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          • Year: 2005
          • The morale of the army between painful heritage and poverty

          • 22. august 2005. Dr Mihajlo Basara PhD, Director of the Military History Institute

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          The effect of social and political trends on fighting morale is more evident in armies that have a general conscription, than in those that rely on professional troops. The state itself has a far grater and more decisive influence on a professional army, and on the fighting morale its organization, weaponry, training and the relations within the army itself. A clear status and a set political environment allow the members of a professional army to dedicate themselves only to those tasks for which the government organizes the defense and pays the army for. In fact, due to the obligation of the general male population, in a conscription-based army, there is no strict demarcation between the state and the army, and therefore it cannot assume full responsibility for the professional and fighting profile of the soldiers. The conscripted part of the army is constantly subject to monitoring by parents and by the broad social circle interested in its roles and activities, and the professionals share the overall responsibility with them to a greater degree than in professional armies. Far more then desirable for the unity of the army, its conscripted members share with all the other citizens the social pluralism of values, including criteria related to the evaluation of the army and its fighting qualities.

           

          In a divided society like the present Serbian-Montenegrin one (with profound and lasting conflicts of values and divisions) hampered by the grave burden of heritage, such a mixed composition (recruits and professionals), generates differing views of the army, and hence a diversified motivation for military duties and especially for potential war assignments. Professional troops within the Army (still) suffer from confusion generated by the breakdown of communism (that they did desire) further aggravated by dilemmas concerning "national" values raised by the October 5th changes, which represented the best surrogate for failed communist ideals that the ruling structures resorted to. The disappearance of a given tradition inherently opens the door to insecurity, ignorance, prejudice, growing authoritarianism, and this is additionally amplified by the asymmetrical efforts to create the basis for a new set of values, combining notions of modern (generally believed to have been introduced violently) and traditional. The military-political defeats and their effects, as well as the lack of any initiative to analyze them objectively, at least behind closed doors, clearly reveal and preserve such a state of things. Support to the continuing mental confusion of the officers’ corps has also been external. In line with the logic of their own confusion, political parties belonging to the DOS coalition (more specifically the Democratic Party of Serbia - DSS) endorsed the survival of leading figures in the Army long well after the fall of Milošević. Aware of the fact that it should bear the responsibility for threats to society and the involvement of the military in war crimes, the general corps expected something more radical to happen after the downfall of the Milošević régime. Their fears did not come true. In the further sequence of events, this contributed to the fact that the "reformist" circles were made of officers that had given prominent support to the policy of the Socialist (SPS) and Radical (SRS) party. A certain desire of the officers corps in the postwar period to draw a difference between those that took part in wars and those that committed crimes and robberies - by identifying the culprits and those that gave them orders, hence individualizing the responsibility, was not endorsed by the highest officers nor by the politicians. However, the highest commanders had the obligation to initiate and support such a process in the name of revitalization of morale. What does the officer corps think today about the cases of Major Tepić, Major Šišić, General Trifunović, General Mladić, General Pavković? Instead of a differentiated approach, one which is fully aware of the inevitable path through the criteria of cognitive and emotional catharsis, until the very fall of Milošević, protection had been openly given to those that killed war prisoners, or served as executioners in camps where civilians were tortured and killed, and any idea of reevaluating recent past was rejected, and the same pattern was proposed again - "hell - that's someone else".

          The illegal nature of NATO air strikes against FRY, and the desperate and suicidal decision to justify political madness with the "madness" of the subjects that decided in the referendum, led the members of the Army, to the only - war solution. After the defeat, Milošević celebrated victory (though only as a "moral victor"), the opposition cried defeat, and the officers occupied by their personal and family misery and tragedies, became object and instrument of political scrimmages. Part of the officers’ corps began to reason more rationally and to question the well foundedness of a number of decisions that had been made during the war (for example to send a pilot to fight a battle that is already lost - against an enemy having twice his radar range). However, the support of the political elites for preserving the political and moral impasse and poverty of the Army (certainly not spontaneous) strengthened the same old convictions. The partiality of the Hague Tribunal and its instrumentalization by the "patriots", split the entire society and once again placed the officers corps into a position to push away any idea of a reevaluating the past. This situation would not have been so contradictory and painful had the "new" politics truly criticized the previous one, and individualized the responsibility for war and war crimes. Instead, the new rulers - which simply could not stand each other - tried to solidify their rule by securing the sympathy (rather than the control) of the armed instruments of the state, especially of the security services and special forces. The military public (especially the officers corps whose fighting morale is the issue here) is fully aware of the role of the secret services and special units in all the wars that took place in the 90's, and is also familiar with their role after the "external" enemy disappeared. The killing did not stop, and the "internal enemies" and "traitors" became victims. In spite of that, the "bag on the head" method was met with general support by the officer corps (no support for Perišić who was involved in the event) in the operation to "stop the spy network". The predominant feeling regarding the reform of the security services was a mixture of insecurity, disbelief, resignation and - less often - condemnation. Lamentably, the officers saw no advantages in the reform of the security services - including the military security service - and the rulers of the country amply "helped" them maintain this position. The infatuation of the government and of the political parties with the means of coercion and with the methods used by intelligence and security services - which was, to tell the truth, welcomed by the "subjects" - made both those in power and those that hoped to seize it, quite subservient with respect to the secret services. The general corps quickly realized this and used it to preserve its position. Being thus politicized, the general corps was unable to present the political rulers with a clear, rational and firm review of the situation - indicating that reform is indispensable and acceptable in the interest of the society and of the military. The general corps could not, did not know how, or simply did not wish to protect - politically and existentially - the professional troops it was leading. Such a situation has been going on for years and this has destroyed the key cohesive element of the unitary spirit of the Army.

           

          The gap between the public and the Army has also been deepening at the expense of its fighting unity. The gap between the "critics" and "protectors" of the Army has been developing ever since the 80's, when the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) had been justly criticized as the keeper of the communist monistic power. Such a gap was present when the country faced dissolution, and it merely made those critical stands more extreme. The war defeats and the ongoing intolerance of a part of the public, struck a double blow to the army morale. Accusations were raised by those who were unsatisfied with the failure to achieve war objectives, as well as by those dissatisfied with the fact that they had been set in the first place and that the Army earnestly supported such objectives. The Army was criticized for not being sufficiently Serbian, as well as for being excessively Serbian. No side was satisfied with the Army and the officers’ corps. The gap was further deepened by the praetorian attitude of the officers corps after the signing of the Dayton Agreement, and - in the end - by the heavy suspicion that will never be removed, that the officers were willing to give the order (or that they at least hoped that the police would issue such an order in their stead) to defend the Milošević régime with force. That would have practically represented the suicide of the society using its own Army, and this is why the arguments of those criticizing the Army are not unfounded either. Nevertheless, the frustration of the officers corps protracting ever since the dissolution of SFRY is also justified, because extreme critics never showed understanding for the dangers faced by the officers during the breakup of the country - the population and the various "police" and "military" forces of the future independent states were a threat to both their families and them personally. Some Serbs interpreted their position as a well-deserved resistance to changes, and others allegedly understood them completely - still pushing them into war. There was no objective, differentiated, critical perspective capable of not rejecting the Army is a whole but rather rationally explaining the need for it - based on a critical analysis of the security reality or, on the other hand, ending the apology, glorification and the deceit of the public about the "merits" of the Army and the need for it now and in future. The public, being schizophrenic itself, introduced a schizophrenic attitude among the military. The lack of the sense of measure (also meaning knowledge), in the evaluation of the military needs of the society: we need a strong army to survive / we need no army at all. This generated counterpoised views, which deviate towards extreme perspectives of the military and defense - generating a black-and-white image of reality. The largest portion of the officer corps sided with the political options that justified them, largely because of the unselective and radical criticism aimed at the military, and thus developed motives and values which are contrary to the ones required by firm morale and the reform of the defense system.

           

          Yet another potentially useful and positive instrument for homogenizing the fighting spirit failed to leave a good trace. The involvement of the Church in the wars of the 90's at the side of the national-communists Milošević, Šešelj, and of their supporters within the power structures, as well as in the opposition block until and after October 5, and its consequent introduction into the Army, did not produce a strengthening of the morale of the army. The Serbian Orthodox Church (SOC), acting with the support of the general staffs (all those that existed throughout the 90's and after the fall of Milošević) established the monopoly on the military spirit and the sense of Serbhood, on moral sentiments in general and on the attitude towards the state. The Church instrumentalized nationalism, the same way that the post-Communists did, anticipating correctly that this will bring it faster and closer to power, and help it partake in it. The officers’ corps broadly accepted the Church as the representative of the undivided national and religious sentiments, and a new authority replacing the ideology that disappeared. Certain political parties endorse the SOC vision of the Serbian nation, the state and the army, and this generates the need to newly analyze the social causes. Whichever way the responsibility be distributed, today any second Lieutenant will affirm that without a strong army there can be no strong state and that without the Church there is no moral (and no military morale for that matter). Such an attitude of the representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church and of the military, often produces intolerant reactions of the public, and this is yet another reason why great efforts will have to be made to convince the society to accept the army as its defense institution.

           

          The morale of the military is also affected by the distressing and ongoing state of the reform of defense and of the army. Although there are small and great military objectives, the nonexistence of the borders of the state that its citizens and soldiers can think about and be taught to consider a single entity, represents a major problem for each and every soldier. Consequently, there is no single concept of security, strategy and defense doctrine (and any changes made regarding those issues are disputable both objectively and therefore politically). The defense of what the Serbian people, the Serbs in Serbia and Montenegro, the Montenegrins in Serbia and Montenegro, other peoples in Serbia and other peoples in Serbia and Montenegro, and finally the citizens of Serbia and Montenegro would protect with determination, cannot be determined by any name or by a territory for that matter.

          The "concern" for a monolithic military spirit, within a progressive breakdown of ideological codices - lasting for many years - constantly encouraged obedience as the predominant relationship between superiors and subordinates. This resulted in the creation of an officers corps that experienced the advantage of sheer loyalty directly. The domination of loyalty as a criterion for advancing in the ranks marginalized professional and moral criteria. Only highly skilled officers can adopt and endorse professional criteria, and only moral officers can adopt, establish and apply moral criteria. Mutual solidarity among the obedient was a natural consequence of the belief that the transition process is irreversible, surfacing once that the new rulers - fearing for themselves - embraced those generals that they were prepared to "sent to the firing squad" not so long ago. Instead of punishing them because of low military morale, immoral politicians offered them pardon. The true history of professional promotion and moral degradation of the officers during the 90's wars could be written by any general staff personnel department member that had direct insight into the staffing policy. A certain change occurred after October 5th. Once the fear had been overcome, and when the highest officers realized that they would not be held responsible, after being embraced - as previously noted - by the quasi-reformists, they found the courage to continue applying the loyalty principle, but could not satisfy the needs of the reform. They lacked the knowledge, and their convictions could not be changed overnight. In meetings that they quickly and subserviently staged to demonstrate that they are heat and soul in favor of joining PfP (no mention being made of NATO, although it is unlikely that the officers ignore the Partnership for Peace represents the gateway to NATO) attempts made to use the new language revealed difficulties, primarily in the sense of understanding what they wanted to say. For example, the creators of the doctrinarian principles of general people's defense, and the authors of Milošević's doctrines, were invited to take part in the scientific meeting on defense strategy held in March 2004, and it is not surprising that this particular gathering revealed the linguistic and mental confusion of the participants. Therefore, the preservation of an officers corps which maintains beliefs qualifying them among the members of the Army (on all levels) as endorsers of the former non-democratic regime, makes the morale of the army and the army itself quite suspicious, and degrades all efforts to enhance the fighting morale. The elements needed to create the fighting morale of the army have not been changed on the level of criticizing the dire heritage either, even though this is a prerequisite to start considering the adoption of new stands and beliefs concerning defense. No changes to the curriculum have been made in military schools and at the Military Academy. Reforms are nudged ahead only when incidents occur in the Army, bringing considerations about the reform back to square one. In the case of young officers, this is closely related to hopes for a better status. If the reform is further deferred, their better status will also be delayed - and this certainly doesn’t help strengthen the fighting morale and the motivation to work. Bearing in mind the obsolete weaponry, the decaying training infrastructure, the low standard of living of professional officers and civilians working in the army, the low professional standard of the army in general, the protracting "transformations", "reforms" and "reorganizations" that have brought down the organization of the army to a very low level, the lack of funds for training (and the consequent indifference of the people involved in training to the requests for a high level of training), the present morale of the army is a combination of militancy stemming from the constraints of poverty, indoctrination-based "heroic" tradition (mixed with religious) and - not paradoxically - of nationalism, which is the only instrument of group cohesion under the present conditions.

           

          * Translated by Goran Kričković

        • Tags: military, morale, heritage, professionalisation, soldier, Serbia
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