  • Tim Carr
    12/29/2010 4:38 PM
    I am a united states marine, deploying in a few months and you should have to look to look for motivation. Stay motivated to fight this war, stay alive, and keep the man to your left and right safe.
  • TD
    2/2/2011 3:08 AM
    Spc. Murrary--- well done. When can we expect another blog post from you... represent TF Duke well!

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