Theory Building in Research on the Military

Authored by: Eyal Ben-Ari

Routledge Handbook of Research Methods in Military Studies

Print publication date:  June  2014
Online publication date:  June  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415635332
eBook ISBN: 9780203093801
Adobe ISBN: 9781136203312


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This article – one of the classics in military sociology – uses the case of the German Army in World War Two to explore the question of why, despite horrendous losses, its troops continued to fight until the end of the conflict. The authors answer this question by carefully analyzing alternative explanations for soldierly motivation that focused on the following factors: the social structure and dynamics of the organization and especially of small groups, the symbols and ideology that ostensibly moved the troops and the ways in which morale was bolstered or broken, among others by Allied propaganda. By exploring and rejecting alternative explanations, Shils and Janowitz posit that the cause for soldiers’ behaviors and attitudes regarding continued participation in combat was the interpersonal relationships of the primary group within which they were embedded (concretely, groups the size of no more than a company). The article is based on a review of empirical data gathered by the Allied armies during the war: front-line interrogations of prisoners of war, intensive interviews in rear areas, captured enemy documents, statements of recaptured Allied personnel and reports of combat observers. Well aware of the methodological difficulties of using these sources they nevertheless state they can be used fruitfully and convincingly.

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