Hopes and Memories
Gábor A. Papp
Edited by Faustas Norvaisa
Even when missiles are heading towards you, dare to look up
It is hard not to think about war these days. With news popping up on our screens every minute, detailing the latest casualties, another attack, or some new tool of destruction, we immediately think about the muddy trenches and blood-soaked fields with dead bodies all over them. War has another face, though. The side that goes against the dead and calls for the living, the one that represents anti-fear and anti-despair. So let’s talk about hope, and its manifestation in war through the angles of the individual as part of the army, leadership, and technology.
Hope is motivation wrapped up in a fancy dress. Point. Is it real? Definitely not. Does it have to be? No. Hope is an illusion, made up internally and/or externally, and manifested in us along with our subjective perspectives. That doesn’t make it less true or consequential. For instance, in Star Wars (1977), the two sides – the Rebellion and the Empire – are fighting against one another, believing that the other side threatens their perceived order, and hoping that their order will be better and fairer. In war, hope is a must. If there is none, the people will not fight. In such a state of complex triggers, one must know how to supply motivation and fuel this dreadful machine.
Why the army?
We fight to survive, that is for sure. But even a soldier does not always have to fight for their life. There are three stages of motivation for them. (1) Initial for enlisting, (2) sustained to endure the military life, and (3) combat motivation to fight. Incentives include coercive (punishment), remunerative (material reward or compliance), and finally, normative power, in the form of status symbols such as promotion and everything that comes with it. Rather than thinking about them as separate entities, these powers all work together, mixed up with some basic materialism, ideology to legitimise the demands of a soldier’s life, and patriotism to believe in the just cause of war and to dehumanise the enemy. According to Berkovich (2017), the cohesion and ideology of normative factors strengthened by regimental communities, which meant sermons, ceremonies, a sense of belonging, and honour of being a soldier, were the primary sources of sustained motivation. Back in the ancient régime, the military also served as a counter- culture for those who could not fit into civil society. They were taught proper posture, walking, and even talking to become gentleman soldiers. Last but not least, basics such as free food and accommodation were also important factors. Thus, the army externalised hope for those looking for community and wanting to get ahead but could not find their place in civil society. Even two hundred years later, these principles barely changed, rather, they adapted to a new norm.
The will to fight and kill has always had a great impact on war; leaders can either strengthen it or tear it down. A great example is the battle of Poltava in 1709. As noted by Englund (2003), the forcefulness of the Swedes depended on morale and not on their superior technique. They had a will to win and faith that the enemy would break first. This was perpetuated by their king Charles XII (1682 – 1718), who was believed to be invincible due to the battles he won, even when they were outnumbered. The king knew about the power of example and deliberately ate and dressed the simplest way with the rest of the soldiers. Englund notes, “Charolous was a talisman of victory” (p. 95). That is why his wound- which he got ten days prior to Poltava after a musket-ball penetrated his foot (Boniface, 2018)- shook the army’s morale. That said, the Swedes' failure in the battle resulted from logistical problems, and overconfidence due to their previous victories against impossible odds, which proves that hope can serve as medicine and poison when one becomes overly reliant. Charle’s own hubris fits into this perfectly as he downplayed the importance of artillery in favour of their own valour. Indeed, with the ever changing face of warfare one must keep in mind that there are other ways than human to motivate soldiers, which brings us to the importance of weapons.
From simple sticks to crossbows, and mechanised tools of annihilation, war has served as a laboratory where humans could find new ways to increase their own security while simultaneously decreasing their opponent’s. The English longbows at Agincourt (1415) and the muskets at Waterloo (1815) provided increased lethality on the battlefield for a short time. With the First World War and the industrialization of warfare, soldiers could not only maintain this lethality over wide areas for a sustained period, but it also altered their experience (Keegan, 2011). He notes that these developments made it easier to be a soldier and kill, considering that using a machine gun is much easier than wielding a sword. Not only does it require less training, but the distance and visibility make war impersonal. This technological romanticism (Schneider, 2023), the idea to pursue ever bigger and better tools to win, is deeply embedded in the nature of warfare, but more apparent since the Second World War, which ushered a whole new era in terms of capability research and development to outperform one's opponent. Whether it is nuclear weapons, Reagan’s “Star Wars” defense plan, which remained science fiction, or the introduction of GPS and stealth technologies at Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1991 (Edwards, 2022)- which was also the beginning of modern warfare- these techs provided an edge, and thus confidence for the soldiers and the states alike.
Hope, motivation, optimism, or name it the light at the end of the tunnel, is an inherently human belief that has everything to do with our daily lives, particularly with traumatic events when we have to push through, or perish. Hope is not a strategy, says the usual military maxim. Indeed it isn’t, but it is nevertheless a vital component. Any strategy that only builds on high ideals without the necessary groundwork that makes it into reality is doomed to fail (Weber, 2018). Strategy is not a science, but an art of big-picture thought and adaptation, where the driving force behind careful planning, logistics, and a ton of other factors is an optimistic goal. In that sense, hope is both the strategy's starting and ending point.
When it comes to the war waged by Russia, one cannot but admire the bravery of Ukrainians on the battlefield. This bravery derives from basic survival and patriotism, fuelled by their success against the once believed to be all-powerful Russian Empire and maintained by many of its allies in the form of money and capabilities. This war proves that hope might only be the light at the end of the tunnel, but also the tunnel itself. Since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the idea of a Ukraine which is capable of defending itself was carefully created and nurtured with $2.7 billion worth of military assistance in the form of training and equipment by the end of 2021 from the U.S. (Mackinnon & Detsch, 2021). This clearly laid the groundwork for what we see on the battlefield today. However, hope is a hungry entity, and one must keep feeding it to see its full glory. With the war reaching its second year, the stakes are getting higher. The initial success against the Russians became the norm. Ukraine must end the war by inflicting a military defeat on the invader before it becomes frozen and protracted - which would enable Moscow to prepare for a counter attack. The soon-to- arrive Western capabilities and the hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and officers trained in foreign countries will be the last pillar of hope (Rukomeda, 2023). Once they arrive, Zelenskyy will have to answer a very critical question: How to defeat Russia just enough to deter it from attacking it for years, if not decades, without risking an escalation?
Berkovich, I., 2017. Motivation in War: The Experience of Common Soldiers in Old-Regime Europe. Cambridge University Press.
Englund, P., 2003. The battle that shook Europe: Poltava and the birth of the Russian Empire. IB Tauris.
Keegan, J., 2011. The face of battle: A study of Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme. Random House.
Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope. 1977. George Lucas. dir. USA: Lucasfilm Ltd.
Schneider, J. (2023) Does technology win wars?, Foreign Affairs. Available at: https://www.foreignaffairs.com/ukraine/does-technology-win-wars (Accessed: March 19, 2023).
Boniface, P. (2018) Battle royal: Charles XII of Sweden, Military History Matters. Available at: https://www.military-history.org/feature/battle-royal-charles-xii-of-sweden.htm (Accessed:March 19, 2023).
Edwards, E. (2022) How operation desert storm forever changed modern warfare, warhistoryonline. Available at: https://www.warhistoryonline.com/history/operation-desert-storm-modern-warfare.html?chrome=1 (Accessed: March 19, 2023).
Weber, J. (2018) Hope is not 'A' strategy: It's the only strategy, War Room - U.S. Army War College. Available at: https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/hope-not-strategy-strategy/ (Accessed: March 19, 2023).
Mackinnon, A. and Detsch, J. (2021) Ukraine's military has come a long way since 2014, Foreign Policy. Available at: https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/12/23/ukraine-russia-military-buildup-capabilities/ (Accessed: March 19, 2023).
Rukomeda, R. (2023) The second year of war raises the stakes for Ukraine, www.euractiv.com. Available at: https://www.euractiv.com/section/global-europe/opinion/the-second-year-of- war-raises-the-stakes-for-ukraine/ (Accessed: March 20, 2023).