In this short essay, I’ll attempt to address historically, how different countries- in particular the UK, Russia and other participants of the world war address the enforcement of discipline and how historically.
They may have differed from each other- particularly looking at WW1, attempting to link it back to current day disciplinary actions that are used and comparing between them to try and see how they may contrast each other. I’ll also look at different countries i.e. UK, Germany, Russia etc. and how they differed from each other and how they may have found success with moulding an army to be an effective unit as opposed to the idea that an army without discipline and order is just a mob- which will be addressed in the following paragraph.
Looking back at world war one, one of the factors that enabled the soldiers to endure terrible conditions and high casualties was the discipline that had been distilled on them through their training. As previously mentioned, experts in the matter have previously made the claim that military discipline is what makes the difference between a mob and an army. This form of behaviour can be seen as the consequence of training and effective instruction, designed to ensure conformity and compliance to orders among individuals and groups. The end, and ultimate goal of this is to create and maintain cohesion in military units- and in turn an effective operational military that is a capable defence. Other researchers have found that the fact that the undermining of officers’ authority in Russia after the March revolution in 1917- which led to the rise of the Soviet Union, was an issue and when looking at the mass desertions that followed, offers evidence that discipline could be what holds groups together and makes them act as one in response to orders stemming from effective leadership and disciplinary measures. After research in the matter, it’s clear how huge an effect a lack of discipline had on the Russian forces, as the pre-revolution desertion rate ran at around 34,000 a month- which lays the foundation for the idea that it’s impossible to run and hold together an effective military without discipline- of course among other things.
Still looking back to the first world war, armies were known to draw upon a pool of recruits, and without knowing, it could’ve been seen as a positive that some of which were already accustomed to industrial discipline in factories and other workplaces given the time in history of which the first world war took place. With this in mind, it could be said that those (already present) disciplinary traits that a lot of the working-class families (who also turned out to be the same people that would be the primary fighting force during the war) had were very transferrable to the military environment- and could be said to have played some of a role in various successes found throughout the war. For example, and to put it into context, Germany and Britain were both highly industrialised in 1914 and so, all working-class soldiers would have been used to being at the bottom of society as they would’ve been accustomed to this societal position pre-war in their civilian lives. As well as this, we can also address the training methods which were in use at the time, as all armies subjected new recruits to basic training which was uniformly seen as very unpleasant- the aim being to break down the individuality of the new soldiers and to mould them into a group that would carry out orders unquestioningly- in other words, moulding new recruits to form a uniform group of disciplined individuals following their superiors without question, leading to a much more effective military group.
Looking more specifically into the enforcement of discipline found at the time, it was operated with a carrot-and-stick approach.
Conforming and following orders from their superiors brought benefits such as- regular food, leave and other privileges. Not following orders resulted in punishments, which depending on the army varied widely. Some of the more minor punishments that were recorded included: giving offenders unpleasant or dangerous duties, or taking away basic privileges as mentioned previously. British Empire forces were known to use Field Punishment: “the most severe version including tying a malefactor to a fixed object for a period of time”. Although this was seen as a severe punishment, this could be considered more humane than the traditional punishment of flogging which at the time was still used on Indian troops. Linking back to the Russian army, flogging was reintroduced in 1915.
Looking at specific crimes or acts of ill-discipline, mutiny was seen as the worst military crime at the time, and desertion was seen as another huge issue as both were seen to be a direct indication of a lack of discipline. A lot of armies during WW1 actually executed all those who were found to have committed those military crimes. Often the purpose was to act as a warning to others. There have been cases reported of psychiatric casualties (soldiers who have sustained mental wounds) being shot.
Looking specifically at the most severe of punishments (death), Germany only reported 48 of 150 death sentences being carried out. The British executed 321 for military offences, plus an unknown number of Indian soldiers. To put into perspective how seriously discipline was taken, the Italian army even included decimation as an effective punishment, choosing soldiers from a unit that had failed in some way, and executing them.
Although a huge emphasis has been placed on the effect discipline has on the unity and effectiveness of an army, there are clearly many other factors that come into play that contribute to the overall morale, discipline etc. Of an army, an example of this could be seen clearly when in 1918, Austrian soldiers were deterred from deserting because they decided that the army’s rations were preferable to facing famine at home. With this still in mind, without discipline, armies could not have stayed in the field for as long as they did.