A duty to be different
In the Napoleonic era, while arguments raged over the use of the lash, tactical changes came into play. The rifle started to replace the short-range musket, and a growing number of officers were persuaded that a new style of discipline was required, with ‘the thinking fighting rifleman’ replacing the unthinking obedience of the old redcoat.
'... the army has evolved to follow changes in society... '
Historians often find it hard to stand apart from the debate, and it is all too easy, where such grave matters are concerned, to apply the values of one’s own age to the past. I find flogging and military execution as intolerable as will many of my readers, but both punishments were less repellent by the standards of their own age.
In so many respects the army has evolved to follow changes in society, although there is generally a time-lag inherent in the process. However, the existence of military law, creating offences which are not crimes in civilian life, emphasises that the soldier’s trade is like no other, and underlines the essential difference between the profession of arms and civilian callings
The army will not be able to stand aside from changes in legislation and practice which will make it more open and accountable, and more obliged to justify what it does in all its spheres of activity - from recruit training to the conduct of operations.
If it is to continue to flourish it will have to define those key areas where has a duty to be different, and at the same time to ensure that it is properly understood by the society it exists to defend and from which it draws so much of its strength. It will need, in short, to stress the continuities that help its members to feel valued and valuable, trusted and trusting. It will also need to change, not to conform with fashion or political correctness, but to embrace real progress
About the author
About the author
Richard Holmes is professor of military and security studies at Cranfield University. His books include The Little Field Marshal: Sir John French and Riding the Retreat, and he is general editor of The Oxford Companion to Military History. He enlisted into the Territorial Army in 1965 and rose to the rank of brigadier. He was the first reservist to hold the post of Director of Reserve Forces and Cadets in the Ministry of Defence, until he retired in 2000.