Son Will Do
Ordinary people would be loathe to do the sorts of things
that soldiers may be called upon to do - but societies seem to need soldiers. As Dyer explains in this chapter excerpted from
his 1985 book War, the means of socializing men out of the civilian role and into the soldier/killer role has become
institutionalized as a result of centuries of experience.
Dyer was also responsible for the documentary “Anybody’s
Son Will do”, which was broadcasted on the BBC during the mid 80s. Kubrick saw the documentary and was fascinated
by it. It would later prove a huge influence on the development of Full Metal Jacket.
The documentary can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DShDaJXK5qo
"Ears, Open. Eyeballs, Click", a doc which looks at modern bootcamp, can be viewed here: http://www.megavideo.com/?d=5ZAK8YEY
Frederick Wiseman's "Boot Camp" is also worth
All soldiers belong to the same profession, no matter what country
they serve, and it makes them different from everybody else. They have to be different, for their job is ultimately about
killing and dying, and those things are not a natural vocation for any human being. Yet all soldiers are born civilians. The
method for turning young men into soldiers-people who kill other people and expose themselves to death-is basic training.
It's essentially the same all over the world, and it always has been, because young men everywhere are pretty much alike.
Human beings are fairly malleable, especially when they are young,
and in every young man there are attitudes for any army to work with: the inherited values and postures, more or less dimly
recalled, of the tribal warriors who were once the model for every young boy to emulate. Civilization did not involve a sudden
clean break in the way people behave, but merely the progressive distortion and redirection of all the ways in which people
in the old tribal societies used to behave, and modern definitions of maleness still contain a great deal of the old warrior
ethic. The anarchic machismo of the primitive warrior is not what modern armies really need in their soldiers, but it does
provide them with promising raw material for the transformation they must work in their recruits.
Just how this transformation is wrought varies from time to time
and from country to country. In totally militarized societies-ancient Sparta, the samurai class of medieval Japan, the areas
controlled by organizations like the Eritrean People's Liberation Front today1- it begins at puberty or before,
when the young boy is immersed in a disciplined society in which only the military values are allowed to penetrate. In more
sophisticated modern societies, the process is briefer and more concentrated, and the way it works is much more visible. It
is, essentially, a conversion process in an almost religious sense-and as in all conversion phenomena, the emotions are far
more important than the specific ideas....
When I was going to school, we
used to have to recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day. They don't do that now. You know, we've got kids that come in here
now, when they first get here, they don't know the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. And that's something - that's like a
cardinal sin.... My daughter will know that stuff by the time she's three; she's two now and she's working on it.... You know,
you've got to have your basics, the groundwork where you can start to build a child's brain from....
-USMC drill instructors,
Parris Island recruit training depot,
That is what the rhetoric of military patriotism
sounds like, in every country and at every level-and it is virtually irrelevant so far as the actual job of soldiering is
concerned. Soldiers are not just robots; they are ordinary human beings with national and personal loyalties, and many of
them do feel the need for some patriotic or ideological justification for what they do. But which nation, which ideology,
does not matter: men will fight as well and die as bravely for the Khmer Rouge as for "God, King, and Country." Soldiers are
the instruments of politicians and priests, ideologues and strategists, who may have high national or moral purposes in mind,
but the men down in the trenches fight for more basic motives. The closer you get to the frontline, the fewer abstract nouns
Armies know this. It is their business to get men to fight, and
they have had a long time to work out the best way of doing it. All of them pay lip service to the symbols and slogans of
their political masters, though the amount of time they must devote to this activity varies from country to country. It is
less in the United States than in the Soviet Union, and it is still less in a country like Israel, which actually fights frequent
wars. Nor should it be thought that the armies are hypocritical-most of their members really do believe in their particular
national symbols and slogans. But their secret is that they know these are not the things that sustain men in combat.
What really enables men to fight is their own self-respect, and
a special kind of love that has nothing to do with sex or idealism. Very few men have died in battle, when the moment actually
arrived, for the United States of America or for the sacred cause of Communism, or even for their homes and families; if they
had any choice in the matter at all, they chose to die for each other and for their own vision of themselves.
The way armies produce this sense of brotherhood in a peacetime
environment is basic training: a feat of psychological manipulation on the grand scale which has been so consistently successful
and so universal that we fail to notice it as remarkable. In countries where the army must extract its recruits in their late
teens, whether voluntarily or by conscription, from a civilian environment that does not share the military values, basic
training involves a brief but intense period of indoctrination whose purpose is not really to teach the recruits basic military
skills, but rather to change their values and their loyalties. "I guess you could say we brainwash them a little bit," admitted
a U.S. Marine drill instructor, "but you know they're good people."
It's easier if you catch them young. You can train older men to
be soldiers; it's done in every major war. But you can never get them to believe that they like it, which is the major reason
armies try to get their recruits before they are twenty. There are other reasons too, of course, like the physical fitness,
lack of dependents, and economic dispensability of teenagers, that make armies prefer them, but the most important qualities
teenagers bring to basic training are enthusiasm and naiveté. Many of them actively want the discipline and the closely structured
environment that the armed forces will provide, so there is no need for the recruiters to deceive the kids about what will
happen to them after they join.
There is discipline.
There is drill.... When you are relying on your mates and they are relying on you, there's no room for slackness or sloppiness.
If you're not prepared to accept the rules, you're better off where you are.
-British army recruiting advertisement,
People are not born soldiers, they become
soldiers.... And it should not begin at the moment when a new recruit is enlisted into the ranks, but rather much earlier,
at the time of the first signs of maturity, during the time of adolescent dreams.
-Red Star (Soviet army newspaper),
Young civilians who have
volunteered and have been accepted by the Marine Corps arrive at Parris Island, the Corps's East Coast facility
for basic training, in a state of considerable excitement and apprehension: most are aware that they are about to undergo
an extraordinary and very difficult experience. But they do not make their own way to the base; rather, they trickle in to
Charleston airport on various flights throughout the day on which their training platoon is due to form, and are held there,
in a state of suppressed but mounting nervous tension, until late in the evening. When the buses finally come to carry them
the seventy-six miles to Parris Island, it is often after midnight -and this is not an administrative oversight. The shock
treatment they are about to receive will work most efficiently if they are worn out and somewhat disoriented when they arrive.
The basic training organization is a machine, processing several
thousand young men every month, and every facet and gear of it has been designed with the sole purpose of turning civilians
into Marines as efficiently as possible. Provided it can have total control over their bodies and their environment for approximately
three months, it can practically guarantee converts. Parris Island provides that controlled environment, and the recruits
do not set foot outside it again until they graduate as Marine privates eleven weeks later.
to call home, so long as it doesn't get out of hand-every three weeks or so they can call home and make sure everything's
all right, if they haven't gotten a letter or there's a particular set of circumstances. If it's a case of an emergency call
coming in, then they're allowed to accept that call; if not, one of my staff will take the message.
In some cases I'll get calls from parents
who haven't quite gotten adjusted to the idea that their son had cut the strings -and in a lot of cases that's what they're
doing. The military provides them with an opportunity to leave home but they're still in a rather secure environment.
-Captain Brassington, USMC
For the young recruits, basic
training is the closest thing their society can offer to a formal rite of passage,3 and the institution probably
stands in an unbroken line of descent from the lengthy ordeals by which young males in pre-civilized groups were initiated
into the adult community of warriors. But in civilized societies it is a highly functional institution whose product is not
anarchic warriors, but trained soldiers.
Basic training is not really about teaching people skills; it's
about changing them, so that they can do things they wouldn't have dreamt of otherwise. It works by applying enormous physical
and mental pressure to men who have been isolated from their normal civilian environment and placed in one where the only
right way to think and behave is the way the Marine Corps wants them to. The key word the men who run the machine use to describe
this process is motivation.
I can motivate a recruit and
in third phase, if I tell him to jump off the third deck, he'll jump off the third deck. Like I said before, it's a captive
audience and I can train that guy; I can get him to do anything I want him to do.... They're good kids and they're out to
do the right thing. We get some bad kids, but you know, we weed those out. But as far as motivation-here, we can motivate
them to do anything you want, in recruit training.
-USMC drill instructor, Parris
The first three days the
raw recruits spend at Parris Island are actually relatively easy, though they are hustled and shouted at continuously It is
during this time that they are documented and inoculated, receive uniforms, and learn the basic orders of drill that will
enable young Americans (who are not very accustomed to this aspect of life) to do everything simultaneously in large groups.
But the most important thing that happens in "forming" is the surrender of the recruits' own clothes, their hair-all the physical
evidence of their individual civilian identities.
During a period of only seventy-two hours, in which they are allowed
little sleep, the recruits lay aside their former lives in a series of hasty rituals (like being shaven to the scalp) whose
symbolic significance is quite clear to them even though they are quite deliberately given absolutely no time for reflection,
or any hint that they might have the option of turning back from their commitment. The men in charge of them know how delicate
a tightrope they are walking, though, because at this stage the recruits are still newly caught civilians who have not yet
made their ultimate inward submission to the discipline of the Corps.
Forming Day One
makes me nervous. You've got a whole new mob of recruits, you know, sixty or seventy depending, and they don't know anything.
You don't know what kind of a reaction you're going to get from the stress you're going to lay on them, and it just worries
me the first day.
Things could happen, I'm not going to lie
to you. Something might happen. A recruit might decide he doesn't want any part of this stuff and maybe take a poke at you
or something like that. In a situation like that it's going to be a spur-of-the-moment thing and that worries me.
- USMC drill instructor
But it rarely happens. The
frantic bustle of forming is designed to give the recruit no time to think about resisting what is happening to him. And so
the recruits emerge from their initiation into the system, stripped of their civilian clothes, shorn of their hair, and deprived
of whatever confidence in their own identity they may previously have had as eighteen-year-olds, like so many blanks ready
to have the Marine identity impressed upon them.
The first stage in any conversion process is the destruction of
an individual's former beliefs and confidence, and his reduction to a position of helplessness and need. It isn't really as
drastic as all that, of course, for three days cannot cancel out eighteen years; the inner thoughts and the basic character
are not erased. But the recruits have already learned that the only acceptable behaviour is to repress any unorthodox thoughts
and to mimic the character the Marine Corps wants. Nor are they, on the whole, reluctant to do so, for they want to be Marines.
From the moment they arrive at Parris Island, the vague notion that has been passed down for a thousand generations that masculinity
means being a warrior becomes an explicit article of faith, relentlessly preached: to be a man means to be a Marine.
There are very few eighteen-year-old boys who do not have highly
romanticized ideas of what it means to be a man, so the Marine Corps has plenty of buttons to push. And it starts pushing
them on the first day of real training: the officer in charge of the formation appears before them for the first time, in
full dress uniform with medals, and tells them how to become men.
The United States Marine Corps
has 205 years of illustrious history to speak for itself. You have made the most important decision in your life ... by signing
your name, your life, pledge to the Government of the United States, and even more importantly, to the United States Marine
Corps-a brotherhood, an elite unit. In 10.3 weeks you are going to become a member of that history, those traditions, this
organization -if you have what it takes. All of you want to do that by virtue of your signing your name as a man. The Marine
Corps says that we build men. Well, I'll go a little bit further. We develop the tools that you have and everybody has those
tools to a certain extent right now. We're going to give you the blueprints, and we are going to show you how to build a Marine.
You've got to build a Marine-you understand?
-Captain Pingree, USMC
The recruits, gazing at him
with awe and adoration, shout in unison, 'Yes sir!" just as they have been taught. They do it willingly, because they are
volunteers-but even conscripts tend to have the romantic fervor of volunteers if they are only eighteen years old. Basic training,
whatever its hardships, is a quick way to become a man among men, with an undeniable status, and beyond the initial consent
to undergo it, it doesn't even require any decisions.
I had just dropped
out of high school and I wasn't doing much on the street except hanging out, as most teenagers would be doing. So they gave
me an opportunity -a recruiter picked me up, gave me a good line, and said that I could make it in the Marines, that I have
a future ahead of me. And since I was living with my parents, I figured that I could start my own life here and grow up a
- USMC recruit, 1982
I like the hand-to-hand combat and ...
things like that. It's a little rough going on me, and since I have a small frame I would like to become deadly, as I would
put it. I like to have them words, especially the way they've been teaching me here.
-USMC recruit (from Brooklyn),
Parris Island. 1982
The training, when it starts,
seems impossibly demanding physically for most of the recruits - and then it gets harder week by week. There is a constant
barrage of abuse and insults aimed at the recruits, with the deliberate purpose of breaking down their pride and so destroying
their ability to resist the transformation of values and attitudes that the Corps intends them to undergo. At the same time
the demands for constant alertness and for instant obedience are continuously stepped up, and the standards by which the dress
and behavior of the recruits are judged become steadily more unforgiving. But it is all carefully calculated by the men who
run the machine, who think and talk in terms of the stress they are placing on the recruits: "We take so many c.c.'s of stress
and we administer it to each man-they should be a little bit scared and they should be unsure, but they're adjusting." The
aim is to keep the training arduous but just within most of the recruits' capability to withstand. One of the most striking
achievements of the drill instructors is to create and maintain the illusion that basic training is an extraordinary challenge,
one that will set those who graduate apart from others, when in fact almost everyone can succeed.
There has been some preliminary weeding out of potential recruits
even before they begin training, to eliminate the obviously unsuitable minority, and some people do "fail" basic training
and get sent home, at least in peacetime. The standards of acceptable performance in the U.S. armed forces, for example, tend
to rise and fall in inverse proportion to the number and quality of recruits available to fill the forces to the authorized
manpower levels. (In 1980, about 15 percent of Marine recruits did not graduate from basic training.) But there are very few
young men who cannot be turned into passable soldiers if the forces are willing to invest enough effort in it.
Not even physical violence is necessary to effect the transformation,
though it has been used by most armies at most times.
It's not what it
was fifteen years ago down here. The Marine Corps still occupies the position of a tool which the society uses when it feels
like that is a resort that they have to fall to. Our society changes as all societies do, and our society felt that through
enlightened training methods we could still produce the same product-and when you examine it, they're right.... Our 100 c.c.'s
of stress is really all we need, not two gallons of it, which is what used to be.4 ... In some cases with some
of the younger drill instructors it was more an initiation than it was an acute test, and so we introduced extra officers
and we select our drill instructors to "fine-tune" it.
-Captain Brassington, USMC
There is, indeed, a good
deal of fine-tuning in the roles that the men in charge of training any specific group of recruits assume. At the simplest
level, there is a sort of "good cop - bad cop" manipulation of the recruits' attitudes toward those applying the stress. The
three younger drill instructors with a particular serial are quite close to them in age and unremittingly harsh in their demands
for ever higher performance, but the senior drill instructor, a man almost old enough to be their father, plays a more benevolent
and understanding part and is available for individual counseling. And generally offstage, but always looming in the background,
is the company commander, an impossibly austere and almost godlike personage.
At least these are the images conveyed to the recruits, although
of course all these men cooperate closely with an identical goal in view. It works: in the end they become not just role models
and authority figures, but the focus of the recruits' developing loyalty to the organization.
I imagine there's
some fear, especially in the beginning, because they don't know what to expect.... I think they hate you at first, at least
for a week or two, but it turns to respect.... They're seeking discipline, they're seeking someone to take charge, 'cause
at home they never got it ... They're looking to be told what to do and then someone is standing there enforcing what they
tell them to do, and it's kind of like the father-and-son game, all the way through. They form a fatherly image of the DI
whether they want to or not.
-Sergeant Carrington, USMC
Just the sheer physical exercise,
administered in massive doses, soon has the recruits feeling stronger and more competent than ever before. Inspections, often
several times daily, quickly build up their ability to wear the uniform and carry themselves like real Marines, which is a
considerable source of pride. The inspections also help to set up the pattern in the recruits of unquestioning submission
to military authority: standing stock-still, staring straight ahead, while somebody else examines you closely for faults is
about as extreme a ritual act of submission as you can make with your clothes on.
But they are not submitting themselves merely to the abusive sergeant
making unpleasant remarks about the hair in their nostrils. All around them are deliberate reminders-the flags and insignia
displayed on parade, the military music, the marching formations and drill instructors' cadenced calls - of the idealized
organization, the "brotherhood" to which they will be admitted as full members if they submit and conform. Nowhere in the
armed forces are the military courtesies so elaborately observed, the staffs' uniforms so immaculate (some DIs change several
times a day), and the ritual aspects of military life so highly visible as on a basic training establishment.
Even the seeming inanity of close-order drill has a practical
role in the conversion process. It has been over a century since mass formations of men were of any use on the battlefield,
but every army in the world still drills its troops, especially during basic training, because marching in formation, with
every man moving his body in the same way at the same moment, is a direct physical way of learning two things a soldier must
believe: that orders have to be obeyed automatically and instantly, and that you are no longer an individual, but part of
The recruits' total identification with the other members of their
unit is the most important lesson of all, and everything possible is done to foster it. They spend almost every waking moment
together-a recruit alone is an anomaly to be looked into at once-and during most of that time they are enduring shared hardships.
They also undergo collective punishments, often for the misdeed or omission of a single individual (talking in the ranks,
a bed not swept under during barracks inspection), which is a highly effective way of suppressing any tendencies toward individualism.
And, of course, the DIs place relentless emphasis on competition with other "serials" in training: there may be something
infinitely pathetic to outsiders about a marching group of anonymous recruits chanting, 'Lift your heads and hold them high,
3313 is a-passin' by," but it doesn't seem like that to the men in the ranks.
Nothing is quite so effective in building up a group's morale
and solidarity, though, as a steady diet of small triumphs. Quite early in basic training, the recruits begin to do things
that seem, at first sight, quite dangerous: descend by ropes from fifty-foot towers, cross yawning gaps hand-over-hand on
high wires (known as the Slide for Life, of course), and the like. The common denominator is that these activities are daunting
but not really, dangerous: the ropes will prevent anyone from falling to his death off the rappelling tower, and there is
a pond of just the right depth - deep enough to cushion a falling man, but not deep enough that he is likely to drown - under
the Slide for Life. The goal is not to kill recruits, but to build up their confidence as individuals and as a group by allowing
them to overcome apparently frightening obstacles.
You have an enemy
here at Parris Island. The enemy that you're going to have at Parris Island is in every one of us. It's in the form of cowardice.
The most rewarding experience you're going to have in recruit training is standing on line every evening, and you'll be able
to look into each other's eyes, and you'll be able to say to each other with your eyes: 'By God, we've made it one more day!
We've defeated the coward."
-Captain Pingree, USMC
Number on deck, sir, forty-five ... highly
motivated, truly dedicated, rompin', stompin', bloodthirsty, kill-crazy United States Marine Corps recruits, SIR!
- Marine chant, Parris Island,
If somebody does fail a particular
test, he tends to be alone, for the hurdles are deliberately set low enough that most recruits can clear them if they try
In any large group of people there is usually a goat: someone whose intelligence or manner or lack of physical stamina marks
him for failure and contempt. The competent drill instructor, without deliberately setting up this unfortunate individual
for disgrace, will use his failure to strengthen the solidarity and confidence of the rest. When one hapless young man fell
off the Slide for Life into the pond, for example, his drill instructor shouted the usual invective - "Well, get out of the
water. Don't contaminate it all day" - and then delivered the payoff line: "Go back and change your clothes. You're useless
to your unit now."
"Useless to your unit" is the key phrase, and all the recruits
know that what it means is I useless in battle." The Marine drill instructors at Parris Island know exactly what they are
doing to the recruits, and why. They are not rear-echelon people filling comfortable jobs, but the most dedicated and intelligent
NCOs6 the Marine Corps can find: even now, many of them have combat experience. The Corps has a clear-eyed understanding
of precisely what it is training its recruits for - combat - and it ensures that those who do the training keep that objective
constantly in sight.
The DIs "stress" the recruits, feed them their daily ration of
synthetic triumphs over apparent obstacles, and bear in mind all the time that the goal is to instill the foundations for
the instinctive, selfless reactions and the fierce group loyalty that is what the recruits will need if they ever see combat.
They are arch-manipulators, fully conscious of it, and utterly unashamed. These kids have signed up as Marines, and they could
well see combat; this is the way they have to think if they want to live....
Combat is the ultimate reality that Marines or any other soldiers,
under any flag-have to deal with. Physical fitness, weapons training, battle drills, are all indispensable elements of basic
training, and it is absolutely essential that the recruits learn the attitudes of group loyalty and interdependency which
will be their sole hope of survival and success in combat. The training inculcates or fosters all of those things, and even
by the halfway point in the eleven-week course, the recruits are generally responding with enthusiasm to their tasks.
But there is nothing in all this (except the weapons drill) that
would not be found in the training camp of a professional football team. What sets soldiers apart is their willingness to
kill. But it is not a willingness that comes easily to most men -even young men who have been provided with uniforms, guns,
and official approval to kill those whom their government has designated as enemies. They will, it is true, fall very readily
into the stereotypes of the tribal warrior group. Indeed, most of them have had at least a glancing acquaintance in their
early teens with gangs (more or less violent, depending on, among other things, the neighborhood), the modem relic of that
And in many ways what basic training produces is the uniformed
equivalent of a modern street gang: a bunch of tough, confident kids full of bloodthirsty talk. But gangs don't actually kill
each other in large numbers. If they behaved the way armies do, you'd need trucks to clean the bodies off the streets every
morning. They're held back by the civilian belief -the normal human belief -that killing another person is an awesome act
with huge consequences.
There is aggression in all of us - men, women, children, babies.
Armies don't have to create it, and they can't even increase it. But most of us learn to put limits on our aggression, especially
physical aggression, as we grow up....
There is such a thing as a "natural soldier": the kind of man
who derives his greatest satisfaction from male companionship, from excitement, and from the conquering of physical and psychological
obstacles. He doesn't necessarily want to kill people as such, but he will have no objections if it occurs within a moral
framework that gives him a justification - like war - and if it is the price of gaining admission to the kind of environment
he craves. Whether such men are born or made, I do not know, but most of them end up in armies (and many move on again to
become mercenaries, because regular army life in peacetime is too routine and boring).
But armies are not full of such men. They are so rare that they
form only a modest fraction even of small professional armies, mostly congregating in the commando-type special forces. In
large conscript armies they virtually disappear beneath the weight of numbers of more ordinary men. And it is these ordinary
men, who do not like combat at all, that the armies must persuade to kill. Until only a generation ago, they did not even
realize how bad a job they were doing.
Armies had always assumed that, given the proper rifle training,
the average man could kill in combat with no further incentive than the knowledge that it was the only way to defend his own
life. After all, there are no historical records of Roman legionnaires refusing to use their swords, or Marlborough's infantrymen7
refusing to fire their muskets against the enemy. But then dispersion hit the battlefield, removing each rifleman from the
direct observation of his companions-and when U.S. Army Colonel S. L. A. Marshall finally took the trouble to inquire into
what they were doing in 1943-45, he found that on average only 15 percent of trained combat riflemen fired their weapons at
all in battle. The rest did not flee, but they would not kill - even when their own position was under attack and their lives
were in immediate danger.
The thing is simply
this, that out of an average one hundred men along the line of fire during the period of an encounter, only fifteen men on
average would take any part with the weapons. This was true whether the action was spread over a day, or two days or three....
In the most aggressive infantry companies, under the most intense local pressure, the figure rarely rose above 25% of total
strength from the opening to the close of an action.
-Col. S. L. A. Marshall
Marshall conducted both individual
interviews and mass interviews with over four hundred infantry companies, both in Europe and in the Central Pacific, immediately
after they had been in close combat with German or Japanese troops, and the results were the same each time. They were, moreover,
as astonishing to the company officers and the troops themselves as they were to Marshall; each man who hadn't fired his rifle
thought he had been alone in his defection from duty.
Even more indicative of what was going on was the fact that almost
all the crew-served weapons had been fired. Every man had been trained to kill and knew it was his duty to kill, and so long
as he was in the presence of other soldiers who could see his actions, he went ahead and did it. But the great majority of
the riflemen, each unobserved by the others in his individual foxhole, had chosen not to kill, even though it increased the
likelihood of his own death....
But the question naturally arises: if the great majority of men
are not instinctive killers, and if most military killing these days is in any case done by weapons operating from a distance
at which the question of killing scarcely troubles the operators-then why is combat an exclusively male occupation? The great
majority of women, everyone would agree, are not instinctive killers either, but so what? If the remote circumstances in which
the killing is done or the deliberate conditioning supplied by the military enable most men to kill, why should it be any
different for women?
My own guess would be that it probably wouldn't be different;
it just hasn't been tried very extensively. But it is an important question, because it has to do with the causes and possible
cure of war. If men fight wars because that is an intrinsic part of the male character, then nothing can abolish the institution
of warfare short of abolishing the male half of the human race (or at least, as one feminist suggested, disfranchising it
for a hundred years).
If, on the other hand, wars are a means of allocating power between
civilized human groups, in which the actual soldiers have a.1ways been male simply because men were more suited to it by their
greater physical strength and their freedom from the burden of childbearing, then what we are discussing is not Original Sin,
but simply a mode of social behavior. The fact that almost every living male for thousands of generations has imbibed some
of the warrior mystique is no proof of a genetic predisposition to be warlike. The cultural continuity is quite enough to
transmit such attitudes, and men were specialized in the hunting and warrior functions for the same physical reasons long
before civilized war was invented.
It was undoubtedly men, the "hunting" specialists, who invented
civilized war, just as it was probably women, specializing in the "gathering" part of the primitive economy, who invented
agriculture. That has no necessary relevance today: we all eat vegetables, and we can all die in war. It is a more serious
allegation against males to say that all existing forms of political power have been shaped predominantly by men, so that
even if wars are about power and not about the darker side of the masculine psyche, war is still a male problem. That has
unquestionably been true through all of history (although it remains to be proven that women exercising power respond very
differently to its temptations and obsessions). But there is no need to settle that argument: if war and masculinity are not
inseparable, then we have already moved onto negotiable ground. For the forms of political power, unlike psyches, are always
Unfortunately there is little direct support for this optimistic
hypothesis in the prevailing current of opinion among soldiers generally, where war and maleness are indeed seen as inseparable.
To say that the combat branches of the armed forces are sexist is like remarking that gravity generally pulls downward, and
nowhere is the contempt for women greater than at a recruit training base like Parris Island. The DIs are quite ruthless in
exploiting every prejudice and pushing every button that will persuade the recruits to accept the value system they are selling,
and one of those buttons (quite a large one) is the conviction of young males - or at least the desire to be convinced - that
are superior to young females. (After all, even recruits want to feel superior to somebody, and it certainly isn't going to
be anybody in their immediate, vicinity at Parris Island.)
When it's all boys together, especially among the younger men,
Marine Corps slang for any woman who isn't the wife, mother, or daughter of anyone present is "Suzie." It is short for "Suzie
Rottencrotch" - and Suzie crops up a lot in basic training. Even when the topic of instruction is hand and arm signals in
Privates, if you
don't have a little Suzie now, maybe you're going to find one when you get home. You bet. You'll find the first cheap slut
you can get back home. What do you mean, "No"? You're a Marine, you're going to do it.
If we get home with little Suzie ... we're
in a nice companionship with little Suzie and here you are getting hot and heavy and then you're getting ready to go down
there and make that dive, privates, and Suzie says ... Suzie says it's the wrong time of the month. Privates, if you don't
want to get back home and indulge in this little adventure, you can show your girlfriend the hand and arm signal for "close
And you want her to close up those nasty
little thighs of hers, do you not, privates? The hand and arm signal: the arms are laterally shoulder height, the fingers
are extended, and the palms are facing toward the front. This is the starting position for "close it up" [tighten up the formation]:
just like closing it up, bring the arms together just like that.
Privates, in addition, I want you to dedicate
all this training to one very special person. Can anyone tell me who that is, privates?
(Voice) The Senior Drill Instructor, sir?
No, not your Senior Drill Instructor. You're
going to dedicate all this training, privates, to your enemy ... to your enemy. To your enemy: the reason being, so he can
die for his country. So who are we going to dedicate all this training to, privates?
-- lecture on hand and arm signals,
Parris Island, 1982
And they shouted enthusiastically,:
"The enemy, sir! The enemy, sir!" It would not be instantly clear to the disinterested observer from Mars, however, why these
spotty-faced male eighteen-year-olds are uniquely qualified to kill the enemy, while their equally spotty-faced female counterparts
get to admire them from afar (or so the supposition goes), and get called Suzie Rottencrotch for their trouble.
Interestingly, it isn't entirely clear either to the senior military
and civilian officials whose responsibility it is to keep the organization filled up with warm bodies capable of doing the
job. Women are not employed in combat roles in the regular armed forces of any country (though increasing numbers of women
have been admitted to the noncombat military jobs in the course of this century). But in the last decade the final barrier
has come under serious consideration. It was, unsurprisingly, in the United States, where the problems of getting enough recruits
for the all-volunteer armed forces converged with the changes of attitude flowing from the women's liberation movement, that
the first serious proposals to send women into combat were entertained, during the latter years of the Carter administration.
There is no question but that
women could do a lot of things in the military. So could men in wheelchairs. But you couldn't expect the services to want
a whole company of people in wheelchairs.
-- Gen. Lewis B. Hershey,
If for no other reason than because women
are the bearers of children, they should not be in combat. Imagine your daughter as a ground soldier sleeping in the fields
and expected to do all the things that soldiers do. It represents to me an absolute horror.
-- Gen. Jacqueline Cochran, U.S.
Despite the anguished cries
of military conservatives, both male and female, the reaction of younger officers in the combat branches (all male, of course)
was cautious but not entirely negative. The more intelligent ones dismissed at once arguments about strength and stamina -the
average American woman, one pointed out, is bigger than the average Vietnamese man - and were as little impressed by the alleged
special problems arising from the fact that female soldiers may become pregnant. In the noncombat branches, the army loses
less time from its women soldiers due to pregnancy than it loses from desertion, drug abuse, and alcoholism in its male soldiers.
More important, few of the male officers involved in the experimental
programs giving combat training to women recruits in the late 1970s had any doubt that the women would function effectively
in combat. Neither did the women themselves. Despite their lack of the traditional male notions about the warrior stereotype,
the training did its job. As one female trainee remarked: "I don't like the idea of killing anything ... [and] I may not at
this moment go into combat. But knowing that I can fire as well as I can fire now, knowing that today, I'd go in. I believe
in my country ... I'd fight to keep it."
The one major reservation the male officers training the "infantrywomen"
had was about how the presence of women in combat would affect the men. The basic combat unit, a small group of men bound
together by strong male ties of loyalty and trust, was a time-tested s,.-stem that worked, and they were reluctant to tamper
with it by adding an additional, unknown factor to the equation.
In the end a more conservative administration canceled the idea
of introducing women to American combat units, and it may be some years yet before there are female soldiers in the infantry
of any regular army. But it is manifestly sheer social conservatism that is retarding this development. Hundreds of thousands,
if not millions, of women have fought in combat as irregular infantry in the past half-century, from the Yugoslav and Soviet
partisans of World War II to Nicaragua in 1978-79. They performed quite satisfactorily, and so did the mixed units of which
they were members. There are numerous differences of detail between guerrilla and regular army units, but none of them is
of the sort to suggest that women would not fight just as well in a regular infantry battalion, or that the battalion would
function less well if women were present.
The point of all this is not that women should be allowed (or
indeed compelled) to take their fair share of the risks in combat. It is rather that war has moved a very long way from its
undeniably warrior male origins, and that human behavior, male or female, is extremely malleable. Combat of the sort we know
today, even at the infantryman's level let alone the fighter pilot's- simply could not occur unless military organizations
put immense effort into reshaping the behavior of individuals to fit their unusual and exacting requirements. The military
institution, for all its imposing presence, is a highly artificial structure that is maintained only by constant endeavor.
And if ordinary people's behavior is malleable in the direction the armed forces require, it is equally open to change in
- Eritrea, an Italian colony from 1885 to 1941,
was annexed by Ethiopia in 1962. After a 30-year civil war, Eritrea gained its independence in 1992.
- Something you might not know if you have no
military experience and don’t watch war movies or attend the ballet is that the word corps is pronounced "core" (from
the Latin corpus, meaning "body").
- The concept of rite of passage (or rites de
passage) is discussed in The Practical Skeptic, chapter 10.
- As a point of reference, there are 4c.c.'s
in a teaspoon.
- Drill Instructor.
- Noncommissioned officers.
- John Churchill (1650-1722), first Duke of Marlborough,
British General, supreme commander of the British forces in the War of the Spanish Succession.
Gwynn Dyer, "Anybody's Son Will Do."
From War: Past, Present, and Future by Gwynne Dyer, copyright © 1985 by Media Resources.