Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Norman Dixon on the "Instictive" Profession of Soldiering

Norman Dixon's On the Psychology of Military Incompetence (London: 1984, 1976), serves as an apologetic for historical British military stupidity.  Instead of a simple lack of intelligence, the blunders of the military past are shown to be the product of authoritarian personalities, torn between their conscience and a pathological need for aggression.  Dixon doesn't have much good to say of the military profession, nor of military institutions.  He notes that the armed services are a place where anti-intellectualism reigns supreme, and where aggression, order, and obedience attract authoritarians.  Perhaps apologetic was the wrong word?  Dixon suggests that strategic mistakes were made, not due to a lack of intelligence, but due to the military environment fostering unstable authoritarian personalities. 

A Freudian analysis typifies much of the work, which at points emphasizes the anxieties surrounding sex, elimination, eating, and death.  Perhaps his most quotable passage, comes in analysis of the soldierly profession as a "instinctive" one.

Broadly speaking, human activities may be regarded as falling into one of the other of two main groups: those which are directly instinctual and those which are not.  Into the first, which involves what have been succinctly described as the 'three Fs' - feeding, fighting, and 'reproduction' - fall such robust pastimes as pugilism, professional pie-eating, prostitution, and soldiering.  Into the second group fall all those other vocations which, though sometimes subserving the basic drives, do not have as their end-product the original consummatory response. (Dixon, p.169-170)

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