Group psychology in battle


extracted from the article, Targeteer, by Rick Orli

The importance of group psychology in battle makes most technical tactical matters fade to insignificance.  In the recent Iraq war, everyone seemed astounded at the huge imbalance of casualties. Yet, One to 100 casualty imbalances was not unusual in ancient battles fought with shock weapons (swords and pikes). The two forces would maneuver and crash. A short period of more-or-less equal combat would result in most of the few dozen losses on the side of the eventual winner. Then one side would give way, collapse, and suffer massive casualties in the rout and pursuit. (See Keegan, The Face of Battle, for several examples)

Individual casualties in the battle line were not, therefore, considered relevant. What mattered was the power of the shock, the cohesion of the unit in the shock, and the ability to provide "backbone" to the line through the pressure of back ranks, mean hearted sergeants and esprit de corps.

None of this worked unless the unit remained cohesive and responsive to orders. As an example of the operative attitude, Marshall Maurice de Saxe explained in his Reveries on the Art of War why ranks of men were forced to stand at attention in the face of withering fire. When a unit knelt or lay in the face of heavy fire, he maintained, they could not be expected to rise again, even if they had suffered no casualties. A unit kept standing would respond to a command to advance, with enthusiasm, even with huge losses. From the commander's point of view, heavy casualties in a few units were a small price to pay for a victory, or to avoid a rout.