Culture and Combat in the Western World, 1900-1945

Watson, Alexander. 2008. Culture and Combat in the Western World, 1900-1945. The Historical Journal, 51(2), pp. 529-46. ISSN 0018-246X [Article]

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Abstract or Description

This article reviews recent research investigating the impact of societal culture on combat performance during the first half of the twentieth century. For a long time, this issue was ignored by academics, who contended that martial prowess derived principally from military institutions. During the last fifteen years, however, it has received increasingly sophisticated consideration. The article identifies two main approaches. Firstly, historians, usually focusing on one society or army, have argued that cultural values and assumptions affected individuals’ behaviour on the battlefield. Upbringing, employment, and religion have all been cited as influential in moulding soldiers’ resilience and motivation. Comparison of the research reveals, however, that while these factors had some minor impact, combatants’ common humanity and the efficacy of military institutions were of far greater relevance in determining conduct under fire. Nonetheless, as analysis of the second historiographical approach attests, culture was not without considerable importance, for military organizations themselves were shaped partly by their societal and political environments. Although western armies were structurally similar and subject to both international and internal influences, societal culture impacted on their composition and ethos, accentuated or retarded their institutional functioning, and thereby acted as an indirect but often crucial determinant of martial performance.

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Research Office > REF2014


June 2008Published

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27 Jun 2013 07:34

Last Modified:

27 Jun 2017 10:38

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Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


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