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Shils Janowitz - Cohesion and Disintegration in the Wehrmacht

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Classic document on the role of primary groups and psychology in the effectiveness of military units.
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  Cohesion  and  Disintegrationin  the  Wehrmacht  in World  War II BY EDWARD  A.  SHILS  AND  MORRIS JANOWITZ The title of this article may suggest to some that it is of interest only to thestudent of military affairs. But it is of a far wider scope. The public relations ex-pert, the opinion analyst, the propagandist, the educator, and all those who areinterested in relating attitudes to the psychology of the individual and the struc-ture of the group will find it deserving of close attention. For the authors, in at-tempting to determine why the German Army in World War II fought so stub-bornly to the end, have made an intensive study of the social structure of this army, of the symbols to which it responded, of the Nazi attempts to bolster itsmorale, and the Allied attempts to brea\ it down. They have found a \ey to manyof the behavior and attitude patterns of the individual infantryman in the inter-personal relationships within the company — his primary group. His relationshipto this primary group goes far to explain why he responds to one appeal and notto another, why he fights, and why he surrenders. This study thus ptovides anexample of the sociological and psychological analysis which the propagandist mustma\e if he is to obtain maximal response to his communications.Professor Shils is a member of the faculty of the University of Chicago andof the London School of Economics. Dr. Janowitz also teaches at the University ofChicago. During the war, both served in the Intelligence Section of the Psycho-logical Warfare Division of SHAEF. I. The Army as a Social Group fcrior in equipment, the German Army,This study is an attempt to analyze on all fronts, maintained a high degreethe relative influence of primary and of organizational integrity and fightingsecondary group situations on the high effectiveness through a series of almostdegree of stability of the German Army unbroken retreats over a period of sev-in World War II. It also seeks to eral years. In the final phase, the Germanevaluate the impact of the Western Al- armies were broken into unconnectedlies' propaganda on the German Army's segments, and the remnants were over-fighting effectiveness. 1  , , .......   1  For a  further treatment  of  these problems Although distinctly outnumbered and ^  Dk] ^  Hcary  v>  ^  Money  and  ^ in  a  strategic sense quantitatively  in-  London: Keegan Paul Rutledge (forthcoming).   a t  B i  r k  b  e c k  C  ol  l   e g e , U ni  v  er  s i   t   y  of  L  on d  on onA  u g u s  t  1  5  ,2  0 1  0 h  t   t   p:  /   /   p o q. ox f   or  d  j   o ur n al   s . or  gD  ownl   o a d  e d f  r  om   COHESION AND DISINTEGRATION IN THE WEHRMACHT 281run as the major lines of communica-tion and command were broken. Nev-ertheless, resistance which was morethan token resistance on the part ofmost divisions continued until they wereoverpowered or overrun in a way which,by breaking communication lines, pre-vented individual battalions and com-panies from operating in a coherentfashion. Disintegration through deser-tion was insignificant, while active sur-render, individually or in groups, re-mained extremely limited throughoutthe entire Western campaign.In one sense the German High Com-mand effected as complete a defense ofthe European Fortress as its ownleadership qualities and the technicalmeans at its disposal permitted. Officialmilitary analyses, including GeneralEisenhower's report, have shown thatlack of manpower, equipment, andtransportation, as well as certain stra-tegical errors, were the limiting factors. 2 There was neither complete collapse norinternally organized effort to terminatehostilities, such as signalized the endof the first world war.This extraordinary tenacity of theGerman Army has frequently been at-tributed to the strong National Socialistpolitical convictions of the German sol-diers. It is the main hypothesis of thispaper, however, that the unity of theGerman Army was in fact sustainedonly to a very slight extent by the Na-tional Socialist political convictions ofits members, and that more importantin the motivation of the determined re-sistance of the German soldier was thesteady satisfaction of certain  primary personality demands afforded by thesocial organization of the army.This basic hypothesis may be elab-orated in the following terms.1. It appears that a soldier's abilityto resist is a function of the capacity ofhis immediate primary group (hissquad or section) to avoid social dis-integration. When the individual's im-mediate group, and its supporting for-mations, met his basic organic needs,offered him affection and esteem fromboth officers and comrades, suppliedhim with a sense of power and ade-quately regulated his relations with au-thority, the element of self-concern inbattle, which would lead to disruptionof the effective functioning of his pri-mary group, was minimized. 1.  The capacity of the primary groupto resist disintegration was dependenton the acceptance of political, ideologi-cal, and cultural symbols (all secondarysymbols) only to the extent that thesesecondary symbols became directly as-sociated with primary gratifications. 3.  Once disruption of primary grouplife resulted through separation, breaksin communications, loss of leadership,depletion of personnel, or major andprolonged breaks in the supply of foodand medical care, such an ascendancyof preoccupation with physical survivaldeveloped that there was very little last-ditch resistance. 4.  Finally, as long as the primarygroup structure of the component unitsof the Wehrmacht persisted, attemptsby the Allies to cause disaffection bythe invocation of secondary and politi-cal symbols (e.g., about the ethicalwrongfulness of the National Socialistsystem) were mainly unsuccessful. 2  Report by the Supreme Commander onoperations in Europe by the Allied Expedi-tionary Force, June 6, 1944 to May 8, 1945.   a t  B i  r k  b  e c k  C  ol  l   e g e , U ni  v  er  s i   t   y  of  L  on d  on onA  u g u s  t  1  5  ,2  0 1  0 h  t   t   p:  /   /   p o q. ox f   or  d  j   o ur n al   s . or  gD  ownl   o a d  e d f  r  om    8 PUBLIC OPINION QUARTERLY, SUMMER 1948By contrast, where Allied propagandadealt with primary and personal values,particularly physical survival, it wasmore likely to be effective.Long before D-Day in WesternFrance, research was undertaken in theUnited Kingdom and North Africa onthese social psychological aspects of theenemy's forces. These studies were con-tinued after D-Day by the IntelligenceSection of the Psychological Warfare Di-vision of SHAEF. Although of coursethey are subject to many scientific stric-tures, they provide a groundwork forthe evaluation of the experiences of theGerman soldier and for the analysis ofthe social organization of the GermanArmy. Methods of collecting data in-cluded front line interrogation ofprisoners of war (Ps/W) and intensivepsychological interviews in rear areas.Captured enemy documents, statementsof recaptured Allied military personnel,and the reports of combat observerswere also studied. A monthly opinionpoll of random samples of large num-bers of Ps/W was also undertaken. Thispaper is based on a review of all thesedata.Modes of DisintegrationPreliminary to the analysis of thefunction of the primary group in themaintenance of cohesion in the GermanArmy, it is necessary to classify themodes of social disintegration foundin any modern army:1. Desertion (deliberately going overto the enemy lines)a) by individual action(1) after discussion with com-rades(2) without prior discussionwith others b)  by groups acting in concert 2.  Active surrender (deliberate de-cision to give up to the enemy as heapproaches and taking steps to facilitatecapture, e.g., by sending emissaries, bycalling out, by signalling, etc.) a)  by single individuals b)  by group as a unit(1) by mutual agreement(2) by order of or with approvalof NCO or officer c)  by plurality of uncoordinatedindividuals 3.  Passive surrender a)  by individuals acting alone(1) non-resistance ( allowing one-self to be taken prisonerwithout taking effectivesteps to facilitate or obstructcapture; passivity may be ameans of facilitating sur-render)(2) token resistance (allowingoneself to be taken prisonerwith nominal face-savinggestures of obstruction tocapture) b)  by plurality of uncoordinatedindividuals 4.  Routine resistance: rote or mechani-cal, but effective execution of orders asgiven from above with discontinuancewhen the enemy becomes overwhelm-ingly powerful and aggressive 5.   Last-ditch resistance which endsonly with the exhaustion of fightingequipment and subsequent surrender ordeath. (This type of soldier is greadyunderrepresented in studies of samplesof Ps/W. Therefore the study of Ps/Walone does not give an adequate pictureof the resistive qualities of the Germansoldier.)A more detailed description of each   a t  B i  r k  b  e c k  C  ol  l   e g e , U ni  v  er  s i   t   y  of  L  on d  on onA  u g u s  t  1  5  ,2  0 1  0 h  t   t   p:  /   /   p o q. ox f   or  d  j   o ur n al   s . or  gD  ownl   o a d  e d f  r  om   COHESION AND DISINTEGRATION IN THE WEHRMACHT 283of the above classes will be useful in thefollowing analysis: Desertion  involved positive and de-liberate action by the German soldierto deliver himself to Allied soldiers forcapture by crossing the lines, e.g., byplanfully losing himself while onpatrol and blundering into the ene-my's area of control or by deliberatelyremaining behind during a withdrawalfrom a given position so that when theAllied troops came up they could takehim.In  active surrender  by the group as aunit, the positive act of moving acrossto enemy lines was absent but there wasan element common with desertion inthe deliberate attempt to withdraw fromfurther combat. Like many cases of de-sertion, the decision to surrender as agroup was arrived at as a result ofgroup discussion and mutual agree-ment. The dividing line between activesurrender and desertion brought aboutby lagging behind was shadowy. Therewere other forms of group surrenderwhich were clearly different from deser-tion, e.g., the sending of an emissary toarrange terms with the enemy, the re-fusal to carry out aggressive orders, orto fight a way out of encirclement.In  passive  surrender,  the intention ofa soldier to remove himself from thebattle was often not dear even to him- self.  The soldier who was taken prisonerby passive surrender might have beenimmobilized or apathetic due to anx-iety; he might have been in a stateof bewildered isolation and not havethought of passive surrender until theperception of an opportunity brought itto his mind. Non-resistant passive sur-render frequently occurred in the caseof soldiers who lay in their foxholes orhid in the cellars or barns, sometimesself-narcotized by fear, or sometimesdeliberately waiting to be overrun. Inboth cases, they made only the mostlimited external gestures of resistancewhen the enemy approached. In thesecond type of passive surrender—tokenresistance—the surrendering soldier de-sired to avoid all the stigma of desertionor surrender but nevertheless showedreluctance to undertake aggressive ordefensive actions which might have in-terfered with his survival.An examination of the basic socialorganization of the German Army, interms of its primary group structure andthe factors which strengthened andweakened its component primarygroups, is first required in order to ac-count for the stability and cohesion ofresistance, and in order to evaluate theimpact of Allied propaganda. II.  The Function of the Primary Group 8 The company is the only trulyexistent community. This communityallows neither time nor rest for a per-sonal life. It forces us into its circle,for life is at stake. Obviously com-promises must be made and claimsbe surrendered. . . . Therefore the 8   By primary groups I mean those charac-terized by intimate face-to-face association andcooperation ... it is a 'we'; it involves thesort of sympathy and mutual identification forwhich 'we' is the natural expression. Onelives in the feeling of the whole and finds thechief aims of his will in that feeling (p. 23).  . . . The most important spheres of thisintimate association and cooperation—thoughby no means the only ones—are the family,the play group of children, and the neighbor-hood or community group of elders (p. 24).  . . . the only essential thing being acertain intimacy and fusion of personalities. (P.  26)Cooley, Charles Horton,  Social Organiza-tion,  New York, 1909.   a t  B i  r k  b  e c k  C  ol  l   e g e , U ni  v  er  s i   t   y  of  L  on d  on onA  u g u s  t  1  5  ,2  0 1  0 h  t   t   p:  /   /   p o q. ox f   or  d  j   o ur n al   s . or  gD  ownl   o a d  e d f  r  om 
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