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Quotes #16: To the Victor Goes Wisdom: Famous Quotes on the Military

To the Victor Goes the Spoils

In all my many military incarnations, my most satisfying victories were those where the odds were the most stacked against me. By that I mean where I was severely outnumbered, was terribly lacking in supplies, was outclassed by superior technology, or was caught in a situation that seemed "utterly desperate and hopeless" to others (but not to me).

To snatch a victory from the jaws of certain defeat is the greatest thrill a commander can experience because it is the ultimate test of courage, discipline, and leadership. The only thing I regret about my life now is that I am not currently in military service.

For those that wonder what the military life is like, these quotes are for you. Of all the things on this site, these quotes are VERY biased. I am proud of it too!

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Military:

Fortune Favors the Bold: Attack, Attack, and Attack
The Coward Dies 1,000 Deaths, The Brave Man But One
I am Become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds
He Who Hesitates Has Already Lost the Battle

Advantages Must Be Pressed, Disadvantages Overcome
Numberless Acts of Courage: The "Common" Soldier
Numberless Acts of Sacrifice: A Man Alone in Command
A Noble Cause Worth Fighting and Dying For

Pages on this Site Related to the Military:

"Let Everything Be Your Signature" - Being God's Soldier
"And Good Night to All": A Story of the Soldiers' Devotion

Fortune Favors the Bold: Attack, Attack, and Attack Once More

"Fortune favors the brave."
   - Terence

"It is fatal to enter a war without the will to win it."
   - General Douglas MacArthur

"A bold general may be lucky, but no general can be lucky unless he is bold."
   - Field Marshal Archibald Percival Wavell

"Audacity, audacity, always audacity."
(English translation of the French Proverb)
   - General George Patton Jr's Favorite Saying

"Don't say it's impossible! Turn your command over to the next officer. If he can't do it, I'll find someone who can, even if I have to take him from the ranks!"
   - General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson

"Hard pressed on my right; my left is in retreat. My center is yielding. Impossible to maneuver. Situation excellent. I am attacking. Attaquez!"
   - General Ferdinand Foch (to General Joffre during Battle of the Marne)

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belong to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again. Who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause. Who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."
   - Theodore Roosevelt ("The Man in the Arena")

"In peace nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility; but when the blast of war blows in our ears, then imitate the action of the tiger; stiffen the sinews, disguise fair nature with hard favour'd rage. . ."
   - William Shakespeare ("Henry V")

"I have not yet begun to fight."
   - Captain John Paul Jones (aboard the Bon Homme Richard)

"When war does come, my advice is to draw the sword and throw away the scabbard."
   - General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson

"If the enemy is to be coerced, you must put him in a situation that is even more unpleasant than the sacrifice you call on him to make. The hardships of the situation must not be merely transient - at least not in appearance. Otherwise, the enemy would not give in, but would wait for things to improve."
   - Carl Von Clausewitz

The Coward Dies 1,000 Deaths, The Brave Man But One

"Cowards die many times before their deaths;
the valiant never taste death but once."
   - William Shakespeare ("Julius Caesar")

"Courage is like love: it must have hope for nourishment."
   - Napoleon Bonaparte ("Maxims")

"The courage of a soldier is heightened by his need to protect his fellow soldiers."
   - J Bartell (attributed)

"Courage, an independent spark from heaven's bright throne, By which the soul stands raised, triumphant, high, alone."
   - Anonymous

"Sure I am this day we are masters of our fate, that the task which has been set before us is not above our strength; that its pangs and toils are not beyond our endurance. As long as we have faith in our own cause and an unconquerable will to win, victory will not be denied us."
   - Winston Churchill

"Who Dares, Wins. Who Sweats, Wins. Who Plans, Wins."
   - British Special Air Service (SAS)

"Uncommon valor was a common virtue."
   - Admiral Chester Nimitz (on the quality of the men under his command)

"In war, you win or lose, live or die - and the difference is an eyelash."
   - General Douglas MacArthur
(as is the difference between the courageous and the coward -EM)

"The characteristic of a genuine heroism is its persistency. All men have wandering impulses, fits and starts of generosity. But when you have resolved to be great, abide by yourself, and do not weakly try to reconcile yourself with the world. The heroic cannot be common, nor the common heroic."
   - Ralph Waldo Emerson

"We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France. We shall fight on the seas and oceans. We shall fight with growing strength in the air. We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender."
   - Winston Churchill

"I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."
   - Nathan Hale

"Human life is the only thing that takes care of itself."
   - Napoleon Bonaparte (on why he left men exposed to the enemy in Russia)

"When cities burn and armies turn and flee in disarray, cowards will cry: 'Tis best to fly, and fight another day'. But warriors know in their marrow, When they die and fall, 'tis best to have fought and lost than not to have fought at all.'"
   - Anonymous

"Yea, though I walk through the 'Valley of the Shadow of Death'. I shall fear no evil. For it is I, that is the evilest bastard in the valley. My gun and my bayonet, they comfort me. I fear no one, I let them fear me. My fighting spirit runneth over!"
   - Anonymous

I am Become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds

"I am become death, the destroyer of worlds."
   - Robert Oppenheimer (adapted from "The Bhagavad Gita" 11:32)

"Never forget that a corpse never cares how it got to be so cold. Commanders should always keep in mind that they wage war through a wall of human blood, sweat, and tears whose pain they can never truly feel and whose loss they can never truly know. For they are become death: they are the destroyer of worlds."
   - Ellen Mogensen

"War: that mad game the world so loves to play."
   - Jonathan Swift

"The most persistent sound which reverberates through man's history is the beating of war drums."
   - Arthur Koestler

"Magnificent! Compared to war all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance. Gold help me, I do love it so!"
   - General George Patton

"It is well that war is so terrible, else we should grow too fond of it."
   - General Robert E. Lee

"There's many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory but it is all hell."
   - General William T. Sherman

"If you want to know the taste of a pear, you must change the pear by eating it yourself. . . . If you want to know the theory and methods of revolution, you must take part in revolution. All genuine knowledge originates in direct experience."
   - Mao Zedong

"Therefore I say: know the enemy and know yourself; in a hundred battles you will never be in peril. When you are ignorant of the enemy but know yourself, your chances of winning or losing are equal. If ignorant both of your enemy and of yourself, you are certain in every battle to be in peril."
   - Sun Tzu ("Art of War")

"When we assumed the Soldier, we did not lay aside the Citizen."
   - George Washington

"On becoming soldiers we have not ceased to be citizens."
   - Oliver Cromwell's Soldiers ("Humble Representation")

"I make war on the living, not the dead."
   - Charles V (when advised to hang Martin Luther's corpse on the gallows)

""It's Tommy this, and Tommy that, And chuck him out the brute,
But it's 'Savior of his Country,' When the guns begin to shoot!
For God and the soldier we adore, In time of danger, not before!
The danger passed, and all things righted, God is forgotten and the soldier slighted."
   - Rudyard Kipling

"The nation which forgets its defenders will be itself forgotten."
   - Calvin Coolidge

He Who Hesitates Has Already Lost the Battle

"Cry 'Havoc' and let slip the dogs of War."
   - William Shakespeare ("Julius Caesar")

"I can always make it a rule to get there first with the most men."
   - Nathan Bedford Forrest

"For a lone soldier on the battle field, skill increases the odds of living over dying."
   - J Bartell (attributed)

"In war there is but one favorable moment; the great art is to seize it!"
   - Napoleon Bonaparte

"A pint of sweat will save a gallon of blood."
   - General George Patton Jr

"I yield to no man in sympathy for the gallant men under my command; but I am obliged to sweat them tonight, so that I may save their blood tomorrow."
   - General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson

"A good plan executed today is better than a perfect plan executed at some indefinite point in the future."
   - General George Patton Jr

"Let your plans be dark and as impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt."
   - Sun Tzu ("Art of War")

"I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast, for I intend to go in harm's way."
   - John Paul Jones (later adopted by the US Navy's Special Boat Units)

"If you're not gonna pull the trigger, don't point the gun."
   - James Baker

"There is only one tactical principle which is not subject to change. It is to use the means at hand to inflict the maximum amount of wound, death, and destruction on the enemy in the minimum amount of time."
   - General George Patton Jr

"God is not on the side of the big battalions, but on the side of those who shoot best." (which Napoleon summarized as "God is on the side with the best artillery!")
   - Voltaire ("The Piccini Notebooks")

"Once you get them running, you stay right on top of them, and that way a small force can defeat a large one every time... Only thus can a weaker country cope with a stronger; it must make up in activity what it lacks in strength."
   - General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson

"Strength lies not in defense but in attack."
   - Marquis de Acerba

"The most certain way of insuring victory is to march briskly and in good order against the enemy, always endeavoring to gain ground."
   - Frederick the Great

"Go forward until the last round is fired and the last drop of gas is expended...then go forward on foot!"
   - General George Patton

"Follow me if I advance! Kill me if I retreat! Revenge me if I die!"
   - Ngo Dinh Diem (popularized on his becoming President of Vietnam,
     paraphrased from Henri du Vergier 1794)

Advantages Must Be Pressed, Disadvantages Must Be Overcome

"There is nothing inevitable about military victory, even for forces of apparently overwhelming strength. The Greeks at Marathon, Alexander against the Persian Empire, the success of the colonists against the British in the American Revolution, Napoleon over the Austrians in Italy... all offer dramatic evidence to the contrary. In the absence of inspired military leadership... the more powerful side wears down the weaker." (In the presence of such genius and backed by inspired troops, there is no limit to the military miracles that are possible -EM)
   - Bevin Alexander

"Kill one, terrify a thousand."
   - Sun Tzu ("Art of War")

"No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. You win the war, by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country!"
   - General George Patton Jr

"The General Order is always:
......To manoeuver in a body and on the attack.
......To maintain strict but not pettifogging discipline.
......To keep the troops constantly at the ready.
......To employ the utmost vigilance on sentry go.
......To use the bayonet on every possible occasion.
And to follow up the enemy remorselessly until he is utterly destroyed."
   - Lazare Carnot ("First Order of the Day")

"The art of using troops is this:
......When ten to the enemy's one, surround him;
......When five times his strength, attack him;
......If double his strength, divide him;
......If equally matched you may engage him;
......If weaker numerically, be capable of withdrawing;
......And if in all respects unequal, be capable of eluding him,
..........for a small force is but booty for one more powerful."
   - Sun Tzu ("Art Of War")

"Once we have a war there is only one thing to do. It must be won. For defeat brings worse things than any that can ever happen in war."
   - Ernest Hemmingway

"Never give in - never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."
   - Winston Churchill

"It is not big armies that win battles, it is the good ones!"
   - Marshal Maurice de Saxe ("Mes Reveries")

"Everything which the enemy least expects will succeed the best."
   - Frederick II of Prussia ("Instructions for his Generals")

"Stonewall Jackson would rather lose one man to hard marching, than lose five men to hard battle. Perspiration saves blood!"
   - Colonel Marttinen (to his tired and battle weary men in Infantry Regiment 61)

"He who gets there the fastest with the mostest wins."
   - Anonymous

"Hard pounding, gentlemen. Let's see who pounds the longest."
   - Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington

Numberless Acts of Courage: The "Common" Soldier

"It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. That ripple builds others. Those ripples - crossing each other from a million different centers of energy - build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and injustice."
   - Senator Robert F. Kennedy

"I don't know what effect these men will have upon the enemy,
but, by God, they terrify me."
   - Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington ("Dispatch, Aug 1810")

"Who could not conquer with such troops as these?"
   - General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson

"Britons once did loyally declaim, About the way we ruled the waves.
Every Briton's song was just the same, When singing of her soldier-braves.
All the world had heard it-- Wondered why we sang,
And some have learned the reason why-- But we're not forgetting it,
And we're not letting it, Fade away and gradually die,
Fade away and gradually die. So when we say that England's master,
Remember who has made her so.
It's the soldiers of the Queen, my lads.
Who've been, my lads, who've seen, my lads,
In the fight for England's glory lads!
When we've had to show them what we mean:
And when we say we've always won
And when they ask us how it's done,
We'll proudly point to every one,
Of England's soldiers of the Queen."
   - Soldier's of the Queen (in the movie "Breaker Morant")

"It really ain't the place nor time to reel off rhyming diction, but yet we'll write a final rhyme while waiting crucifixion. For we bequeath a parting tip of sound advice for such men who come in transport ships to polish off the Dutchman. If you encounter any Boers, you really must not loot 'em, and if you wish to leave these shores, for pity's sake, don't shoot 'em. Let's toss a bumper down our throat before we pass to Heaven, and toast a trim-set petticoat we leave behind in Devon."
   - "Breaker Morant" (in the movie "Breaker Morant")

"The fact of the matter is that war changes men's natures. The barbarities of war are seldom committed by abnormal men. The tragedy of war is that these horrors are committed by normal men in abnormal situations. Situations in which the ebb and flow of everyday life have departed and have been replaced by a constant round of fear and anger, blood and death."
   - "Major Thomas" (in the movie "Breaker Morant")

"When I was sixteen I won a great victory. I felt in that moment that I should live to be one hundred, now I know I shall not see thirty... A king may move a man, a father may claim a son. But remember that, even when those who move you be kings or men of power, your soul is in your keeping alone. When you stand before God you cannot say "but I was told by others to do thus" or that "virtue was not convenient at the time". This will not suffice. Remember that."
   - "King Baldwin IV" (in the movie "Kingdom of Heaven")

"We who are born into the human race are elected to an extraordinary role in the scheme of things: we are endowed with reason and therefore are personally responsible for our acts... One may give over to officials in many things but not one's immortal soul... No one has authority over the soul of another."
   - "Norton Parker Chipman" (in the movie "The Andersonville Trial")

"It is the soldier, not the reporter, Who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the soldier, not the poet, Who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the soldier, not the organizer, Who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.
It is the soldier, Who salutes the flag, Who serves beneath the flag,
And whose coffin is draped by the flag, Who allows the protestor to burn the flag."
   - Father Dennis Edward O'Brian, USMC
   (often incorrectly attributed to Charles M. Province)

"People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."
   - George Orwell (attributed)

"Soldiers have many faults, but they have one redeeming merit; they are never worshippers of force. Soldiers more than any other men are taught severely and systematically that might is not right. The fact is obvious. The might is in the hundred men who obey. The right... is in the one man who commands them."
   - Gilbert Chesterton ("Thoughts Around Koepenick")

"We few, we happy few, we band of brothers. For he today that sheds his blood with me, Shall be my brother; be ne'er so vile, This day shall gentle his condition. And gentlemen in England now abed, Shall think themselves accursed they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks, That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day."
   - William Shakespeare ("King Henry V")

"When you put on a uniform there are certain inhibitions that you accept."
   - General Dwight D. Eisenhower

"The most important qualification of a soldier is fortitude under fatigue and privation. Courage is only second; hardship, poverty and want are the best school for a soldier."
   - Napoleon Bonaparte

"Never in the face of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few."
   - Winston Churchill ("Battle of Britain")

"Lo Que Sea, Cuando Sea, Donde Sea." (Anything, Anytime, Anywhere.)
   - 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne)

Numberless Acts of Sacrifice: A Man Alone in Command

"In war there is no substitute for victory."
   - General Douglas MacArthur

"To command is to serve, nothing more and nothing less."
   - Andre Malraux ("Man's Hope")

"Be an example to your men, in your duty and in private life. Never spare yourself, and let the troops see that you don't in your endurance of fatigue and privation. Always be tactful and well-mannered and teach your subordinates to do the same. Avoid excessive sharpness or harshness of voice, which usually indicates the man who has shortcomings of his own to hide."
   - Field Marshall Erwin Rommel

"No man is fit to command another that cannot command himself."
   - William Penn

"There are certain things in war of which the commander alone comprehends the importance. Nothing but his superior firmness and ability can subdue and surmount all difficulties."
   - Napoleon Bonaparte

"Battles are won by slaughter and maneuver. The greater the general, the more he contributes in maneuver, the less he demands in slaughter."
   - Winston Churchill

"I do not fear an army of lions, if they are led by a lamb. "I do fear an army of sheep, if they are led by a lion."
   - Alexander the Great

"I had rather have a plain, russet-coated Captain, that knows what he fights for, and loves what he knows, than that you call a Gentle-man and is nothing else."
   - Oliver Cromwell

"A leader is a man who had the ability to get other people to do what they don't want to do, and like it."
   - Harry Truman

"I don't mind being called tough, since I find in this racket it's the tough guys who lead the survivors."
   - Colonel Curtis LeMay

"There is no type of human endeavor where it is so important that the leader understands all phases of his job as that of the profession of arms."
   - Major General James Fry

"Discipline is simply the art of making the soldiers fear their officers more than the enemy."
   - Helvetius

"War is a matter of vital importance to the State; the province of life or death; the road to survival or ruin. It is mandatory that it be throughly studied." (especially by those who would lead others to their death -EM)
   - Sun Tzu ("Art of War")

"Never give up, never surrender."
   - "Captain Peter Quincy Taggart" (in the movie "Galaxy Quest")

A Noble Cause Worth Fighting and Dying For

"Freedom is never free."
   - Anonymous

"These things we do that others may live."
   - USAF Pararescue

"De oppresso liber." (To free the oppressed.)
   - US Army Special Forces

"The human race is in the best condition when it has the greatest degree of liberty."
   - Dante Aligheri

"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty."
   - John F. Kennedy

"I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have. I must stand with anybody that stands right, stand with him while he is right, and part with him when he goes wrong."
   - Abraham Lincoln

"These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value."
   - Thomas Paine ("The American Crisis")

"War is an ugly thing but not the ugliest of things; the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feelings which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."
   - John Stuart Mill

"If a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live."
   - Martin Luther King, Jr

"No man is worth his salt who is not ready at all times to risk his body, to risk his well being, to risk his life, in a great cause."
   - Theodore Roosevelt

"Ask not what your country can do for you;
ask what you can do for your country."
   - John F. Kennedy

"We shall meanly lose or nobly save the last hope of earth."
   - Abraham Lincoln

"We make war that we may live in peace."
   - Aristotle

"Let him who desires peace prepare for war."
   - Vegetius



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