combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 04 Number 03 Summer ©Jul 2006

Military Maxims
widely gathered and unattributable

      There is no better place than combat for measuring a man.

      It's always better to know the right sergeant than the right general!

      Armies need to go to war every so often just so they'll understand what all the absurd training has been for, so they can reorganize their priorities again, and so they'll remember that they exist as more than toy-soldiers for drill-and-ceremonies.

      The more you sweat in training, then the less you'll bleed on the battlefield!

      The military doesn't have time for tact; whereas sweetie-pie kiss-ass probably works for inefficient and undisciplined civilians. There is no nice way to tell a dud to get his shit together before he gets a comrade killed; and there is no point discussing the proper etiquette for battlefield mayhem! Any excuses for conduct or performance better have nothing to do with tact.

      By the time they've taught us everything we need to know to stay alive, we'll either be too old to accomplish the mission, or the war will be over!

      'Tactics' is what you do when there's something to do. 'Strategy' is what you do when there's nothing to be done.

      The troops aren't 'really' happy unless they're complaining ... and when they cease, the unit is in real trouble.

      In order to be a good soldier, one must love the military. In order to be a good commander, one must be willing to order the death of the thing one loves above all else.

      If you're brave and honorable, then your enemies will seek your defeat by destroying whatever you love best.

      The first combat casualty is always the battle plan.

      Since you may die at anytime, you must live all of the time!

      Great generals do not make prodigious victories, but magnificent victories make great generals.

      When a romantic unsuccessfully attempts to fulfill a mission, he's rewarded for the mere effort with a token medal; but when a pragmatist succeeds by violating all the rules, then he's cursed and reviled.

      Confidence inspires action. Fear promotes caution. Paranoia instills despair. The objective of good leadership isn't to disassociate these progressions, but to recognize and utilize them effectively for mission accomplishment.

      Modern warfare is both a specialized science of destruction and an uncompromising artform of devastation; wherein the unexplored option or limited creativity entails disastrous results.

      The wise old philosophers say: live and learn; but the canny grunt says: learn and live!

      The duties and responsibilities of command ensure that every leader will be hated by alot of ordinary people for some very good reasons. It's important to function reasonably and impersonally, despite the enmity or detestation, so as not to earn anyone's disrespect.

      Because opportunities are usually inconvenient, and pride often causes fatal misjudgments, the battlefields frequently select their soldiers before anyone can change them.

      A weak army needs great oratory and exceptional strategy. A strong army needs great wisdom and exceptional standards.

      Patriots are the easiest people to deceive, and the hardest to defeat.

      Soldiers should not be quarrelsome or disrespectful. Soldiers should not be too eager to fight; but when they draw their swords, they should discard their scabbards.

      The reason RHIP is abused is because it's misunderstood. The personification of privileged rank has two basic criteria: ultimate responsibility for uniformity, and sufficient authority for exceptions. Saying 'no' can prevent mistakes, but saying 'yes' can resolve mistakes. Rank is all about stopping disunity, fixing problems, and making things function. RHIP has nothing to do with personal comfort or private excuses.

      An army of asses led by a lion is vastly superior to an army of lions led by an ass!

      It's been true since the dawn of warfare, that defenders don't rely upon their fortifications for protection, and that attackers don't rely upon their weapons for victory. Soldiers must depend upon their courage to accomplish their missions.

      Despite the evolution of the battlefield and all the concomitant methodological changes, it can be argued that combat will be protracted if the troops are commanded from the rear, and will be decisive if the soldiery is led from the front.

      The side which is the most flexibly responsive in adopting contingent changes, and the most responsively mobile when implementing them, will usually win most contests. The side which is rigid and dogmatic may win some clashes, but at a terrible cost that will not sustain victory.

      Sometimes small things portend larger things, and sometimes small things are just minor anomalies. No one has the resources to investigate every exception, and because stimulus patterns can be imitated, no doctrine can automatically classify potential threats. Judgement is the art of fine tuning the intuition and experience essential to recognize an uncategorized phenomenon as a possible development that's worthy of further commitment ... so it will never reach fruition.

      Just as all plans have their flaws, knowing your own limits, relative to your enemy's strengths, may prevent you from being complicit in your own destruction.

      A tactical advantage should always be gained by wasting ordnance and equipment. Time is a resource that should be conserved so it can be spent when needed. Lives, because soldiers are thinking machines, must be reserved as the ultimate weapon.

      An army that loses its discipline will lose its battles.

      Quitters can't lead, and never win. Winners are either good or lucky. Losers usually become philosophers. Above all, leaders must become more than themselves.

      Forcing your opponent to fight on your schedule and upon your chosen ground is almost as good as changing the rules without letting him know.

      Military regulations are not based on romantic principles or abstract ideals, since every one of them is the result of arduous and intransigent experience. Even with the best of intentions, the regulatory consequences are not always the most desirable.

      What civilians can't understand about orders is that they're not pleas, proposals, requests, or subject to negotiation. What many commanders don't appreciate about lawful orders is that obedient execution may not be automatic, for a multitude of reasons ranging from incapacity to inapplicability; so it's always better to persuade a willing follower than to enforce a reluctant compliance.

      It may be better to die on your feet than to live on your knees, but a supine corpse, putrid with pride and reeking of rectitude, cannot low-crawl into the nearest prone firing position so as to take deadly command of the battle zone.

      There are only three kinds of soldiers: those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who wonder what happened!

      There are times when the most dangerous course of action is cautious and contemplative.

      Combat is much too dangerous and important to risk by experimentation; but it's the only place that experiments will significantly succeed.

      The measure of a man is not his willingness to stand-up for greatness, but his willingness to stand-fast in adversity!

      You may be just an insignificant cog in the great and terrible, lean and mean, giant green machine, and your performance or death may go unnoticed or unappreciated; but each cog has a function, and the whole mechanism will cease to operate effectively if too many of us cogs are lost. You may not be very important, but you are both necessary and crucial.

      Freedom grants you the power to do what you should when you'd rather do whatever you want.

      Not everything that happens to a soldier during his service is a result of his professional performance. Not only do unforeseen situations occur, but everyone is a unique and complex individual.

      By the time a soldier has enough experience to know everything he needs, he's usually too old or too crippled to do the job anymore ... but he'll just have to do until someone better comes along.

      All good and contended soldiers are indistinguishable, but each miserable wretch is unique ... and on the verge of disassociating.

      Every warrior hopes for a good and honorable death ... but some cannot wait, and must seek it.

      Do not discuss politics, religion, sex, or gambling with your personnel, because it only interferes with the mission.

      No man can ever positively predict his response to unknown circumstances, so we train them to automatically react to the most probable stimuli.

      Imitation is either the highest compliment or the worst criticism! ... and it is deadly on the battlefield.

      A good soldier needs a strong backbone, because the purpose of a straight stiff spine is to prevent his asshole from sucking-up to merge with his mouth, so he won't always talk shit!

      Strategy is always theoretical, and tactics are empirical; because the improvements and revisions that enable victory are always taught by the enemy on the battlefield.

      There're lots of ways to impress the commander, but there's only one way to impress the troops.

      An inferior or substandard unit is not composed of inadequate soldiers; but rather of unmotivated and undirected troops being misled by bad officers!

      It's really difficult to gain any perspective when your head is stuck-up your ass! ... and you can't appreciate another's vision by putting your head up his ass!

      Without insight into one's own defining character, no decision can ever be free of implications, and new knowledge will only confuse a disorderly mind ... mistakes will accumulate, and the befuddled past will prevail upon potential opportunity.

      If life is the only school that administers the test before it offers any lessons; then war is the only school that employs the enemy to teach the most worthwhile lessons ... not 'what', but 'how'; not 'when' and 'where', but 'why'!

      The only society which totally accepts any stranger or foreigner, without reference to class or caste, is that meritocracy which admits only fellow professionals ... such as expert soldiers. No other standard is valued, and none other may be substituted.

      If you assemble the most audacious, gallant, and intrepid warriors as loyal advisors, then you'll have counsel by their greatest fears.

      Training needs to be both realistic and challenging, so it will simulate actuality; but it also needs to be difficult enough to reveal any personal weaknesses before a defect or failure costs precious time, irreplaceable lives, or immeasurable options.

      If you're too young to think and too stupid to read, then you'd better listen to your platoon sergeant!

      You should never stand-up for anything higher than base motives, nor put yourself above anything loftier than your most basic scruples ... unless, of course, you're jump-qualified!

      The successful conclusion of any enterprise depends upon meticulous planning.

      War should target the mind, because physical wounds eventually heal.

      Wars aren't fought by weapons, no matter how magnificent or devastating. Wars are fought by men ... by men whose sacrifices have been inspired by devoted leadership!

      An inspiringly heroic leader is essentially someone possessed with so much charisma that when his arrogant stupidity inevitably traps him in a desperate or improbable situation, then his devoted followers will not only rescue him, but will also champion his finer qualities as being responsible for any incidental achievement!

      Accidents cannot be replicated or prevented; and operational recovery is inversely proportional to the accident's durable effect and distribution.

      In order to lead soldiers, you must be one.

      A precisely measured impatience and a deliberately calculated tension will never be mistaken for a reassuring calm or a relaxed deportment.

      Any officer who cannot perform every task of his subordinates, and who doesn't periodically relieve the fatigue and frustration of duty on both ends of the command-chain by practicing 'soldier skills' in substitution, doesn't deserve the respect accorded his rank or position. Deference must not only be earned, it must be reciprocated, so the human barriers, from jealousy to incompetence, that militate against mission accomplishment, can be minimized.

      Whatever works is alot better than too little, too late, and do it again!

      Integrity is not a conditional attribute; and it's almost never rewarded.

      If you can't trust your troops with your wife, your money, or your gear, then you certainly can't risk your life with them either!

      If wars were fairly fought, then their results would be meaningless, and no one would learn anything.

      There is no unit as good as the one you're reporting into, nor as bad as the one you just left!

      What moralists, pacifists, and other hypocrites don't understand about war isn't who started it, but who finishes it!

      A thousand men can be swayed by their prejudices faster and easier than one man can be persuaded by reason.

      No one has ever learned anything by listening that did not require re-learning by doing.

      Soldiers don't have to be too sharp, but they have to be smart enough to know when not to ask questions!

      The only thing worse than being halfway-dumb is being halfway-smart!

      The military does not exist to take care of the troops ... the troops exist to take care of the military!

      A pretty parade formation doesn't account for much when the shooting starts.

      The worst predicament that can assail any soldier is doubt ... doubt about who is his foe, how to respond to whatever is provocative, and whom to trust for guidance or assistance.

      In problem solving, knowing the answer is always an aid, but isn't always the best solution! ... particularly if you don't know the mechanics of resolution.

      Every second spent in combat is worth a month in training.

      The only people rushing around aimlessly on the battlefield are fugitives, criminals, cowards, or staff-flunkies; since every experienced combatant is steady and purposeful.

      If both sides believe they're about to lose, then they're both right, and neither one knows it.

      The most dangerous of all battles are those which risk little for failure, and those which gain greatly from success.

      If it's true that no good deed should go unpunished, then a bad deed, if done at all, should be done quickly and surely, without distraction or regret.

      Civilians express their super-sensitivity by claiming to 'feel each other's pain' or 'feel sorry for one another', but soldiers express their awareness of inexperience and immaturity with 'I feel for you, but I can't reach you!'.

      One cannot lose a soldier's cynicism by promotion, since command only offers a broader spectrum for developing the same conclusions.

      There is always the disappointment of having a few bad sergeants, and the despair of having only a few good officers. So to maintain a unit's morale and integrity, commend and apologize publicly, but recommend and criticize privately.

      Good commanders lead from the front, order without shouting, display honorable convictions, remain calm and controlled under stress, and reserve all doubts or regrets for private moments. That's why there are so few good commanders.

      It's easy to criticize, and even assail, the current leader because his back is fully exposed and completely vulnerable.

      No one is fitted for command who will not command himself.

      No one in-extremis is ever himself.

      A good man may be hard to find, but he's easy to lose!

      A straight-line is obviously the shortest distance between two points; and is the one most likely to be ambushed!

      A 'civilian' is someone who's unfit to be a soldier! ... and they're the people we're sworn to protect.

      This war consists of the unfit leading the unwilling to do the unnecessary for the ungrateful.

      Live like a madman, but die like a wise man!

      The military has an oath of arms, because boys can be deceived with trinkets and men can be deceived with pledges.

      Beware the furious retaliation of a patient and honorable man.

      A weapon that's never used teaches no lessons.

      When you're a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When you're a knife, everything needs to be cut. When you're a gun, everything becomes a target. When you're a soldier, fighting is the simplest solution.

      Intractable civilian problems are always resolved by one of the military solutions; but intractable military problems are only resolved by exhausting all the military answers ... things are settled when the military restores order, but nothing is settled when the military engenders disorder.

      Among the varieties of possible disorder, only a few are natural or predictable; and disobedience is not one of them.

      Thinking aloud is prejudicial to good order and discipline, if not strictly seditious.

      An army without profanity couldn't fight its way out of a piss-soaked paper bag!

      Opinions are like assholes ... everyone's got one, and they all stink!

      If you didn't serve there, then you don't have the right to an opinion about it!

      When in danger or in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout!

      Bullets are cheap, and brains are rare!

      There's never enough manpower in war, and always too much in peace.

      Wars are ingloriously and unglamorously won by the side having the least incompetent leadership, fielding the least undisciplined soldiery, and who are most able to endure their confused duties to achieve an unreasonable conclusion.

      You can never excel at work that you hate and fear; but you'll lose your humanity if you find pleasure in the job. You must take pride in your skill and professional detachment to be a good soldier ... obedience to duty, honor to code, and service to country are regulations of your performance.

      People tend to perform poorly when pissed-on or pissed-off!

      It's better to be pissed-off than pissed-on!

      Any attempt to fashion the massive incoherence of actual battle into some semblance of comprehensible lore must be either counterfeit or fanciful. Proposing the indiscriminate absorption or rejection of war's chaos is insanity. Constructing a doctrine which ignores this insanity is irresponsible. Abandoning doctrine because it is inherently unrealistic and imperfect is inhumane.

      Enduring age and mean treachery will overwhelm vital youth and innocent virtue every time!

      You cannot both act and plan, nor react and reflect at the same time.

      The enemy of my friend is my enemy; and the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

      The first time you eat field rations you'll realize that killing the enemy will be the easy part of soldiering!

      The military is the only place where being typical and being extraordinary amount to the same thing, and it's a prerequisite for self-respect. The soldier's paradox is that he hates the very things that make him proud.

      Experience has little to do with age, learning, or initiative; but rather is mostly comprised of stubborn determination and foolish persistence. The doctrine of where there's a will there's a way accumulates, and eventually succeeds because it can succeed!

      If your head is stuck in rectal-defilade, then you can't see, hear, smell, taste, or think ... so you'll need your sense of touch to know when you're dead!

      Anything worth doing will make a mess. Anything worth fighting for is worth fighting dirty!

      We may lose this battle, but we'll employ all of our skill, and end it with pride. Just because it's a bad job doesn't mean I have to do it badly!

      You can't teach an old soldier new tricks; but his trusty and reliable old tricks are usually better than the fancy new ones that are supposed to supersede them.

      A leader may be right or wrong, but he may not be unsure. A commander's mantra might be: let me not disappoint the expectations of my men and not fail the faith of my service.

      Actions always speak louder than words!

      Knowledge, that which is applied to and derived from experience, is the most precious asset of any formation.

      There are no guarantees in war ... in order to win, you must risk losing!

      The ideal of all professional military operations is complete dedication to total efficiency and absolute proficiency in the successful accomplishment of their assigned mission; therefore, every soldier should waste enemies and not ammo!

      The best and only weapon you'll ever need is cleverly concealed between your ears!

      A real soldier knows enough to never waste words, ammo, or time.

      Taking things in a long stride will take you further than a short temper.

      The only difference between our soldiers and their's is that we are being paid to kill while they're being paid to die!

      Anticipation is the essence of experience and a prerequisite of wisdom, but where wisdom is required, force is unavailing.

      Rank and bearing are inversely proportional.

      The word root of 'command' isn't 'man' (comMANd), but rather is 'comma' (COMMAnd).

      You must either lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way!

      People who only do what they're told have to be told what to do.

      Playing with snakes is foolish. Running from snakes is cowardly. Avoiding snakes is wise. Killing snakes, eating their flesh, and wearing their skin is proper, since danger reveals hidden secrets.

      One dog barks at shadows, and all the others bark at the sound.

      Some men hide behind good in order to do bad, so it is possible that the Gods regard as good everything that men regard as evil.

      Anyone who first considers the consequences cannot be brave.

      When a soldier is killed, the wound extends all the way through his body into his family's heart.

      A nation that forgets its defenders and neglects its heroes is destined for extinction.

      If the answers are unacceptable, then the question is probably wrong!

      Good is only recognized when it departs, and Evil when it arrives.

      Wars begin with noble sentiments and flags waving; but they end with ignoble passions and flags draped.

      There is more truth in one sword than in ten-thousand words.

      Fear your enemy once, but fear your friend forever!

      At some point, you will cross the threshold between love and regret, compassion and fear, life and inventory, until only memory connects them ... until you can no longer recognize yourself.

      We are more just and honest with the dead, because we are no longer obligated to them.

      The chaos of a battlefield gives liars an opportunity entirely unavailable elsewhere.

      Every soldier risks death or injury, defeat or injustice by answering his nation's call to arms; but no soldier should ever risk dishonor to defend a common trust.

      All that a soldier really wants is dry socks, hot chow, cold beer, regular rest, and good friends. All he ever gets is fatigue, blisters, cold rations, weak coffee, hot shit, more excuses, and too many orders. Then he's expected to volunteer, and not complain!

      A deafening heart attack is Nature's way of telling you that you're in a bad firefight! A sucking chest wound is Nature's way of telling you that you've really screwed-up!

      They keep trying to prove how bad war is by making it unappealing and unglamorous ... just imagine trying to take the glamor out of jet fighters, gunships, tanks, submachine guns ... out of beautiful rockets and gorgeous grenades! ... out of breathless dashes and heart-stopping explosions! It's impossible! It's like trying to take the glamor out of sex! Whether war is good or not, it is certainly attractive, and will endure because of that unequivocal fact.

      There is no greater challenge than combat, but skill is the least of its tests.

      Pain may be the surest way to learn wisdom; but whenever experience is the teacher, the test always comes before the lesson.

      Violence educates rapidly, vigorously, and thoroughly; but it usually teaches the wrong lesson!

      Freedom has a price ... it can be bought, but cannot be sold. Freedom is only worth what someone is willing to sacrifice for its preservation. It's something that no one will give away, that anyone may take away, and that everyone must save in any way.

      Don't wait for trouble to find you, because it'll deny you the initiative and take command of the tactics ... search out and destroy it!

      If a soldier survives the horrible chaos of war, then he will spend the rest of his life trying to understand it. In any case, he's condemned to unbearable images and consuming emotions. Reflection may truly be a fate worse than death.

      Most people are lucky enough to crawl away from their wounds, but some of us drag them along, as though there is no escape from ourselves, nor from events.

      Fighting always makes a difference, but no one ever has to like the difference that it makes. If we're not willing to fight with a bad army for a better end, then we cannot object when a worse army wins.

      The intimate details of events are very different from the coherent histories of posterity.

      Never attack anyone until you've first calculated the debt for losing, and unless you've also figured the price for winning.

      War changes the way the warrior views the world.

      If you can keep your head while those around you are losing their's, then you just don't understand the situation!

      The only thing worse than fighting without any allies is having to fight with them.

      Duty is a heavy burden that limits everything, but death is as light as a feather flying away.

      A man with outward courage dares to die; while a man with inward courage dares to live.

      The brave deeds of noble warriors, whether successful or surviving, will always be sung in tribal remembrance; but the uninspired lives of ordinary men shall be forgotten.

      Eagles do not hunt flies, but flies prey upon eagles.

      The best iron is not used to make nails; nor the best men become soldiers.

      I began to learn quite alot once I discovered that I didn't already know everything, and wasn't too good to learn it from anyone with more experience.

      If the truth doesn't offend somebody, then it isn't accurate enough; because lies are told to protect everybody.

      There are few things in life as riveting and exhilarating as being shot-at without lethal effect!

      While the contest of gambling requires a sane and tranquil mind, the contentions of war demand madness as the price for playing.

      Competing gladiators, of whatever political stripe, have much more in common than those who've never bled for anything.

      A war story may be true only if it's pointless, foul, grotesque, mean, stupid, or embarrassing ... and painfully laughable or memorable. Otherwise it's just another fairy tale. A war story has nothing essential to say about war.

      We compose our reminiscent memoirs when the only thing we have left to give is our ineffectual advice.

      As every grunt knows, the only options that aren't extremely hard are downright impossible!

      Although we don't seem to accomplish much, or to progress anywhere, it takes-up all of our time. We seem to stay busy trying to stay alive ... so we may be ready to die, or kill, or whatever. So, until then, we move in 'soldier time' and wait on some other schedule.

      Anyone who's endured battle for an entire day will never want to witness it again for a single hour!

      There's no such thing as being a little pregnant, partly convinced, halfway converted, mostly honest, pretty experienced, or almost ready.

      Our greatest mistake of the war was making our best generals into editors, our wisest strategists into critics, our bravest leaders into fearless speculators.

      No man who has ever seen battle can be as brave as someone who has not.

      The world's most cherished ideals become ludicrous when composed in blood.

      Having had to do terrible things for the best of reasons in the worst of times has convinced me that nobody has ever died of pure regret.

      Necessity is too often mistaken for courage, when there is no other option.

      Medals are awarded to ordinary people who do extraordinary things at unique moments in the normal course of regular routine.

      No matter how many snapping close-calls or cracking near-misses you've had, there is nothing that reminds you of intimate fatality as much as the death of a friend.

      Combat is how Hell would look if eternity was shorter!

      A hero is just a guy who was too scared to run and too dumb to hide!

      War isn't such a bad thing ... just look at all the terrible people it's rid us of!

      No loss is ever so entire that there isn't something worth saving.

      Destruction is so fine, and easy, and gratifying ... much more so than generation ... for which we know we should be ashamed. It would be more comical if it weren't so painful and pointless!

      Your first duty in military service is to discover whatever you don't already know ... and then you'll spend the rest of your time hiding the truth from yourself.

      For all of the time spent crowded in formations and standing in lines, a soldier still spends most of his time alone with his thoughts ... vagrant ideas are his only solace on duty, and the chain of command doesn't want his opinions. The camaraderie among veterans celebrates both the superficial association and inviolate unity, both the casual fraternity and unuttered alliance. Like familial bonds, it's a tie that can strangle or knot securely.

      I don't revisit battlefields or attend memorials, for I am much sadder than they are.

      Fond memories are fleeting, but bad habits and ugly experiences are enduring.

      For the fighting man, there is no victory or defeat ... only endless combat and everlasting echoes.

      In the final analysis, we each do whatever it is that we must ... charge or flee, slay or hide ... and sometimes we loathe that inescapable knowledge of ourselves.

      I've seen it all ... everyone loses in war. I don't want to remember, but I can't forget. War has even taken my tears and rage ... all that's left is my bitterness.

      My shoes are gone; my clothes are almost gone. I'm weary. I'm sick, I'm hungry. My family has been killed or scattered, and may be now wandering helpless and unprotected in a strange land. And I have suffered all of this for my country. I love my country. I would die ... yes, I would die willingly because I love my country. But if this war is ever over, I'll be damned if I ever love another country!

      Gone are the proud hopes, the high aspirations that swelled our bosom a few days ago. Once more unsuccessful, and only a bloody record to show our men were brave. The army has strong limbs to march and meet the foe, stout arms to strike heavy blows, brave hearts to dare ... but the brains, the brains! Have we no brains to use the arms and limbs and eager hearts with cunning? Perhaps our noble leader has some funny story to tell appropriate to the occasion.

      The willingness of our young people to serve in any war, howsoever it may be justified, is directly dependent upon their perception of the way veterans of earlier wars were treated by a requited nation.

      It ain't over 'til they blow the bugle.

      It ain't over 'til every participant is dead and buried

      It ain't over 'til everyone who had a stake in it gets a stake in something else.

compiled by Pan Perdu
... who is a former soldier and VA counselor; this work has been excerpted from Fragmentations, a book in progress.

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C O M B A T, the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones