for 12 March 2001. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Another superb piece of thinking. It is a privilege to read your stuff. The military is a mystery almost never considered with sympathy and critical intelligence all at once. I will use this essay in my "Organizational Culture" class next fall.
Thanks. Delighted to hear you're teaching one of your classes with something I wrote generally I have to influence the youth of America one at a time, and it involves a lot of time-consuming skulking and prowling. But this mass hypnotism thing, that I can get behind. It's like one of those giant Moonie weddings, in a stadium.
Let me know what they think.
The Marines are getting new hats. They're getting floppy-brimmed canvas-y hats, the kind someone always buys on vacation and no one looks good in, those all-the-way-around, not-quite-a-cowboy-hat not-quite-a-baseball-cap keep-the-sun-out-of-your-eyes hats. They're getting cool pixelated camo cargo pants too.
By far the best thing about that story is this one sentence:
"Among the innovations being considered is the addition of gaiters, cloth coverings for the calf, instep and ankle--the macho cousin of spats."
The macho cousin of spats. Arg!
Very nice. I wonder what comes next after your term is up. Graduate school and a useful specialized niche? Very possible...an ex-hippie grad student I knew took his PhD in modern history and now lectures at the War College and the Academies. Little Jamie Fox, who I hung out with in his first job, is now the always-quoted Dr Professor James (some middle initial) Fox specialist in cops and crime. It's a living. And not a dishonest or unrewarding one.
Or you could do something useful. The real novels about the army were written after the Civil War and WWII because only there were large numbers of men of all types swept up into war. A handful came out of Korea, for the same reason. Since then, it's the officer types--and the Academy professional officer types---who've done the writing. I hope you choose the latter path.
Anyway...good article. If you can find it, last week's New Republic (on line if you have access) discussed the underlying logic of genocide. It appears plausible that the rationale for such horror is the very human one to just not have enemies: if everyone unlike you is dead, then---and only then---are you "safe." Unfortunately, the article goes on, it is indeed the very concept of "other" that defines our humanness. Only by appreciating that we are inevitably surrounded by those not like us (ie, weak, spineless, not from Southie) can we be moral beings. Hell, I oversimplify...read the piece.
Funny you mention it, because my term is up relatively soonish. Should be home on August 13, a date that I repeat to myself, out loud, several times an hour. 120-day mark on April 13!
As for what comes next after my term is up: I've been on an infantry post next to a shithole military town in the deep south for two years. Go ahead and guess what the _very first thing_ on my mind might be. I'm planning on getting started in the airport.
After that, I have a very large pile of unread books that's been backing up while the army pours my time down the rathole. And, yes, there will be a novel. I have notes; I have many disorganized pages. I just need some time to sit, quietly, in an apartment near the ocean, so I can actually write the thing for real.
In between the. Um. Other thing. That I've been mostly saving up for two years. Have any sisters? (Know anyone who has any sisters?)
As always, that was some truly great shit.
One question: I have always considered the 10th Mountain Division to be some pretty crack badasses is that impression not borne out by the current reality? Am I projecting WWII history onto the situation?
Good to see more of your stuff recently, keep it up.
Some people think, on account of all the extremely miserable cold-weather/high-altitude training, on account of all the physical challenges and all the, um, combat history, that they're crack badasses.
But the Rangers know better. Evidence: No special hat. See?
Soldier (and I mean that with more respect that you can imagine):
Writing as a former "special hat" guy, I must admit that I am not too happy that the Army is going to pass out the black beret to everyone. I just think it is stupid.
A beret will NOT boost retention, recruitment, morale, or performance. I have read some articles by people serving in Ranger bats. now who are outraged that anyone without a tab or in a battalion would get a black beret. I can only imagine that the folks writing that tripe have no clue what it is that makes the Rangers an elite force or what the it means to truly serve (and I mean that in the selfless, I am here for my friends and not the fucking re-enlistment bonus, way).
As for the "hierarchy" that the gentleman alluded to, I also see that as a load of shit. A U.S. soldier, properly trained and equipped is the finest fighter in the world. The extra schools (Ranger, Airborne, Special Forces) are to prepare the soldier for other missions. Other missions ˆ not to pass out glory badges that make him "higher on the food chain." Don't forget, the Ranger crest is based on MERRILL'S MARAUDERS the finest fighters in the history of jungle warfare. I don't recall those boys wearing anything other than a standard issue U.S. Army uniform and most of those were tattered after being in the jungle for so damn long. I vividly remember my first day of basic being told that "the only color you will see is green and you will not survive without each other." The S.O.B. was right.
In the end, it is ONE Army and not many separate parts that tentatively collaborate based upon some caste system. We forget that while the elite forces do a job that is dangerous, so does every other soldier on the field. Don't think so? Remember that it takes 5 soldiers in the "rear" to keep 1 soldier in the field. Support troops are killed in greater numbers because there are so damn many more of them.
I loved your article and in closing just one other point. The 10th Mountain Division are some of the finest light infantry in the history of warfare. Those S.O.B.'s live in the field. If anyone was going to save the bacon of the Rangers', I can't think of anyone better equipped to complete the mission.
Dr. W. Scott Forbes
Thanks, first of all.
Part two: Yeah, issuing the beret all around is pretty pointless. And, as a general symbol of hard work and skill, I think it would've been worth leaving it to the Rangers. That was my initial reaction, a couple months back.
But then the disgust and contempt the Rangers have been throwing around... There was a story in the Chicago Tribune that featured this little tidbit:
"Emmett Hiltibrand, president of the 75th Ranger Regiment Association, representing a unit famous for its long-range jungle patrols in the Vietnam War, called the order 'an absurdity.'
"'This is a life-or-death issue for the beret,' he said, in a letter to all Rangers. 'We must either be successful in this endeavor or we will lose everything we have ever stood for. ... It is ludicrous to think that putting a black beret on common soldiers will make them professional.'"
That's a very short step away from pissing on graves, that kind of comment. Lot of dead common soldiers out there who've given up more than Emmett Hiltibrand has. You'd think he'd recognize that.
You'll already know all of this, but about the support troops: They also get killed in high numbers because enemies not accidentally go out of their way to attack them; armies run on supply and transportation, so killing the tail blunts the teeth. And, number two, throughout the history of this (or any other) country, when the infantry has been torn up, and commanders have found themselves low on reinforcements they've called back for the clerks and the cooks. Sometimes it doesn't even take that long to get those guys into the fight, either; I'm picturing a bunch of soldiers fighting for their lives during the Tet Offensive, stopping between magazines to shout at each other: Hey, what's your MOS?
Last story, and then I swear I'll stop. An NCO here at Fort Benning served in the 101st during Desert Storm, and he told me that they had filled in empty slots with reserves. And when the reserves first joined the unit, they weren't ready to go, not at all. And he said: "But you know what? We trained 'em. And when the time came, they were as good as any of the rest of us."
And that's the point. There are a whole lot of people who are ready and willing to rise to the challenge, when it comes. And it's a shame to see people to see Soldiers who don't value or respect that.
Thanks again. Glad you liked the piece.
Here, here! I, again, heartily approve of your latest essay, "Hat Dance". Thank you for recognizing the sacrifices of all the other men (and women) that responded to the crises at hand. If a hat is all that makes the Rangers feel special and different, not the special training, and presumably stronger unit-cohesiveness, than surely it would do our whole army good to feel this special! It's not like they are paid well or get to play with high-tech toys all day. They gotta have something to look forward to...why not a sweaty, black beret?!
I hope your training went well (was it last year?! time passes so quickly now, ack!) and that you are now one of the few, the proud, the aimlessly practicing in hopes of better war sims to come. hehe And I'm sure you'd look migh-T-fine in a black beret! ;-)
Kellie, the 37 year old lech :)
Most soldiers do get to play with high-tech toys all day. The bristles go toward the bottom; the smooth round wooden handle goes toward the top. Careful not to kick up a cloud when your buddy holds the dustpan, and it's just nine days till payday.
Now, the important stuff: Yes, is the answer but, like the rest of the uniform, I look better without it. Ahem.
And what good does any of that do me while I'm sitting here in another time zone?
Ah, and my training was in the summer of '99. Time does fly, but not not! fast enough.
As an active duty Army officer who has read Suck for the last 4 years, I am always impressed by your commentary on things that I rarely hear from anyone else in the non-military internet world.
Your commentary has the ring of experience did you spend some time in the Army beforehand?
My background is primarily armored cavalry. I noted with great interest the reaction I got from one of my classmates at the Infantry Officer Advanced Course when I mentioned that armored cavalrymen had worn berets during Vietnam and afterwards.
I don't denigrate the ownership that so-called "Scroll Rangers" (versus merely "Tab Rangers") feel towards the beret. I also think the whole black beret is a smoke screen for more substantive transformation. The Chief of Staff of the Air Force enraged countless airmen by changing the Air Force's service uniform, while making more significant changes that nobody else complained about in the meantime. I think GEN Shinseki (and this is total conjecture given my relative position in the Army) has a hidden agenda, one you can figure out if you're reading between the lines.
Most light infantrymen are incredibly humorless on this topic of berets. As an armor officer in the 82d Airborne Division, I get to see this from a slightly different perspective. Nonetheless, I don't think black berets was quite the right idea myself.
Francis J. H. Park
Thanks, and I'm glad you note the experience especially since you pretty clearly have more than I do. It's not past-tense, either; I'm still here, although not for very much longer at all. I'm an EM at Fort Benning rest assured I am typing at the position of attention, sir! and an 11M. (Although not for much longer at all, that last part... I'll be, what, an 11J? For a couple of weeks before I go on terminal leave.)
And I agree with you about the scroll Rangers I don't begrudge them the hat, and didn't want to wear the thing when I heard about it. But their reaction to the whole thing is so out there full of all this disgust and contempt for everybody else. My own "here's what General Shinseki was really thinking" fantasy scenario is that he perceived the Balkanization of the Army, knew what the Ranger reaction would be, and thought it would stimulate a responsive pride a set of discussions about the role everybody plays. This is, you'll note, quite a stretch. But it starts to make sense if you've been drinking.
I envy your job, by the way. I went infantry to be all, you know, hard core and high speed, the old dumb story. And now am very much more familiar with the broom and the mop then I ever thought I could be. Ah, well.
Good writing. I didn't know actually where you were going at first. I thought it was just another anti-military piece, but I hung in their and you made your point. My brother was a ranger paratrooper serving in Korea and two tours in Vietnam. He doesn't wear all the hats, jackets, vanity plates, etc. He doesn't go marching and seeking anything special. While he stayed in an finished his career, I think there are parts of it he wishes to forget. In fact he has no desire to visit the Vietnam Memorial. Why? Because he couldn't stand to see the names of the men he left behind. When I was able to once wrestle information out of him, he told me about a young man he urged to go home after the tour and he wouldn't. He signed over for the bonus so he and his wife could build a home after the second tour. One day he didn't come back from patrol. The hardest part for the First Sgt is to have to write those letters home to the parents of those who were killed. Another time my brother tried to convince the brass in the rear not to send out a patrol without a real purpose. They ordered the patrol out and most were slaughtered.
I will never forget going to the movie Born on The 4th of July. I sat in the back of the theatre and couldn't stop crying. It was then that I realized that those of us who enlisted to serve during Vietnam were betrayed by our political leaders. None of them were ever brought before a Crimes Tribunal.
Well, I'm glad you hung in there, and thanks for the kind comment. Your brother's experience sounds horrifying, and I bet it was pretty typical I look at the waste and stupidity in the peacetime army, and find myself really wondering how many people die in wartime for no reason at all the pointless patrol, the badly planned ego-boosting maneuver for an officer who wants to put on a show for higher up. Pretty ghastly stuff to think about.
On the subject of political betrayal, you ever read David Halberstam's The Best and the Brightest? It's about the men who planned and ran the war, and it's pretty amazing...
Your description of the vicissitudes of new recruits sounds like a common phenomenon. I recall the Thurber fable of The Bear Who Let It Alone.
A friend of a friend fought in WWII on Pacific islands. His unit was outside a base, providing a defensive line and constantly fighting Japanese attackers. Their requests to use base facilities, such as showers, were repeatedly denied. One night they opened the line and allowed an attack through. Next morning the base command changed its tune.
People are always looking to form groups which distinguish them from others. I think it's because you really can't give a crap about THAT many people, so you must create those important differences.
That's incredibly pleasing, that story from the Pacific islands. I'll have to remember that one, and apply it. I'm sure it has applications in many situations, military and not....
I truly enjoy your consistently well-written and interesting pieces on the U.S. military; but if I'm any judge of the Suck readership, you are going to get so many e-mails from the humor-impaired for that James C. Scott/Patton crack.
Not one! And, speaking of humor-impaired people, I expected to get at least one furious, I-should-kick-yer- pansy-leftist-ass email regarding that Marine Corps/V.I. Lenin comparison. None!
Of course, it's possible that the folks over at the Corps are still discussing it, and I'll be awakened in a few hours by a pre-dawn knock at the door.
Still, all in all, everyone seems to have gotten it. Which is cool.
More Things Change
firstly brahma is not the main god. and the whole idea of people being like schizophrenic from adopting american culture is kind of fucked up since in your article you're kind of assuming that they're all sort of trying to catch up with it anyhow without even remotely beginning to pay attention to how the people there think about stuff in the first place.
i mean, you're sort of missing the point which is that they aren't like thinking in the same terms to begin with and it can't be summed up with "brahma has four faces" either. i mean, for one thing, to have any idea, how different the whole SCENE is when you have that brain, you'd have to admit to yourself how much of what you think is influenced by being a christian, the denial of which is sort of the lynch pin of your whole secular house of cards.
I take it you've been to India?
I really enjoyed your piece on India's High tech boom. It is unfortunately all too common a theme to us in the 3rd world. Massive gaps in US and 3rd world online evolution are not closed through vicarious learning but rather through going through the same painful experiences in a more desperate way (Africans like us feel losses perhaps more acutely especially given the buffeting we routinely take from currency speculation, disease and any number of macro-economic ills).
Anyway, you should come and check things out here some time, if you have a taste for the surreal.
I would love to come to SA and see what's going on I imagine surreal only begins to describe, from what little I've read, though most of what's appeared in the US media of late has focused on the epidemic. Not much to laugh about there.
I have been here seven years, and I say that you caught it very well. It is rare to find foreigners writing on the India scene with any insight representing reality. Of course that is relative, but from my point of view, your article was spot on.
Gregory in Bangalore
Thanks for the good word, Gregory. It's great to have confirmation from someone who has spent more than 2 weeks in country.
Yeah Israel is just like India only a few steps ahead- all the same issues, just larger "we" want to be american, we build hi-tech parks where our hitech people can work quietly outside of the dirst and bustle of regular analog life, while sipping cappuccino...while ignoring the major problems that exist around us...I think you will find a lot of parallels, only a lot more get-quick-rich people.
I definitely think that Suck should send you here and also to Europe Eastern Europe is also starting to emerge. Some companies are even thinking of setting up dev teams there. Another interesting angle here is the massive amounts of Russian immigrant developers in the market some doing interesting work.
Something that non-americans will be sensitive to when an american smiles at other cultures trying to become americanized it can seem like the big uncle smiling at the native when the natives laugh at themselves for trying to be like the uncle then it is OK.
IN any case I enjoyed the article it was a good read.
America as big smiling uncle? A big stupid uncle, maybe, smiling because he's got bad gas.
Get quick rich,