My own training in Ranger School began with the following story from Judges, Chapter 7, verses 1-8:
"Early in the morning, [Gideon] and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’ Now announce to the army, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained...
"But the Lord said to Gideon, “There are still too many men. Take them down to the water, and I will thin them out for you there. If I say, ‘This one shall go with you,’ he shall go; but if I say, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ he shall not go.” So Gideon took the men down to the water. There the Lord told him, “Separate those who lap the water with their tongues as a dog laps from those who kneel down to drink.” Three hundred of them drank from cupped hands, lapping like dogs. All the rest got down on their knees to drink. The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go home.” So Gideon sent the rest of the Israelites home but kept the three hundred, who took over the provisions and trumpets of the others."
Wingate used the story of Gideon to inspire the men he led in Israel, Abyssinia, and Burma. He adopted the name "Gideon Force" in Abyssinia, and tried to do so again in Burma, but the GHQ India prevented it. Still, he told the story over and over again. He wanted his men to believe they were select, and that they were specially chosen--if not chosen by God, then at least chosen by Orde Wingate.
No one at Ranger School mentioned Orde Wingate's name, but they repeated the story of Gideon nonetheless. It stuck me as odd at the time, because soldiers in the infantry rarely quote the Bible. They might makes jokes about God and Satan, but they do not use the Bible for its parables or stories.
This is a very small example, but it shows the seeping sort of influence Wingate had on modern armies.
Professors and career soldiers sometimes use the term "military science" to describe the process wherein soldiers study, adapt, utilize and teach new strategies and tactics. Wingate himself certainly found the idea of 'military science' attractive--his education at the Woolwich Royal Military Academy taught him to look for discernible patterns in warfare, and the British military training manuals of the period resemble engineering textbooks, with piles of tables and charts, and in-depth studies of munitions.
Many authors have attempted to chronicle Wingate's strategic innovations and their subsequent importance to military science. Yet Wingate bore a complex personality that marked every action he took in his short life. He ruthlessly castigated incompetence, yet playfully encouraged insubordination. He brandished a zealot's faith to rally his men, yet abandoned his religion (and sincere belief in God) at an early age. He modeled his life after the Old Testament prophets, yet earned a reputation for his cutting-edge use of modern technology. Reducing his life to a handful of 'strategic innovations' mis-characterizes the nature of his experience.
The seemingly polar tendencies found within Wingates' personality represent external tensions, not internal contradictions; a human being is not limited to the simplistic set patterns handed down through history and myth. Every time we examine the life of a human being, we should expect to see a story of variation, not conformity.
After a few weeks in the archives, I feel I am in a great place with the Wingate research. With my training in qualitative methods, psychological analysis, political philosophy, and military operations, and find myself well suited to apply my skill set to understanding Wingate's life in a unique way. Already I have come across new evidence that previous studies have either ignored or missed. Wingate, for example, wrote extensively on human nature and on war as an extension of politics--no other authors have tried to reconcile his stated philosophical views with his actions on the battlefield, and so I have a unique opportunity to study Wingate from a new angle.
I plan to write about him in two ways. First, I will examine his life in a work of comparative biography. I will examine a series of most-similar cases; the juxtaposition will describe the commonalities between each individual, but I will highlight the unexpected differences. In doing so, I can help us understand the individuals that initiate 'special operations', and the people who voluntarily join such units. Second, I will write about Wingate for the stage.
With my work on Wingate, I am glad to shift away from the more theoretical terrain of modelling evolutionary science as well as the explicit application of psychological models to empirical cases. Instead I can embrace a more humanistic approach to understanding life. In my case, the techniques fro playwrighting have always borne a strong resemblance to biography. For my plays, I spend hours and years closely studying historical documents, sifting through apparent contradictions, and finding the through-line that allows one person to house seemingly opposite beliefs. American Volunteers, The Priceless Slave, and Westhusing in the House of Atreus all make use of this technique. Then I find the shape and form that brings out the elements of the story that most people tend to ignore. By placing my emphasis on the most unusual elements of character, I believe I free up my imagination to contradict my assumptions regarding human behavior; instead of forcing an individual into my cookie-cutter conception of life, I allow them to dictate the terms of the game.
Human beings go to great lengths to both encourage and destroy diversity; they obsess over preventing 'deviant' behavior. But we also reward individuals who think 'outside the box.' These tendencies are an essential part of human nature.