Schofield’s Treatise on Discipline

Thanks to the same retired-but-still-serving anonymous colonel who raised the subject in the first place. This was part of a lecture that Major General John M. Schofield delivered at West Point.

The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than to make an army. It is possible to impart instruction and give commands in such a manner and such a tone of voice as to inspire in the soldier no feeling but an intense desire to obey, while the opposite manner and tone of voice cannot fail to excite strong resentment and a desire to disobey. The one mode or other of dealing with subordinates springs from a corresponding spirit in the breast of the commander. He who feels the respect which is due to others, cannot fail to inspire in them respect for himself, while he who feels, and hence manifests disrespect towards others, especially his subordinates, cannot fail to inspire hatred against himself.

This is a brilliant and heartfelt paragraph. It is, as the good colonel notes, beaten into officer cadets at various points in their upbringing. But what is interesting is that at the time Schofield delivered the address (to the graduating Class of 1879), it was rather foreign to the discipline of the United States army, which was cruel and brutal. One career’s-length before, ¬†at the time of the Mexican War, the Army’s toxic leadership was so bad that a large number of immigrant Irishmen defected to the Mexican side, forming an entire regiment, the San Patricios, of American deserters.

Of course, the San Patricios didn’t do well. If you’re going to change sides, changing from the winning to the losing side is usually non-habit-forming.

(No, the Schofield who made this speech is not the same one who was involved with the eponymous Smith & Wesson top-break revolver; the speechmaker is the older brother, the revolver guy the junior).