No Cerveza, No Trabajo

At about the same time that Gutmann was doing her "case study" aboard the USS John C. Stennis, Wall Street Journal reporters Greg Jaffe and Thomas Ricks (who has since moved on to the Washington Post) were doing their own onboard another aircraft carrier, the USS Theodore Roosevelt. Jaffe and Ricks found a petty officer, trained in aviation electronics, assigned to stand at the head of the chow line — day after day, in twelve-hour shifts — and count the number of sailors who selected pork chops for an entree. They found boatswain's mates who stripped wax off floors (with sponges and scrub pads, on their hands and knees) so the floors could be rewaxed, and chipped away good paint so sailors could be kept busy repainting. Day after day, in twelve-hour shifts. "You ever see that movie Groundhog Day?" one sailor asked. "That's kind of what life is like."

The bottom line, Jaffe and Ricks reported, is that a "psychology of conscription" — the phrase is a quote from the Secretary of the Navy at the time — was causing the Navy to inflict stupid, wasteful, meaningless tasks on their personnel. They pointed to a Rand Corporation study that offered ways to dramatically cut staffing aboard aircraft carriers without harming their effectiveness. And so finally, the Journal reporters concluded, the Navy has a problem getting many of its poorly used, phenomenally ungratified sailors to re-enlist.

Gutmann saw some of the same things, and she notes them: the boredom, the lack of privacy, the "bureaucratic drudgery," the silly missions. ("'We call it Ground Hog Day,' says pilot Rocco Mariani, using a description I'll hear over and over." Yes, sic, we know.) And then she blows right past all of it — just never mind all that pork-chop counting, all that paint scraping — to announce that the guys want out because of the girls, and the political correctness that they brought with him. "There is a feeling that manliness, aggressiveness, are somehow disparaged by the 'New Navy'... The fact is, the kind of guys who are capable and willing (under the right conditions) or even eager (under the right conditions) to pursue and demolish an enemy have some very hot blood in their veins... Said F-14 pilot John Gadzinski...'Now, with all the valves blocked off, the only way to let off steam is to walk right out of the Navy.'"

No whores, no wars. It's like a sit-down strike at GM plant.

The remarkable conclusion that the American military has lately begun to smother and infantilize its troops — because of women, because of political correctness — somehow manages to overlook, oh, the history of the American military. The Major Dallesons, the Major Raleighs — the chickenshit, the infantilizing and the smothering — are the oldest, best-chronicled reality of military service, in peace and at war.

And the second-best-chronicled reality is the fact of persistent unreadiness. A retired veteran of the Korean War toured the Army's Infantry Museum, last year, during a commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the start of that so-called police action. An Army journalist asked him about his regiment's service in 1950: "The 29th was really not ready to go into combat," said retired Command Sergeant Major Frank Plass. "It was understrength and had no training whatsoever. We had 400 young soldiers we had just gotten the day before we sailed from Okinawa." They were slaughtered in their first engagement. So Stephanie Gutmann has missed something: Somehow apparently a bunch of girls managed to sneak some political correctness into the 29th Infantry Regiment all the way back in 1950.

Or maybe not. Because ultimately the default setting on the military machine, barring the imposition of a sense of urgency, is for mediocrity. The military is designed for war; it works in times of peace, and in the transition out of those times, about as well as a dishwasher works for cleaning socks: That's not what it's made for.

And there are many, many reasons for this, reasons beyond that "psychology of conscription." The motto of the US Army's Primary Leadership Development Course, a month-long school that soldiers attend prior to promotion to the rank of sergeant, offers a neat window into the military mind: "Maintain the Standard!" No one should ever be surprised that an organization that rallies its young leaders around a battle cry calling for the maintenance of standardization fails to rise to excellence.

Admitting to that can be a problem, of course, especially for people who firmly believe themselves to have some very hot blood in their veins. Fortunately, though, the current cycle of military mediocrity brings the magnificent warrior culture a couple of things that it's been missing in previous iterations of uselessness: It's brought them someone else to blame, and it brought them a writer dumb enough to buy it.

Sound off in today's Plastic discussion.


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courtesy of Ambrose Beers

pictures Terry Colon

Ambrose Beers