“They know how lords and generals talk of battle. The men are chess pieces. But we don’t see ourselves that way. No one risks their life for some lord’s strategy. We do it for those we love, for our brothers-in-arms, and so we don’t look like cowards.”
– Leith Bayard, Reign
Season 1, Episode 20, “Higher Ground”
A particularly famous general is known for saying to his soldiers that it’s not their job to die for their country, but to make the other poor bastard die for his. Nevertheless, about the only guarantee in battle is that someone is going to die, and there’s no telling exactly who. It is stupidly idealistic and a mental paralytic for anyone to try and conduct a battle where no one dies. Thus, anyone who sends soldiers into battle must come to terms with the fact that they are sending their own people to die. The good of any one soldier must be balanced against the good of an entire army, not only as people, but as numbers on a sheet of paper.
I can only imagine that is a bit unnerving for the soldiers, most especially if the generals issuing orders are of questionable character.
At this particular moment in the show, Reign, a young prince is leading a small group of soldiers in a desperate fight against a terrible enemy. The prince, he knows that this enemy will not let them live, and if they do not defeat them, then it will prove most harmful to the greater army he and his men are part of. He mistakenly appeals to his strategically at first, but that gets them nowhere. These men, they know that their lords and generals don’t value them much as people at all, but more like pieces on a chess board. But soldiers aren’t chess pieces.
Soldiers are people.
They don’t move just because they’re ordered to. They don’t follow an order just because it’s part of someone’s plan, especially if they don’t even know the person or the plan! No one wants to die for a plan! It could be a stupid plan! A self-serving plan!
No, whatever the circumstances that brought these men into this battle, their motivation is not “the plan.” They fight to survive. They fight for the people behind them, the ones they want to protect. They fight for, as someone else put it, the man on their left, and the man on their right. And, of course, they fight because, whatever the situation, they can either be brave, or they can be cowards. No one wants to be a coward, or called one.
Oh, “And for money.” The hope of some reward is a powerful motivator, but that generally comes last on the list of reasons to fight, and it’s one that usually makes soldiers chuckle at the improbability of it.
Bottom line is, whatever the reasons of those in power, it’s the men in the army who do the fighting, and those men have reasons which don’t include “it’s necessary for the plan.” They fight for their own reasons, their own values, their own goals, and their own people.
A general risks his men’s lives, and loses some of them, as a matter of course.
But it is the soldier who chooses to let his life be risked, and lost.
Those who fall, we honor.
Those who survive, we ought to honor.