Once upon a time in the real world, I was a tank driver. Several times during my three years of active duty, my company was stationed at a forward defense post on a border that had been cold for almost two decades, but had in the past been the setting for some of the most fabled tank battles in the history of modern warfare.

Previous wars had taught us that if the enemy decided to mount an invasion, they would need to be stopped before they reached the north-south line of hills to the east of our post. The hills being mostly too rough for vehicles to pass, any invasion force would have to come through them at certain choke points. If they got past the hills, they would enter a region that had a thousand hiding spots, nearly impossible to control. And if they got their artillery into good spots in that area, they could just sit there and bombard our population until we gave up or died. This was the high ground. If they pushed us out of this area, it would take most of our reserve forces to reclaim it, and in the current scenario those forces were likely to be extremely busy dying somewhere else.

Of course, the enemy knew all this, and they would most likely attempt to take control of the hills we were aimed at before their tanks started rolling. They would start by bombing our post and the western approach to the hills, while they landed commandos with anti-tank weapons on the hills by helicopter and moved their tanks up there as quickly as possible.

My job was to drive a tank that I could barely see out of from a post that was expected to be under heavy bombardment up to a hill that the enemy would be concentrating all of its firepower on. My tank's job was to defend the hill against commando forces AND hold off the invading armor for as long as it could so that the rest of the company could get into position. My company's job was to buy time for the rest of our brigade, currently scattered throughout the area, to get their tanks ready to fight and move out to wherever the enemy was by that time. Our brigade's job was to analyze the enemy's movements, figure out where they were going, and keep them from going there for long enough to get the reserves mobilized.

Getting the reserves to their mobilization bases and getting their tanks out of shrink wrap would take several hours at the very least. Our brigade would have to hold the area for five hours, minimum, before we could expect any kind of reinforcement. As a member of the active "ready platoon" in the forward defense post I'm talking about, I slept in my fire suit and was supposed to be up and running in thirty seconds, buttoned up in my tank with the engine running in two minutes, and on the hill within fifteen minutes.

Anybody who thinks a platoon of three MBTs can actually survive four hours and forty five minutes of continuous head-on, close range armor combat while holding a hill whose coordinates are preprogrammed into the enemy's artillery computers, while gunships and anti-tank infantry squads swarm all around them, needs to have their head checked. The scenario wasn't "win this for us, kids". It was more like "try not to die too quickly."

As soldiers in a regular army that worked by traditional chain of command, my crewmates and I accepted that this was our job for the duration of our posting. It was part of a grand strategy that analysts working at the division level and above had decided was the best and only way for us to deal with an invasion scenario. The reality of war meant that someone - a lot of someones, actually - had to die to hold the enemy back, and the first dead someones were going to be me and my crew.

I'm wondering, as a member of an "anarchist army", what's my motivation for going up that hill when I know without a doubt that I will be killed?

Assuming I do want to, how can I do it? A tank driver can't drive the tank effectively in combat without guidance from the tank's commander. My field of view inside that tank is restricted to narrow fields seen through three episcopes in the hull of the tank. I can't see anything to the sides or the rear of the tank. I don't know where my allies are, I don't see enemies who may be about to fire on us, I don't know if there is a gaping abyss right next to the tank.

The gunner in the tank has an even more limited field of view. He's looking through some very expensive optics at a field just wide enough to help him find the weak spots on an enemy three meters wide at a range of two thousand meters. He can't find his own targets. It's the commander's job to find the targets for him, traversing the turret to approximately the right angle so the gunner can do the fine tuning.

The loader in the tank, buried inside the turret somewhere behind me, can't see a damn thing, and doesn't even know what kind of ammunition to load or what to do until the commander tells him "load HEAT" or "lower antennas" or "put a grenade behind us before that infantry squad climbs up our ass".

The commander can't do any of these things by himself. He's too busy doing his own job, which is listening to the radio, watching everything outside the tank, coordinating with friendly forces and giving us orders.

Furthermore, our tank can't work by itself. A lone tank can't defend itself properly against infantry at close quarters, and anti-tank weapons can take out a tank from a thousand meters or more if they get it from the right angle. We rely on other tanks or infantry forces to cover us and help us find enemies. We know that the other tanks will be there to cover us because we are a disciplined unit (see PostScript), and have spent months training to work together following orders from above. Of course, we also train to fight on our own, just like we train to fight the tank with one or more crew members down, but we spend most of our careers praying that we won't have to make use of that training because in reality, a tank on its own in combat is a sitting duck, and a tank with two crewmen dead is like a man missing an arm and a leg.

This is just a platoon of tanks we're talking about. It's twelve soldiers who rely on the chain of command to become an effective fighting unit. What happens when the anarchist army tries to field an aircraft carrier and its attendant fleet, or a division-sized force that combines armor, infantry and artillery, along with the required medical, communications and other support groups? Setting combat effectiveness aside for the moment, how do you even manage the logistics for such a battle group without a chain of command?

The writeup above talks about lone soldiers acting on their own when they have enough information to act, but it's very dangerous for a soldier in the field to assume s/he has all the information s/he needs. I've seen a tank slip over the edge of a trench, flipping the tank upside down, destroying the main gun and injuring the loader and gunner, because the driver didn't see how close he was to the trench. On several other occasions, I've driven sixty tons of steel over serpentine mountain passes almost completely blind, steering according to my commander's orders. This is how we fight wars.

Maybe I could do this without following orders, by "consulting with my peers about the relative merits of any given tactic" - except if we took the time to do that, we'd be dead in minutes. A tank that spends more than forty seconds in a hull-down firing position is commiting suicide. A gunner who waits a second or two to debate which of two moving targets to shoot at will not hit either one.

Apparently, every anarchist soldier's every "action would be based on the military tactic she believes to be most well thought out." And what happens when two platoon leaders both pick the same hill to fire from, and neither one picks the next hill over to cover them from? What happens when a gunner is about to kill a target and the driver prematurely decides to hit the smoke and reverse away from the firing position? A cluster fuck is what happens. Six tanks try to drive up the same slope, getting in each other's way, and they all get shot out by the AT squad on the hill next door. A tank wastes a round and alerts the enemy to its presence, and the gunner gets extremely annoyed with the driver. In a real army, we avoid this by making sure the entire unit is moving as one, according to one strategy dictated at the appropriate command level. The chain of command, and the discipline to follow it instantly, are vital to this process. Unlike the Hollywood depiction of the military, soldiers can and do think independently, but following orders has to take precedence over independent thought. We spend half of our basic training learning to jump when a superior says frog, because the effectiveness of the entire army, and the lives of countless civilians, depend on our ability to respond to orders as quickly and accurately as possible.

The idea of an anarchist army is philosophically intriguing, and the science fiction writer who lives in my head has been busy trying to figure out how to make an anarchist army effective ever since I read the writeup above. But the old soldier who shares headroom with the SF writer pretty much hates the idea. Losing wars is no fun at all, and military history has proven the value of discipline again and again. There is a reason why every army in the world uses a strict chain of command, and why even terrorist groups follow a chain of command and train rigorously to fight together effectively.

The reason has nothing to do with politics and power structures. The reason is that it wins wars.


I'm not going to be able to respond to every criticism of this writeup or the military system it's about, but as I read the edits and additions that gate and kalen have made, it's obvious that there is a fundamental misunderstanding at work here. This is regarding my use of the word "discipline". It seems that when I say "military discipline" or describe disciplined actions, they (and perhaps many others) are thinking of corrective discipline, i.e. punishment.

Based on this, they think I'm saying that an army works because the soldiers are afraid of being punished if they disobey. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Take a look at Webster 1913's definitions of discipline. There are several overlapping definitions, including punishment. But when a soldier talks about discipline, s/he is talking about the first two definitions in Web1913. Specifically, "development of the faculties by instruction and exercise; training, whether physical, mental, or moral" and "Training to act in accordance with established rules; accustoming to systematic and regular action; drill." The other definitions do play into this, as punishments are used frequently in training a soldier. (And I absolutely won't get into a discussion of the ethics of this here, but some of my ideas about it are here.) But the end result of the training is what I'm referring to here, and that end result is not the fear of punishment, but the ability to act systematically and work together according to established rules.

In the example I gave above, I'm not driving up the hill to die because I'm afraid of being punished for disobedience. I'm driving up the hill because if I don't, we lose the war in the blink of an eye, and thousands of other people - including many of my comrades and the civilians I've sworn to protect - will die in my place.

Certainly a group of anarchists may feel the same sense of duty. But lacking the "development of the faculties by instruction and exercise" and the "accustoming to systematic and regular action", I doubt they'd get very far.

And regarding the SAS: since almost every SAS volunteer has already achieved the rank of corporal in the regular army, and given the extent and difficulty of SAS training, I seriously doubt that they have a "total lack of military discipline". I know that this is how the popular media portrays them, but from what I know of similar elite forces, I think they've simply trained long enough and hard enough to know when and how to break the rules. Their apparent lack of military discipline is a bit like James Joyce's apparent ignorance of proper English grammar.