Military Review English Edition November-December 2015 - Page 129

MORTALITY NARRATIVE Terror management theory’s “worldview defense” hypothesis proposes that reminders of mortality inspire a need to validate faith in one’s cultural worldview.17 Multiple studies confirm that “in response to reminders of mortality, people become more favorable toward those who support their worldview and more unfavorable toward those who violate it.”18 As warfare moves toward an increased reliance on multinational coalitions, and combat operations require increased cultural competence to negotiate complex environments, nationalistic messages as a buffer against the fear of death seem increasingly less applicable. Some forms of legacy do have merit: contributions to collective efforts, a mission that has some enduring worth, and a personal legacy such as having children. However, these are difficult to share universally across an organization. Leaders should consider the consequences of nationalistic narratives in addressing the mortality paradox. Inspiring nationalistic pride among soldiers may generate an aggressive but xenophobic force. A Fifth Narrative The four immortality narratives presented exhibit flaws that should cause Army leaders to question their validity. The ideas that obedience, skill, or medical science can guarantee survival are false promises; resurrection and the soul are acceptable individual narratives but can fissure organizational trust and cohesion in diverse organizations; and nationalistic narratives that satisfy a need for legacy can promote dangerous intolerance toward others inside or outside the organization. Still, the mortality paradox needs reconciliation. Ethicist and author James Toner describes the soldier’s duties this way: “In addition to killing and preparing to kill, the soldier has two other principal duties. Some soldiers die; when they are not dying, they must be preparing to die.”19 Cave proposes a fifth narrative that soldiers can apply to face their own mortality, wisdom, but Army leaders can think of it as professionalism. Through professionalism, soldiers can prepare to die by acknowledging their mortality without reservation and cultivating values that enable wellness.20 World War II infantryman and writer James Jones posits, “every combat soldier … must make a compact with himself or with Fate that he is lost.”21 Through this MILITARY REVIEW  November-December 2015 conscious decision to face mortality, he can “function as he ought to function, under fire” because “he knows and accepts beforehand that he’s dead.”22 After accepting this fate, a soldier must cultivate values-based habits, or virtues, to reinforce the decision to expel the fear of death. The first virtue is to seek empathy, or relatedness to and respect for others. The second is to dwell in the present and clear the mind of unstructured plans and “plots, worries, and idle speculations.”23 The third is to exhibit gratitude and joy in interactions with others.24 According to Army Doctrine Reference Publication 1, The Army Profession, an Army professional is “bonded with comrades in a shared identity and culture of sacrifice and service to the Nation. An Army professional is one who acts as a steward of the Army Profession while adhering to the highest standards of the Army’s ethic.”25 These characteristics parallel the virtues of the fifth narrative. Leaders seeking to inculcate a true servant spirit must endeavor to build bonds beyond simple unit comradeship. Professional American soldiers are bound not only to their fellow soldiers but also to the citizenry they serve and the broader humanity whose dignity and lives they preserve. Instilling empathy in every soldier is among a leader’s most vital tasks to ensure a professional force. A true servant spirit, with the deepest knowledge of U.S. Army values, is humble and grateful. Gratefulness is a quintessential characteristic of a selfless actor. To steward the profession is a daily, moment-by-moment activity. As stewards, soldiers are future-oriented but present-focused. A steward—a professional—asks continually, am I preserving this profession with what I do now? Stewardship inspires thoughtful and structured goal setting and emphasizes present duties over future worries. Death is nothing fearful to one who lives a meaningful life, and few lead more meaningful lives than professional soldiers. The four immortality narratives are opiates for the masses, but when applied in combat leadership they leave something wanting. Army leaders must break free of them and inspire more meaningful and lasting mechanisms to foster courage, resolve, and resilience in confronting the harshest realities of battle. The professionalism narrative provides a path to embracing death as part of a life committed to a worthy task. Leaders seek to build character that echoes the Roman poet Ovid: “When death comes, let it find me at work.”26 123