Let’s see. The Pentagon is hoping to find a way to “armor” its combat personnel from the dire stresses of combat which make some individuals break and cower or panic and run. That armoring is, of course, hopefully mental or psychologically “internal.” At least one faction thinks religious belief may brace a fighter up more than strong spirit. In fact, certain chaplains are cock-sure of it, likely based on biased view of anecdotal evidence. In my view, service chaplains should not be “pushing” their religions but offering social services and fellowly humane counselling, certainly not playing the role of high-ranking officers, spies and assistants to the C. O.!
Military armor has four or five thousand years of history. It passed through several phases, starting with wooden shields, leather or padded cloth caps, broad belts and wood, stone or metal studded jackets, passing through copper, bronze and iron to steel plate. Suits of maille in the Renaissance era were made of low quality steel. At once it was found pervious to arrows, cross-bolts and, soon, bullets from harquebuses. Next, armorers improved their steel and the concept of “bullet proof” plate was disseminated. Pieces were tested by firing at them, the dents left as “proof” to the buyer.
Defensive armor was gradually found lacking. By late Renaissance, it was abandoned for mobility, gunpowder-power, long pikes for a massed front, the rapier and saber for close in-fighting. Bayonets on smooth-bore muskets were not far behind. Fire a volley,
then, charge and stab, clubbing with the musket-stock, parrying with the barrel.
How different is internal armor? External armor gave confidence to its wearers, well warranted at first, but a confidence later proving to be hübristic and dangerous. Surely the American Indian’s battle-fetish supporting a belief in his invulnerability gave him an edge at times in hand-to-hand combat or horseback charge against an army line? It enabled him to undertake sometimes-successful acts which normal self-concern might on second thought reject. Heroism on battlefields is largely unpremeditated. One moves as motivated by scenic or situational factors more than by subjective intent. Deliberation fuses with bodily surge as dictated by what can be called “social heart.” One attempts what presents itself as necessary to do, with little self-concern. The Pentagon needs poets who “see through” fancy words because they have experienced skills with them.
Can we suppose that psychological manipulations long in advance of action can achieve that readiness more than traditional training and team bonding with good buddies? Ah, but money is involved from “research & engineering” grants. Some people are strongly motivated to show their work gets results and yields good value. Moreover, the service “religiosi” are heavily biased toward their own established practices and suppositions.
Perhaps the Pentagon is less silly than wishful. Obviously, military trainers will be more successful in turning ordinary boys into battlefield robots than in creating whole personalities capable of instant selflessness. I’m afraid spontaneous heroism will continue to be as stochastically occasional as it was in the Civil War and World War II. Maybe the Pentagon should turn to injectable mood-pharmaceuticals on battlefields, though that might make them more foolhardy than wisely heroic.