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Why They Fight: Combat Motivation in the Iraq War

Authored by Dr. Leonard Wong, COL Thomas A. Kolditz, LTC Raymond A. Millen, COL Terrence M. Potter. | July 2003

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Summary

Since World War II, studies have argued and conventional wisdom has claimed that soldiers fight for each other. Cohesion, or the bonds between soldiers, traditionally has been posited as the primary motivation for soldiers in combat. Recent studies, however, have questioned the effects of cohesion on unit performance. This monograph reviews the combat motivation literature and then analyzes findings from interviews conducted during the recent Iraq War.

By examining the perspectives of Iraqi Regular Army prisoners of war, U.S. troops, and embedded media, the monograph argues that unit cohesion is indeed a primary combat motivation. The report also notes that, contrary to previous studies of U.S. soldiers, notions of freedom, democracy, and liberty were also voiced by soldiers as key factors in combat motivation.

The monograph concludes that soldiers continue to fight for each other, but today?s soldiers are also sophisticated enough to grasp the moral concepts of war. The report suggests that this is a result of the transformation of the Army from a fledgling all-volunteer experiment to a truly professional force.

Introduction.

This monograph seeks to answer the question: Why do soldiers fight? It begins with a historical overview of the combat motivation literature and examines studies from World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. It then shifts to the recent Iraq War and analyzes the results of interviews with Iraqi Regular Army prisoners of war, U.S. combat troops, and embedded media. The varied perspectives combine to show the critical importance of unit cohesion in combat motivation but also highlight how today?s soldiers are different from U.S. soldiers of the past.