Here is the Table of Contents for the latest edition of War in History.
This paper examines the courage and cowardice of Roman soldiers in the period from the late first century bc to the fourth century ad, set within a broader chronological context of service in standing armies. The specific sources for Roman warfare are evaluated together with features of service in the Roman armies. Discussion of courage is based on Roman concepts of virtus and disciplina, and examines religious and ritual observance, standing formations, regional cultural traditions, diet, medical support, training and skills development, military equipment, and service rewards. Cowardice and its consequences are investigated in the contexts of surrender, desertion, and enslavement, with particular reference to the literary sources and archaeological evidence for the defeat of Varus’ army in Germany (ad 9).
Previous surveys of medieval thinking with regard to courage and cowardice have concluded that the greatest opprobrium was reserved for those knights who turned and fled from battle. A close examination of the many sources for the First Crusade, however, indicates that such battlefield behaviour was far less of an issue than that of desertion from the campaign. There is no comparison between the anger and violent expression of dismay directed towards those who abandoned the crusade and that levelled at those who fled from fighting. What this suggests is that the all-or-nothing nature of the enterprise, once it was far from Christian territories, combined with a theology that equated leaving the army with the violation of a pilgrim’s oath, altered the participant’s concept of cowardice. Leaving the crusade was the highest form of cowardice and all other displays of fear were relatively excusable.
Joseph Clarke, “Valour Knows Neither Age Nor Sex’: The Recueil des Actions Héroïques and the Representation of Courage in Revolutionary France’
The outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars prompted the production of wartime propaganda on an unprecedented scale. In France state-sponsored publications such as the mass-produced Recueil des Actions Héroïques et Civiques des Républicains Français reached an exceptionally wide audience throughout the Terror and inspired a variety of patriotic prints, plays, and paintings in the years that followed publication. This article argues that works such as this radically redefined the representation of courage in combat and left a lasting legacy on the representation of warfare well into the nineteenth century.
Edward Madigan, “Sticking to a Hateful Task’: Resilience, Humour, and British Understandings of Combatant Courage, 1914–1918′
In the years that immediately preceded the outbreak of the First World War, a willingness to die, and die well, in pursuit of a noble objective was lauded as the ultimate act of courage by a diverse range of commentators across the United Kingdom. The story of the deaths of Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his companions on their return from the South Pole in 1911 inspired effusive references to medieval chivalry and Christian sacrifice, and seemed to offer welcome proof that an ancient form of British courage was still very much alive in the twentieth century. This article explores British conceptions of combatant courage during the First World War as understood by the civilian population on the home front and the junior officers and men who bore the brunt of the fighting on the Western Front. Drawing on often overlooked sources that shed light on troop culture, it argues that while neither group rejected the pre-war paradigm, each embraced a conception of courage that was informed by its own distinctive needs and experiences. Chivalry and dignified self-sacrifice resonated strongly with civilians who suffered unprecedented levels of bereavement and understood their nation’s role in the war as righteous and just. For the soldiers who served in the front lines of an attritional trench war in which personal agency was greatly reduced, a robust rejection of victimhood and an emphasis on perseverance, articulately expressed through humour, became the new ideal of courage.
High rates of desertion and surrender during the battles in North Africa in the summer of 1942 were a major factor in Eighth Army’s poor combat performance. At the time, some suggested that these problems were symptomatic of a lack of courage or even of cowardice. There are two broad strands to the conceptualization of courage and cowardice. One focuses on the willingness of the person to fight; the other puts emphasis on how actions express an individual’s ability to cope with fear. Whichever conceptualization is used, high morale motivates the soldier to fight and shields the ordinary recruit from his fear, preventing it from overcoming him in battle. Where morale fails, the soldier is left demotivated and burdened with his terror and, therefore, and is therefore prone to desertion or surrender. Because it is extremely difficult to maintain morale at a continuously high level in an environment governed by chance and managed by humans, all soldiers can find themselves in situations where their actions may be judged as cowardly. Alternatively, if they are properly motivated to fight and prepared by the state and military to deal with the unavoidable fear of combat, all soldiers can be labelled courageous. Accordingly, emotive terms should be avoided when attempting to describe rationally explainable outcomes. The undoubtedly negative connotations attached to cowardice in battle and the positive ones attached to courage are, therefore, arguably unhelpful in understanding Eighth Army’s performance in the summer of 1942 and the human dimension in warfare more generally.