Quotes – what other people think

Attitudes towards soldiers

Samuel Johnson, who not having been a soldier reports:
Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier…”

One can say things like:
“Soldiers are the foundation stone of every real and serious nation; citizens ready to fight, and die if necessary, on behalf of the rest, their presence enabling the nation to prosper.”

Author Allan Massie put this more succinctly:
“Do you know what a soldier is, young man? He’s the chap who makes it possible for civilised folk to despise war.”

Thomas Jefferson took this a stage further, declaring that statehood required military conscription:
“Every citizen should be a soldier. This was the case with the Greeks and Romans, and must be that of every free state.”

Dictator Mussolini agreed:
“The function of a citizen and a soldier are inseparable.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower:
“In the final choice a soldier’s pack is not so heavy as a prisoner’s chains.

Napoleon Bonaparte
“The first virtue in a soldier is endurance of fatigue; courage is only the second virtue.”

Bringing back the bodies

Lt General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, 1862

“For hours the army gathered the dead; and to Blackford’s amazement, Jackson stood over the working men as they laid out rows, with up to fifty bodies in each, and spread blankets or oil cloths over them. He looked about the field, sending men to pick up every scrap of cloth or grisly debris. Jackson was even stranger than his reputation, Blackford thought. But he saw at the end the scene was much less depressing and that the numbers of casualties appeared much less.

“Why did you have the field cleaned like this?” the cavalryman asked Jackson.

“Because I’m going to attack here presently, as soon as the fog rises, and it won’t do to march troops over their own dead, you know. That’s what I’m doing it for.”

General George Patton, quoted by General James M Gavin, addressing his officers:
“Now I want you to remember that no sonuvabitch ever won a war by dying for his country. He won it by making the other dumb bastard die for his.”

US Senator Dan Lipinski
“On the battlefield, the military pledges to leave no soldier behind. As a nation, let it be our pledge that when they return home, we leave no veteran behind.”

Can soldiers be individuals?

Kurt Vonnegut
“The feeling about a soldier is, when all is said and done, he wasn’t really going to do very much with his life anyway. The example usually is: he wasn’t going to compose Beethoven’s Fifth.”

Pierre Charles Baudleaire
“There exist only three beings worthy of respect: the priest, the soldier, the poet. To know, to kill, to create.”

Do soldiers enjoy war?

Generals who become Presidents (and some who didn’t) share the same view:

Dwight D. Eisenhower
“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

Ulysses S. Grant
“Although a soldier by profession, I have never felt any sort of fondness for war, and I have never advocated it, except as a means of peace.”

Douglas MacArthur
“The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.”

American philosopher, poet and novelist George Santayana:
“To delight in war is a merit in the soldier, a dangerous quality in the captain, and a positive crime in the statesman.”

Napoleon Bonaparte can always be relied upon for sardonic but apt remarks:
“A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of coloured ribbon.”

Can soldiering really be a profession?

American WW2 war correspondent Ernie Pyle writing during the Second World War:
“But to the fighting soldier that phase of the war is behind. It was left behind after his first battle. His blood is up. He is fighting for his life, and killing now for him is as much a profession as writing is for me.”

Rome had a large professional army, regularly engaged in combat.
Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus:
“The courage of a soldier is heightened by his knowledge of his profession.”

Captain Sir Basil Liddel Hart, 1956
“War is the professional soldier’s time of opportunity.”

General Sir John Monash, 1911
“There is something about permanent military occupation which seems to confine a man’s scope and limit his opportunities; and after he has had a few years under the circumscribed conditions of official routine, he generally find himself wholly out of touch with civil occupation.”

On fighting and killing

Napoleon Bonaparte
“To imagine that it is possible to perform great military deeds without fighting is just empty dreams.”

Duke of Alva, circa 1560
“The object of a good general is not to fight but to win. He has fought enough if he has gained a victory.”

Lt General Nathan Bedford Forrest 1821-77
“War means fighting, and fighting means killing.”

US Air Force general Curtis Lemay
“Every soldier thinks something of the moral aspects of what he is doing. But all war is immoral, and if you let that bother you, you’re not a good soldier.”

Indian revolution leader Mohandas “Mahatma” Ghandi did not reject the need for soldiers – only their tactics:
“I believe that a man is the strongest soldier for daring to die unarmed.”

Do soldiers ever protest?

Siegfried Sassoon’s powerful poetry spoke up against the wastefulness of the First World War and its effect on ordinary people:
“I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers.”

His fellow war poet Wilfred Owen, was equally proud of being a soldier, whilst implacably against the war:
“If I have got to be a soldier, I must be a good one, anything else is unthinkable.”

The importance of luck

Brig SLA Marshall
“There is such a thing as luck, and as soldiers you have to believe in it.”

Roman Emperor Maurice AD 600
“The state benefits more from a lucky general than from a brave one. The first achieves his results with little effort, whereas the other does so at some risk.”

Field Marshal von Moltke
“Luck in the long run, is given only to the efficient.”

Field Marshal Viscount Allenby
“Luck is like a sum of gold; to be spent.”

Napoleon Bonaparte
“I base my calculation on the expectation that luck will be against me.”
“The affairs of war, like the destiny of battles, as well as empires, hang upon a spiders thread.”

3 thoughts on “Quotes – what other people think”

  1. Harry Beaves

    ‘The harder I practice, the luckier I get.’ is a quote usually attributed to Gary Player, but many generals might agree.

    1. Hi Harry,
      Can’t think why I didn’t see your comment until now – and great to hear from you. “You create your own luck” is the bottom line on that one isn’t it?

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