Training for war is not an easy task.


(It’s also the title of a free essay by Tom Kratman, which is available on Amazon and well worth a read.)


It’s also not an easy subject to write about, particularly if one hasn't served - and I haven’t.  There is a tendency to fall into the trap of believing that your conception of military training is the correct one, even if my beta-readers do include several people who are either currently serving or have served in the past.  There is also the awareness that something that seems absurd, discriminatory or simply wrong-headed may be rooted in military realities that I, a civilian, simply do not grasp.  So this essay itself may be completely wrong-headed and should be treated with extreme caution.


There were times, in fact, when I seriously considered not writing this book at all.  I had created a background for The Empire’s Corps, including the dreaded Slaughterhouse, that some of my readers wanted to hear about ... and yet, I feared not being able to live up to their ideas.  Some training books - or books based around training, like Starship Troopers - have done very well, but could I match them?  Or, if I was writing about Captain Stalker’s early life, could I create a child who would grow into the man everyone saw in The Empire’s Corps?  It was only because I like a challenge that I started sketching out what eventually became First To Fight.


The Terran Marine Corps is not the United States Marine Corps, nor is it the Royal Marines or the French Foreign Legion.  It does draw from them, of course, but it isn't intended as a direct transposition of their formations into the future.  In some ways, it has more in common with the Royal Marines than the USMC; a small, elite force, intended for everything from rapid deployment to handling peacekeeping in enemy towns.  However, it is its own entity.


(This is, of course, my excuse for anything I get wrong - <evil grin>)


The concept of military training has changed over the last two centuries, when warfare became far more complex than merely giving aggressive young men weapons and pointing them in the direction of the enemy.  The French Revolutionary/Napoleonic Wars saw the rise of the ‘nation in arms,’ of mass armies directed to war; the Franco-Prussian War saw the deployment of heavily-professional armies that crushed their opponents in brutal warfare and the use of railways to move troops from place to place at unprecedented speed.  Advances in defensive technology led to the ghastly stalemates of the First World War (foreshadowed in miniature during the Russo-Japanese War); advances in offensive technology led to the tank battles that shattered the German lines, the Blitzkrieg of World War Two, the bombing offensives, D-Day and - eventually - the Fall of Bagdad in 2003.


It is easy, in 2015, to look back at the Fall of Baghdad and see it as a new kind of war.  Shock and Awe, it was called, and indeed in one sense it was unprecedented.  The combination of army, marines, air force and naval power that rolled through a much larger (on paper) Iraqi military in less than a month was new.  However, in another sense, it was merely the continuation of an old tradition: a small, numerically inferior, military force carving its way through the local defenders through superior firepower and better training.  Operation Iraqi Freedom was the successor of the British wars in India, the French wars in Africa, the American push to the west ... none of those wars would have been winnable - and there were quite a few hitches along the way - were it not for training and technology. 


However, the concept of military training has come under fire, recently, from Social Justice Warriors and Politically-Correct Brigades.


There is, I feel, an odd degree of respect for military training among the Social Justice Warriors.  (Yeah, I know; bear with me a little.)  By any reasonable standard, the American military has been head and shoulders ahead of everyone else in breaking down racial barriers in American society, at least in the combat arms.  At the same time, however, there is a complete lack of understanding of the ethos of military training.  One can become a Green Beret, but one cannot become a black/white/yellow Green Beret without fatally undermining the whole concept and (re)introducing the curse of racial diversity.


But wait, the SJW might say.  No one can ignore the fact that there are black/white/yellow Green Berets!


Yes, that’s true.  But there are also blond-haired Green Berets and dark-haired Green Berets and bald Green Berets ... and no one gives a damn.  Differences in hair colour are completely immaterial.  If we are to rid ourselves of racism, we must refrain from taking race into account.  We cannot claim to live in a post-racial world when President Obama is lauded as the first black president.  To let ourselves draw lines between white soldiers and black soldiers (and every other kind of soldier) is to reintroduce tribalism into military society and undermine the whole concept of the military team.


This is potentially disastrous.  Humans are tribal creatures.  To allow recruits to think of themselves as belonging to the white tribe, or the black tribe, or the homosexual tribe, or the female tribe, rather than the military tribe will lead to conflicts between those tribes within the military.  The military has the odd problem, therefore, of treating its soldiers as individuals and, at the same time, as part of an overall unit.  It cannot take the risk of adding a tribal layer without risking internal collapse.


Why?  If humans accept the existence of tribes, each tribe will start jockeying for position against the other tribes.  Outsiders will see those tribes as single entitles; insiders will see outsiders as enemies, rather than allies or neutral observers.  Bad apples within the tribes will smear the rest; the tribes will rally round their own, rather than give them up to the judgement of outsiders.  (This has been amply demonstrated by the Catholic Church’s reaction to child sexual abuse by priests, among other matters; the Church was more interested in defending itself than rooting out the offenders.)  Society will be ripped apart as tribes become the dominant powers, eroding a single unifying faction.


Pressure from the SJWs, therefore, has done a considerable amount of damage to the military.


Speaking as an outsider, I see no problems with having women, homosexuals or even transgendered individuals within the military, provided they meet the criteria and act in a professional manner.  There are aspects of military training that require very high qualifications; lowering those requirements for a specific tribe undermines the overall effectiveness of the military.  If women can be declared Army Rangers (for example) while completing a course only half as difficult as their male counterparts, it should not surprise anyone that the men regard women with deep suspicion.  Can they carry their weight in a real combat zone? 


This isn't sexism; this is sheer practicality.  Take a look at some of the deployments handled by Special Forces in the War on Terror.  None of them were scripted by exercise controllers, or designed to allow those who wanted to give up to quit.  Shit happens in combat zones; you might find a ten-mile hike becoming a twenty-mile exercise in staying ahead of a hunting enemy force.  Or you might find yourself carrying the body of your wounded comrade for miles, trying to keep him out of enemy hands.


There’s a milder problem that should also be remembered.  Men - as a general rule - respect people who come up with new ideas.  If a female soldier comes up with a loophole that anyone could use (at least until it is closed by higher authority) she will earn a considerable amount of respect from her male comrades.  On the other hand, if she uses an advantage given to her because of her gender, she will earn nothing but their contempt.  If she decks someone making sexist remarks, she will earn respect; if she complains to her superiors, she will earn a reputation as a sneak.  And, because humans are inherently tribal, a pathetic female soldier will prejudice every male soldier she meets against every other female soldier. 


Tom Kratman’s article on women in the military had a rather pithy observation that should be born in mind.  The price for being a woman in the military is sacrificing your right to act in a feminine manner.  The same could easily be said for homosexuals. 


As I see it - and again, I speak from the outside - the American military made a critical mistake when the issue surfaced (and re-surfaced, etc).  It should have been simple enough to point to the requirements for Ranger School (which couldn't have been that strict, because soldiers were passing them) and invite women to try to pass the requirements.  (The British Paras allow women to run through the course, although to the best of my knowledge none have passed.)  The Pentagon could have argued that lowering the requirements for women was inherently sexist, as it implied that women couldn't pass the complete requirements, and therefore invited female soldiers to try to pass.  It would, at least, have driven a wedge into the SJW camp.  And who knows?  They might have gained a few full-fledged female Rangers out of the deal. 


Such a requirement would have focused on the individual, not women as a tribe (and, as such, separate from the male tribe).  It would have made it much easier to handle the problem - and, later, any disciplinary issues that might have arisen.  If a soldier happens to be in trouble, it is very dangerous to raise the spectre that he/she is being charged because he/she happens to be the wrong gender, or the wrong colour, or the wrong sexual orientation.  Such spectres undermine military discipline to the point it will eventually collapse.  This is not, alas, unprecedented. 


Military training is - and will always be - an ongoing project.  We have learned a great deal from our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, incorporating the lessons into our training programs for soldiers who are on the verge of being redeployed.  It is vitally important that we keep honing our soldiers, because our superior training and technology is an inherent part of our military edge over the rest of the world.  To weaken it for political reasons - whatever they may be - is to undermine the security of the entire Western World.


Does this seem true?  The average Arab recruit, for example, is rarely told anything more than he needs to know.  Basic maintenance is beyond him, let alone the complexities of the fine military hardware purchased by his country’s rulers.  His superior officers are often prepared to work him as a slave; he is punished for showing initiative (as are they.)  Those who are recruited for terrorist/insurgent operations may have more enthusiasm, but they are rarely any more technically skilled.   


But they do tend to have the numbers. 


Military training is one of the factors that gives us the edge.  There are others, of course, but training is the bedrock.  Weakening it in the middle of wartime is very - very - dangerous.


Christopher G. Nuttall

Edinburgh, 2015


PS - you can download Tom Kratman’s essays from