The short article translated below appeared in a Berlin daily newspaper
dated April 8, 1942, and is believed to reflect the general attitude of the German
civilian and military personnel toward the subject of discipline. This is the first
article on this subject noted in the German press subsequent to the early summer
of 1941. The controlled German press publishes news and articles written and
edited to conform to the German viewpoint, as prescribed by the governing
authorities. As can be seen from its text, this article appeals to the German's well-known
pride in his discipline. The purpose of its publication was probably to
console both the German soldier and civilian for hardships endured and for losses
sustained during the severe winter in Russia in 1941-42. It was also intended to
assist in maintaining the traditional high standard of discipline during the serious
strain confronting the nation in the months to come. For these reasons, though
not of recent publication, the article is felt to be pertinent at this time, in view
of the present situation on the Russian Front.
* * *
The expression "military discipline" conveys a definite idea, which is inseparably
linked with troop training. Discipline characterizes the appearance, behavior,
performance, conduct, and value of military units.
An undisciplined company will execute an order haphazardly, or it will
even fail to execute it at all. Without discipline, confusion reigns, and when the
situation becomes serious under hostile fire, both coolness and cooperation are
absent. Then the superior officer is no longer the actual commander.
There is a well-known saying: "Troops are like their commanders." Resolving
this statement into the elements of discipline, it means that the
commander must be the best-disciplined man in his unit if he demands obedience
from each of his subordinates. It is an error to believe that military discipline
consists only of obedience to the orders of officers and noncommissioned
officers. True, this is ostensibly correct on the drill field or in a maneuver, but
not in battle. In actual combat, there must be another kind of discipline, a
self-discipline originating within the individual. This is differentiated from formal
obedience chiefly by the fact that it prevails without the presence, the command, or
the supervision of a superior; in addition, it is maintained under the stress of
I recall the case of a sergeant who had been ordered to hold an advanced
post under all circumstances. One morning, his post was cut off by the Soviets. His
situation was hopeless. Nevertheless, he held his post in spite of heavy losses. He
formed an island, an unassailable island, not so much in the tactical as in the
moral sense. He held out, not because he knew that his comrades would come to
his rescue, but because he possessed self-discipline which to him meant
soldierly honor, decency, duty, and comradeship. His self-discipline forced him to stand
and, if necessary, to fall at his post. It never entered his thoughts to question
why it must be so. An order had been given, and naturally it would be executed.
The past winter has seen many such "islands" of the highest type of
discipline. They have often ended in the sacrifice of life--the fulfillment of the last
soldierly duty. They are the monuments to the great struggles occurring in
Soldierly discipline is not only a matter between superiors and
subordinates; it involves outward actions as well as self-indoctrination. In order to
stand the test, soldierly discipline requires: a firm foundation; a good military
training, not too brief in duration; competent leadership; frequently a firm hand;
exertions and privations; tests in courage under dangerous situations; information
repeatedly as to what the battle is all about.
Military service demands a will to achieve the highest goal. It is not the
individual action which decides, but rather a soldierly will on the part of each
individual in the nation to carry out higher orders in a common effort. Therefore, in
war, self-discipline is not restricted to the soldier alone. It is a matter
that affects political, commercial, and cultural life as well as the life of the
community and the family. It is the actual foundation of war, which is the fulfillment
and demonstration of collective force. Self-discipline characterizes the
individual as well as the entire nation. It is a matter of spirit, conscience, morals, and
of the heart. It is the manifestation of a soldierly creed.
* * *
Comment: In general, the German soldier, as well as the German
civilian, considers discipline as a matter of honor. This trait in the German people
is encouraged, developed, and exploited by their political as well as their
military leaders, with a view to uniting all the German people in their war effort. This
the leaders have succeeded in doing to a remarkable degree.
The German soldier, as a rule, takes pride in his ability to withstand
hardships and privations. He frequently receives commendation from his officers
and friends for his performance in this respect, but never effusive sympathy.
Keeping the soldier constantly informed as to why he is fighting, what the
battle is about, and his part in it, has been found to pay dividends in improved
discipline in combat.
It is believed that there is still a high standard of discipline in the
German Army, maintained in spite of the hardships, privations, and losses
incident to the present campaign in Russia.