Motivation and emotion/Book/2015/Armed defence force motivation

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Armed defence force motivation:
What motivates people to join armed defence forces?

Overview[edit | edit source]


"We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us.” Winston S. Churchill

Since the beginning of recorded time, there has always been a need for a military. During these dark and early times, the roles and tasks for a military would have been so much different to those of today. Back then, it would have been all about conquest and expansion. Today, in civilised society, most military’s[grammar?] are known as Defence Forces, and as the words would imply, are designed for protection rather than invasion. A Defence Force’s primarily role is to defend its countries borders from those less civilised[say what?].

This book chapter explores the motivation of those who join a Defence Force. What motivates a person into joining a Defence Force? This question is supported by way of theories of motivation and some of the main motivators for why people are prepared to put themselves into harm’s way for their country.

This chapter goes on to raise more questions which are explained:
  • What is a Defence Force?
  • What are the main needs/motivators for joining?
  • What are some examples of motivators for joining?
  • What are the main theories behind motivation?

What is a Defence Force?[edit | edit source]

A Defence Force is a military organisation responsible for the defence of that nation. It would normally consist of: An Army; a Navy and; an Air Force. In some countries it would extend to have a Marine Corps, a National/Home Guard as well as a Coast Guard. A Defence Force would typically have full-time members, as well as part-time reservists. Also, many Defence Forces are now co-ed and even have women on the front line (Australian Department of Defence, 2015).

Purpose of the Defence Force[edit | edit source]

Over the years, military forces had been used so as to gain all types of advantages for world leaders. Today, the main purpose for a Defence Force is to provide protection to the nation, or Government, in which it serves. This is best highlighted within the Role and Mission Statement of the ADF:

"The Australian Defence Force (ADF) is constituted under the Defence Act 1903, its mission is to defend Australia and its national interests. In fulfilling this mission, Defence serves the Government of the day and is accountable to the Commonwealth Parliament which represents the Australian people to efficiently and effectively carry out the Government's defence policy (Australian Department of Defence, 2015)."

Motivational Theories[edit | edit source]

There have been numerous theories, explanations and interpretations into what motivation is[Rewrite to improve clarity]. An accepted definition of the word motivation (according to Oxford Dictionary) is: “A reason or reasons for acting or behaving in a particular way” (Simpson, 1989)

Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs[edit | edit source]

This figure shows Maslow`s 5 levels of needs

Of all the theories conducted on motivation, the most prominent would be that of Abraham Maslow’s theory ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs’. Maslow is said to be the father of motivational theory and devised a hierarchy of needs which he explained by way of the pyramid model. Maslow suggested that people are motivated so as to attain and meet certain needs. When one of these needs is met, an individual then seeks to fulfil[spelling?] the next one and so on (Lester, 2013). Maslow’s model is broken down into five stages and classifications of basic needs. The first stage, which is found at the bottom of the period, is that of ‘physiological’ needs. These needs include food, drink, air, shelter, sleep, warmth etc. These are the basic needs which all individuals need in order to survive. These primeval needs are imperative to be attained in order to survive (Lester, 2013). Next, in the second stage is that of safety needs. Within the safety needs is that of security, protection from elements, law and order and basic protection from peril (Maslow, 1970). Historically, it was imperative for greater protection from both, the elements, as well as from life threatening threats such as wild animals and other humans. This protection may have come from a cave, a fort or even natural elements such as high ground or a tall tree. Today, for most people, the need for safety comes from having a roof over ones head and having society for law and order. Maslow’s third stage is that of love and belonging. Within these needs, can be found the need for friendship, love and affection, mateship and basic relationships with other humans. Without contact from other people, an individual can become maladjusted and very needy. Also, the need for procreation is strong, and is said to be a primal instinct for survival of the species. The fourth stage within this model is the need for esteem (Maslow, 1970). This includes, making individual achievements, mastering certain accomplishments and gaining a position in life within a group of peers. Attaining this need, helps to boost self worth and respect from others. The fifth and final stage of this model is the need to self actualise (Maslow, 1970). Most people strive to achieve this level, however, many rarely do. To self actualise means to know that you have reached your peak in life and know that you have fulfilled all other needs.

In 1970, Maslow amended this model to incorporate three other needs within the pyramid. The fifth level is cognitive needs, the need for knowledge and understanding on how the world functions. Level six is aesthetic needs (Maslow, 1970). This is a need of appreciating the finer things in life, such as beauty and balance. Level seven is now the need for self actualisation. The final need within this new model is the need for transcendence (Maslow, 1970). The need for transcendence is the need and the urge to help others achieve their self actualisation. Maslow purports that in order to attain higher levels, one must first successfully meet and achieve the needs from the lower level of needs.

Alderfer’s ERG Theory[edit | edit source]

This figure contrasts Alderfer`s 3 levels of needs, to that of Maslow`s

Further to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, Alderfer (1969) put forward his theory known as Alderfers[grammar?] ERG Theory. Alderfer posed the question, “what do people really need?” And went on to find an answer. He found that everyone’s needs are different and their motivations are also different. For example, a soldier living in a developing country may find his motivation for being a soldier there, different to a soldier living in a developed country. Therefore, people’s needs are determined upon their circumstances (Alderfer, 1972). Alderfer redefined Maslow's hierarchy of needs and modified Maslow's five stages, to become Alderfer's three stages. The three stages to Alderfers ERG theory are; Existence, Relatedness and Growth (ERG) (Alderfer, 1972). When contrasting the two theories, it can be found that existence relates to Maslow's two basic needs of physiological and safety needs. Relatedness contrasts with Maslow's social and self-esteem needs. And finally, Growth compares to Maslow's final level of self actualisation. Here it can be found that an individual is looking for personal growth and development in all aspects of their lives (Alderfer, 1972).

The main significant factor which differs from the two theories is that Alderfers theory goes further than being just a simple contrast. With Maslow's theory of hierarchy, he suggests that an individual needs to fill one need before progressing to the next. Alderfer however, suggests that even though the basic existence needs must be met, an individual's priorities tend to change making their motivational needs to change as well.

Self Determination Theory[edit | edit source]


Self-Determination (SDT) is a theory which helps to explain motivation. Most theories on motivation have treated motivation as a 'unitary concept', which looks at the amount of motivation that an individual has towards behaviours and activity (Deci & Ryan, 2008).

STD however, looks at identifying the various types of motivation. Initially STD focused upon the type or quality of an individual’s motivation and how it is more important than the volume of motivation. STD goes on to suggest the distinction between autonomous and controlled motivation. Autonomous Motivation consists of intrinsic and extrinsic motivations in the self. Intrinsic motivation refers to doing an activity for its own sake due to the fact that it is interesting and worth doing (Deci & Ryan, 2008). Extrinsic motivation refers to doing an activity to achieve an aim or a goal (Deci & Ryan, 2008). Controlled motivation contains external regulation in an individual’s behaviour. STD finds three basic needs that must be satisfied in order to allow function and growth. These are competence, relatedness and autonomy. These are found to be a universal need, which are innate and not learned (Deci & Ryan, 2008).

Theory for Motivators[edit | edit source]

There are numerous reasons as to why an individual would want to join the Defence Force. Some of these reasons may be cultural specific, others not. According to Maslow (ref)[missing something?], the basic needs are physiological and safety. This would encompass Financial Remuneration and also conscription. In developing countries, employment is less common than that of developing countries. An income can be the difference between having a home and food on the table, or possible starvation. Without an income, the basic need of physiological cannot be met. Also, with conscription, if an individual fails to go when called upon, they can forfeit their freedom and possible even their life for not enlisting, a very powerful motivator. Next in Maslow’s theory is that of Social/Belonging. This would include career, family lineage, and sense of duty. An individual may want to join for mateship, family honour or just wanting to belong with others who are like-minded. Next is Self-Esteem which would include Altruism and sense of duty. A person may feel the need to feel good about themselves as well as wanting to help others. Finally, to self-Actualise; this would be a stage that most who are career minded would hope to aspire for. Some, who are successful, may achieve this level, while others may struggle to find it.[factual?]

Motivators for Joining the Defence Force[edit | edit source]


"The army teaches boys to think like men.” Elvis Presley

There are many reasons as to why an individual would be motivated to join the defence force. Some of these would be cultural, depending upon which defence force being discussed. For developing countries such as, Afghanistan, Somalia etc. some of the motivators for joining the Defence Force may include; (Major, 2014)

  • conscription
  • sense of duty
  • financial remuneration
  • national service
  • family lineage

Developed countries such as Australia, The U.K. And the United States have the motivators for joining their defence forces as being: (Hazard, 2009)

  • Conscription;
  • Altruism;
  • Financial reward;
  • National service;
  • Family lineage;
  • career prospects
  • sense of duty
  • Adventure

The motivation for joining a Defence Force varies significantly from individual to individual and country to country. Motivators however, differ considerably more between developing and developed countries. The lists previously mentioned, although not exhausted, do have some similarities, however, due to basic survival needs, the motivations have much tougher consequences (Hazard, 2009)

Conscription: is the compulsory enlistment into a defence force, most likely when the state or country is at war or in turmoil, normally against will

Sense of Duty: Ones[grammar?] moral obligations and ethical responsibilities. The feeling of sense of duty derives from ones[grammar?] moral compass. Sense of duty brings out a person’s feelings of passion, altruism and approbation and disapprobation. (Radcliffe, 1996)

Financial Remuneration: The defence forces, particularly in Western societies, offer many benefits to joining the armed services. Some benefits include medical, clothing, affordable housing, family services, board and keep for single members, decent wages etc. In 2015, the average wage for an Australian army soldier (private rank) is $57,828 (ADF, 2015). In America, the basic pay for a private solider is $18,378 {{grammar{{ this is the base salary and only accounts for part of a soldier’s annual income (Army Base Pay and Basic Pay Chart, 2014). In developing countries, such as India, employment is difficult to obtain, whereas, in the military there are more job opportunities, so as to earn an income, albeit, a low income. For an Indian soldier of the lowest rank, wages begin at around AU$5,000 P/A (Indian Army).

National Service: is a nation’s compulsory or volunteer requirement in the defence force. National service usually requires an individual over the age of 18 to serve up to 2 years of service in the Army, Navy, and Air Force etc. Countries such as Israel, Greece and Singapore require national service.

Family Lineage: Many people who decide to join the armed forces, usually join due to the strong family lineage of defence service members[factual?]. For example, a son may join the Army, because his father and his father’s father were both soldiers.

Altruism: is the need to be concerned for the welfare of others. Some people who join the military do so as a need to want to help others[factual?]. Within Australia, this would mean that an individual might be motivated to join the army in order to try and help make the world a safer place to live. Presently, there is war and civil unrest throughout parts of Asia, Africa and even Europe. Some people might join the military[missing something?]

Career prospects: Many people decide to join the defence force, due to the many career prospects[grammar?]. The defence force offers a variety of trades and qualifications, which are all mostly recognised nationwide. The Australian defence force also offers the opportunity for funding their members to further their qualifications.

Adventure: Is the need or desire to seek excitement and exhilaration, which joining the Defence Force may bring. Some individual’s feel a need or fill a void in their life, which only adventure can fulfil. This can be satisfied for some people,[grammar?] by way of activities such as; parachuting, repelling, demolitions etc.


"Morale is the state of mind. It is steadfastness and courage and hope. It is confidence and zeal and loyalty. It is elan, esprit de corps and determinationGeorge Marshall

Esprit de Corps[edit | edit source]

Esprit de corps is a French phrase which literally means, “The spirit of the corps”. In other words, esprit de corps is a much deeper form of camaraderie that can only be found in very few places. The bonding through Esprit de corps suggests a close cohesion within a group of members with common status or ranks, such as the military (Boyt, Lusch & Mejza, 2005). Within the military, esprit de corps is a form of mutual loyalty among peers which is found both on the battlefield and off (Boyt, Lusch & Mejza, 2005). An example of this can be found when Army are playing Navy in a football game. The Army all band together to support their peers, as do the Navy. Further, when they all go out to celebrate, a group of soldiers are harassed by a few locals in the pub, both Army and Navy stick together to support one another, in the same way that they would support each other on the battlefield. This kind of bonding is one that will last a lifetime. Friendship made in the military is forged so strongly that it will always last[factual?]. Many people can find careers in all kinds of industry and never find this type of bonding or friendship. It is a very strong motivator for wanting to join the military[factual?].

US Pacific Army and Indian Army soldiers during a joint session in India, 2009 "Espit de Corps"

False Valour & Heroism[edit | edit source]

False Valour is a relatively new term coined to describe the extremely low act of an individual trying to pass themselves off as a veteran who has seen service. In Australia, ANZAC Day is the one day of the year where veterans from all theatres of war can get together in uniform (if still serving) and medals and awards to celebrate the great sacrifices that many have made in order to help preserve our way of life. This is also a time where some individuals attend the services wearing medals and awards to which they are not entitled (false Valour). It is a great honour to receive a medal; this shows the whole world that a sacrifice has been made for the sake of freedom. For some people, the prospect of winning or being awarded a medal is a great motivator to join the defence force[factual?]. Within the United States, approximately 1% of the population has served on active duty (Juge, 2012). This makes it difficult to distinguish between those who have served and those who have not. It is an offence for a person to wear medals to which they are not entitled; however, there seems to be a strong motivation for people to falsely claim valour[factual?]. In 2009, the FBI has investigated more than 200 cases of stolen valour (Juge, 2012). For most people, the prospect of winning medals is only a small part of the motivation for wanting to be a member of the defence force[factual?].

Heroism is the selfless act of bravery which places a person in harm’s way in order to achieve an objective. Often, the act of heroism involves self-sacrifice leading to severe injury or even death.

Case Study: Vietnam War: Australian Conscription[edit | edit source]

During the Vietnam War, the Australian government introduced conscription [grammar?] forcing men aged 18 to 25 years to join the military. This proved to be a very unpopular decision and was the main reason for the moratorium campaigns being held against the Vietnam War (Hocking, 2009). The motivation to willingly join the Australian defence force and go to Vietnam was very low. The conscription, however, forced young men into going to Vietnam in most cases against their will (Hocking, 2009). Anyone[who?] over the age of 18 years who failed to register for conscription faced being in prison for 18 months. This changed people’s motivation to wanting to register for fear of being sent to jail. On the 6th December 1972, Gough Whitlam overturned the conviction of seven young Australians and had them released from gaol. This was the beginning of the end to conscription (Hocking, 2009).

(Australians OP Crimp Vietnam) Many soldiers who fought in the Vietnam war were conscripted.

Case study: Soldiers in the Middle East[edit | edit source]

American soldiers in Iraq. One of the latest conflicts of today

Currently around the world, there are many regions that are affected by war and civil unrest. The two most publicised and controversial theatres of war are that of Iraq and Afghanistan. Numerous countries have been involved in trying to bring peace and order to these countries. In particular, Britain has played an integral role in these conflicts (Clegg, 2012). The media has broadcasted much of the violence and excessive force on both sides of the conflict. Causalities are said to be intolerable, making it a very unpopular war. Motivation for wanting to join the military and possibly be sent to the Middle East is still fairly high[factual?]. This is mainly due to the British Government spending more money on training and equipment in order to reduce causalities (Clegg, 2012). Also, allowances on top of normal wages make it very lucrative to be sent to the Middle East; again, this enforces[clarification needed] people’s motivation to join the defence.

How much do you think you know?[edit | edit source]

1 In what year did Maslow`s Theory of Hierarchy of Needs change from 5 levels to 8?


2 How many cases did the FBI investigate for "False Valor" in USA?


3 What is a motivator within a Developed Country to join the Defence Force?

Family Lineage

4 What does "Esprit de Corps" mean?

Spirit of the Corps
Need of the Army
King and Country

5 What is the role of the Defence Force today?

To wage war
To invade countries
Provide Protection

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Today, as well as throughout history, a Defence Force has been a necessary evil. Without a Defence Force, a society could fall into decay of lawlessness and anarchy. To be a member of any Defence Force is asking quite a lot from that person. Potentially, society is asking them to risk their lives so as to save those who cannot save themselves. There are many reasons as to why a person would want to put themselves into harm’s way. Some of these reasons are altruistic, others more selfish. An individual’s motivation is as diverse as to whatever their needs are to be met. Without the motivation to have these guardians, life could become far more fragile than it currently is.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

ADF Permanent Pay Rates - 12 March 2015. (2015). Retrieved from website:

Alderfer, C. (1972). Existence, relatedness, and growth; human needs in organizational settings. NY: Free Press.

Army Base Pay and Basic Pay Chart. (2014). Retrieved from website:

Boyt, T., Lusch, R., & Mejza, M. (2005). Theoretical Models of the Antecedents and Consequences of Organizational, Workgroup, and Professional Esprit De Corps. European Management Journal, 23(6), 682-701. doi:10.1016/j.emj.2005.10.013

Clegg, M. (2012). Protecting British Soldiers in Afghanistan. The RUSI Journal, 157(3), 22-30. doi:10.1080/03071847.2012.695164

Deci, E., & Ryan, R. (2008). Self-determination Theory: A Macrotheory Of Human Motivation, Development, And Health. Canadian Psychology/Psychologie Canadienne, 39(3), 182-185. doi:10.1037/a0012801

Department of Defence. (2015). Retrieved from website:

Hazard, A. (2009). Honor, Service, Duty, You? Big Picture, 38(3), 18-22.

History of the Australian Defence. (2015). Retrieved from

Hocking, J. (2009). A Disastrous and Deluded War': Gough Whitlam, Conscription and the Vietnam War. Agora, 44(3), 29-33. doi:ISSN: 0044-6726.

Juge, R. (2012). Heroism, valor, and deceit: False claims of military awards and the First Amendment. Cardozo Public Law, Policy & Ethics Journal, 10(2), 268-295.

Lester, D. (2013). Measuring Maslow's Hierarchy Of Needs. Psychological Reports, 113(1), 15-17.

Major, Esq, A. (2014). Ethics Education of Military Leaders. Military Review, 56-60.

Maslow, A. (1970). Motivation and personality (2d ed.). New York, New York: Harper & Row.

Official Website of Indian Army. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Radcliffe, E. (1996). How Does the Humean Sense of Duty Motivate? Journal of the History of Philosophy, 34(3), 383-407. doi:10.1353/hph.1996.0058

Simpson, J. (1989). The Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

External links[edit | edit source]