25 January 2009

8-Track Flashback

I think all officers, upon commissioning, somehow acquire a copy of the Army Officer's Guide, a book which inadvertently illustrates the vast differences in thinking between the peacetime Army and the wartime Army. 

The conflict between young and old, peacetime Army and wartime Army is nothing new.  The British have long been interested in this subject after the First World War; indeed, T.E. Lawrence was often at odds with his superiors and goes on long diatriabes about standing armies on numerous occasions.  In American culture, this subject was often lampooned by Bill Maudlin in his famous "Willie and Joe" cartoons, and now, I get to lampoon it as well.  

As much as I make fun of this, it actually brings up a good point:  that growing up in the peacetime Army affects an officer's world view, their value system, their education, and their career path.  The peacetime Army of the 1980s was over 50% larger and had about 25% of the actual missions to perform.  It was a time when a month-long rotation to a national training center was a "deployment", and a foreign assignment was a posting in Germany, driving down the Autobahn in a BMW.  It was a time when the Army adopted a host of social services that would have made Sweeden blush and say "that's socialist", in the attempts to largely cater to provide a stable family life.  A time when the largest family crisis was a one year unaccompanied tour to South Korea, which was only a crisis because of all the Soju one could drink away from the watchful eye of one's wife.    

I have to preface this by saying that I don't have the book in front of me, so I have to draw on my recollections of the book.  UPDATE:  I just now found the book on Kindle!  I also need to remark that this was the edition that I picked up at my commissioning in 2002, so maybe this thing has been updated.  Still, just as I make fun of the fads of the 70s, I will now make fun of people in the peacetime Army.

  1. Judging by the Army Officer's Guide, one of the amusing things about the Peacetime Army is that there is an inordinate amount of emphasis placed on dinner parties.  There are literally multiple chapters dedicated to dinner party etiquitte.  Nearly one whole page informs our officers how to change the inflection of their voice when introducting someone in the receiving line.  Another small paragraph introduces our officers to the proper wear of the official US Army cape.  You know, for all those times our new lieutenants will feel the need to wear a cape.    To be honest, I never get invited to dinner parties (for obvious reasons, probably), so I have no idea if this is really importatnt to the officer corps.  Clearly, the author has never been to Honduras, where one's choice of attire at a hail and farewell is between either the toga or the witty T-shirt.  
  2. Under dinner party etiquitte, the author also decides to spend a few paragraphs analyzing what "casual attire" means, and advises the young officer to always have a tie in his pocket just in case.  Still not one word on battle-focused training, or preparing families and personal finances for deployment.  
  3. Even though, in the year 2000, when the book was written, the author feels the need to devote multiple pages to the process of paying Soldiers by checks and dollar bills on payday.  Let that sink in:  in the era of direct deposit, a retired colonel feels that he needs to impart the archaic practice of paying Soldiers with checks and bills on payday.  The only place that has even been seen in the last twenty years was on an episode of M*A*S*H*, and even then, that episode was probably a re-run.  
  4. The Army officer corps is usually a socially conservative bunch, but once again, the author goes on his soap box and condemns the drinking of alcohol and dalliances with multiple women of virtue untrue.  Last I checked, that was typical alpha male behavior--it's like we want our wars being fought by the B team.  Those with no vices typically have no virtues either.
  5. There should be a bullet list of things which will cause a lieutenant to be duct taped to a flagpole by his subordinates.  Bullet point number one is his suggestion that one report to his first duty station in class As, knock on the door and report to the commander.  The way I type that does not fully capture the manner in which the author writes it, as if he's an upper class British woman writing a book on 19th Century etiquitte.  The online version of this should re-direct to his chapter on sycophantism.
  6. The author also likes to use this as a soapbox to rail against women being in combat roles in the military, citing "Saving Private Ryan" as the be-all, do-all discussion ender.  Clearly, he feels passionately about barring women from combat, because he puts it in italics.  The example from Saving Private Ryan is baffling:  I keep having this image of the Germans on Normandy Beach manning the machine guns.  They mow down dozens of male soldiers and then see a female sodlier, and pause:  "See zee voman?  Vee not shoot her, vee have policy memo zat says vee cannot shoot her. "  Yeah, thanks for having no applicability to the current conflict, Mr. Army Officer Guide Writer.
Focus:  Make fun of the silly advice you found in the Army Officer's Guide, or the silly advice you got in ROTC/OCS/USMA.  


Anonymous said...

I though the lesson of Saving Private Ryan was that Omaha beach would only have lasted 20 minutes if only they'd had Tom Hanks.

Surely he should have used 'G.I. Jane' as his evidence because deploying anything as painful as Demi Moore performance would probably get the US in trouble with the UN...

I suppose the real lesson we take from this is that whoever dominates any particular century militarily will spend their time writing complete dross. Presuming that insurgencies might dominate this century does that mean we can look forward to Al-Quaeda leaflets telling the heads of cells how to fold their napkins corrects and where to seat the cell's bombmaker at dinner (at the back, surrounded by sandbags)?

Starbuck said...

You know, as terror networks get larger and more bureaucratic, they become more conventional (and thus easier to kill). Maybe that might be a good thing...