Sunday, 14 January 2007

soldiers' uniforms and loss of individualism

Gunpowder drill ... undoubtedly originated in a natural concern of musketeers ... not to wound each other while using their weapons. ... musketeers ranked in close order, especially in the early days when they scattered loose powder near to burning slow matches, threatened to set off a chain of accidental discharges unless all the men performed the many steps of loading, aiming and firing in exact unison. The musketry drill books - equivalents, in their way, of industrial safety manuals of a later age - which were widely printed from the early seventeenth century onward, divide the sequence into numerous precise actions - forty-seven in Maurice of Orange's drill book of 1607 - from the moment when the musketeer takes up his weapon to that when he pulls the trigger.

Still, the seventeenth-century musketeer was an individualist. He may not have chosen his moment to fire, but he probably chose his own target in the opposing ranks. By the eighteenth century, that freedom was disappearing. The musketeers of the royal regiments which had come into existence after the end of the Thirty Years' War ... were trained to aim not at a man but at the mass of the enemy; drill sergeants, carrying an otherwise obsolete half-pike, used it to knock the muzzles of the front rank's muskets to an equal level, so that when the order to fire was given, the bullets, in theory at least, departed at a uniform height above the ground to strike a simultaneious blow across the front of the rank opposite.

The soldier's loss of individualism was made manifest in numerous other ways. From the end of the seventeenth century he wore uniform clothing, as household servants did. The idea of uniform was indeed the same as that of livery. It marked its wearer out as someone in the servile employment of a master and, therefore, as a person of restricted rights and liberties. The sixteenth-century soldier gloried in the diversity of his raiment, often collected by looting; indeed , the Renaissance fashion of slashing the other garment to display the silks and velvets worn underneath had been adopted precisely to demonstrate that a soldier could take fine things as he pleased and wear them with impunity. Their leaders indulged them. 'It was argued that soldiers should be free to choose their own clothes . . . they were thought more likely to fight bravely and cheerfully that way.' Eighteenth-century soldiers were expected to fight not cheerfully but dutifully and on command; to enforce discipline, officers treated their men with a harshness that neither the free pikemen nor the mercenaries of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries would have tolerated. They had accepted hanging or disfigurement as the arbitrary penalty for mutiny or murder, but they would not have accepted the regime of statutory flogging or casual beating by which the liveried military servants of the dynastic monarchies were kept in order.

... in Prussia and Russia, where the peasantry was widely enserfed from the seventeenth century onward, outright compulsion applied. Though its organisers might have denied it, we can recognise this as a military slave system, close in character to that of the Ottoman janissary force, recruited by levy and kept in obedience by harsh discipline and an almosts complete denial of civil rights to its members. The style of fighting it practised, that of stereotyped, almost mechanical drill-movements performed in serried ranks, exactly reflected the surrender of individuality its members had undergone.

- p342-343, History of Warfare, John Keegan

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