The Stone City

Words Made to Last

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The Life of the Mind

In describing "The Genius for War", Clausewitz says:
War is the province of physical exertion and suffering. In order not to be completely overcome by them, a certain strength of body and mind is required, which, either natural or acquired, produces indifference to them.
[p. 42 of the Wordsworth Classics abridged version of On War.]

This passage, and in particular the penultimate word 'indifference', led me to reconsider the purpose of the hardship inflicted in basic training. I had supposed -- like most civilians, I imagine -- that the rigors of this training were intended to strengthen the body alone, while the commonality of suffering fostered teamwork and respect for one's comrades. That is, I had supposed that basic training was designed to inculcate fortitude.

It is clear to Clausewitz that the mind must be strengthened as well: the desired state is not fortitude but indifference. The good soldier is like Socrates walking barefoot in the snow; his mind is not enslaved to the comforts of the flesh. In this, he is far above the average professor or office worker, whose thoughts may be abstruse in the extreme but who can't think without his cup of coffee.