Letter From Military History – January 2016 | HistoryNet MENU
As English naval guns rained shot on the Scottish rear during the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh, William Grey led his cavalry against the enemy pikemen, gaining time for English archers, harquebusiers and gunners to rally and put the Scots under heavy fire. (Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection/Brown University Library)

Letter From Military History – January 2016

By Stephen Harding
11/23/2015 • Military History, MH Editorial

Leave No Man Behind

Throughout history individuals, tribes, religions and nations have battled each other for reasons both laudable and reprehensible. Over the millennia mankind’s seemingly unquenchable thirst for armed conflict led to the development of organized armed forces with which nations could better defend themselves or oppress others. As these military organizations evolved, they developed increasingly complex and sophisticated ways of waging war on land, sea and, eventually, in the air. Newer technologies supplanted older ones, in the process forcing innovations in both strategies and tactics.

But the essential element in any armed force has always been its individual members. It is soldiers, sailors and airmen who win or lose battles, and it is they who are asked, or ordered, to gamble their lives. Death has always been an occupational hazard for warriors, of course, and while the goal is to inflict it on the enemy, any member of a military organization must at some point come to grips with the idea of being killed in the performance of his or her duty.

Among the many factors that can influence a combatant’s willingness to accept the risk of death are patriotism, religious beliefs, esprit de corps and the fear of letting down comrades. But two desires are near universal among those who put themselves in harm’s way: If they must die, they don’t want their death to have been in vain, and they don’t want to lie for eternity in a foreign land. History is often the ultimate determiner of the former, but the latter is the responsibility of the country for which warriors laid down their lives. No great nation leaves its missing or dead behind, and a society that truly honors the ultimate sacrifice of its sons and daughters in uniform will do whatever it takes to find them and bring them home. MH

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