FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Do They Subscribe to GQ at the Pentagon?

Something hits me every time I see American troops in Iraq or Afghanistan. Several World War Two veterans and fellow Vietnam veterans I know have the same reaction. It has nothing to do with the politics of the wars. It’s the uniforms of our soldiers today, the ones in combat zones. They’re astonishingly tidy. Parade-ground tidy, one might even say. I know the reason and it’s partly my fault.

Even though there are no Vietnam veterans in the military anymore (unless there’s a white-walled sergeant major somewhere with hash marks like the Union Pacific railroad), the military looks back on the disciplinary troubles of the Vietnam War with horror and disgust – as a Calvinist minister would a drunken weekend in a Swiss whorehouse. The wayward minister could deny it ever happened, but our generals can’t. There’s news footage and a lot of us were there. Insubordination and AWOLs were on the rise. Morale and cohesion were on the decline. Discouraging words were heard as the peasants were daring to question the regime.

The Pentagon aristocracy and their socio-consultants think they know why. It had nothing to do with incurring several hundred thousand casualties in a pointless war. Nah, couldn’t be. Anything wrong with the leadership? Well, two of the most admirable people I’ve ever known were a sergeant and a captain over there, but <i>choi duc oi</i> there were a lot of truly bad NCOs and officers back then. Couldn’t read a map, hated minorities, and assumed three chevrons or a bar or two made them natural leaders of men before whom lower enlisted personnel must bow. Nah, that had nothing to do with the problem.

The home office concluded it was the uniforms of the guys out in the field. Yeah, that and the hair. It was letting the guys go without shaving for a couple days and without buttoning up their jungle fatigues. Signs of the apocalypse. It was the slovenliness of soldiers that brought anarchy. Forget the Mayan calendar.

Man, I’d like to see one of today’s four-stars go back and tell guys on Guadalcanal and at Dak To that they need to straighten up and look STRAC.

“You’re all disgraces to the uniform!!!”

“We know that . . . sir. Now excuse us but we’ve got to get the wounded out and set up Claymores.”

A reckless disregard for officialdom’s idea of what the American fighting man should look like was our war-given right. Our attire and demeanor – War Casual, let’s call it – was something we’d earned in the deal to fight in a hot, malarial, god-forsaken country where, unbeknownst to us, one day our tennis shoes would be made and other people’s resorts would be built. It was a source of pride. We were a band of disheveled brothers who could push aside the Pentagon foppery that rolled so rapidly downhill. All in all, I’d say War Casual actually helped cohesion and morale.

Most of our NCOs and lieutenants let it go, though they abided by the regs. They wanted to be platoon sergeants and captains. We wanted to be PFCs: Proud Fuckin’ Civilians. We did our jobs; we just bitched more and shaved less. The better sergeants and LTs knew that. We were adopting the War Casual look our fathers had made fashionable from New Guinea to the Siegfried Line.

No one’s knocking today’s GIs here. It’s hotter in Anbar than it was in An Khe; the mountains of Paktia are even tougher than the ones in the A Shau. We knew to the day when we got out and never heard of stop-losses or fourth deployments. I just wonder how many casualties there’ve been from being buttoned up tight like that under those conditions. But I’m sure that’s all been factored in.

The generals don’t understand our soldiers. They eat chow with “their boys” and chat demotically with them, but they don’t understand them. They honestly think those guys would be less effective soldiers if they ignored a uniform reg or two while walking patrols in the Middle East and Central Asia.

The generals don’t understand “their boys” because they’ve never been in a war. They’ve commanded battalions and brigades, but they’ve never done patrols in 95-degree heat, or climbed a mountainside with a rucksack and a Prick-25, or had to confront their own mortality at nineteen or so. If they had, they’d have a better perspective on their regulations, and a better understanding of the troops they order around.

BRIAN M. DOWNING is the author of several works of political and military history, including The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: War and Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam. He can be reached at: brianmdowning@gmail.com

 

More articles by:

Brian M Downing is a political-military analyst, author of The Military Revolution and Political Change and The Paths of Glory: Social Change in America from the Great War to Vietnam, and co-author with Danny Rittman of  The Samson Heuristic. He can be reached at brianmdowning@gmail.com (Copyright 2015 Brian M Downing) 

January 21, 2019
W. T. Whitney
New US Economic Attack Against Cuba, Long Threatened, May Hit Soon
Jérôme Duval
Macronist Repression Against the People in Yellow Vests
Dean Baker
The Next Recession: What It Could Look Like
Eric Mann
All Hail the Revolutionary King: Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Binoy Kampmark
Spy Theories and the White House: Donald Trump as Russian Agent
Edward Curtin
We Need a Martin Luther King Day of Truth
Bill Fried
Jeff Sessions and the Federalists
Ed Corcoran
Central America Needs a Marshall Plan
Colin Todhunter
Complaint Lodged with European Ombudsman: Regulatory Authorities Colluding with Agrochemicals Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
The US War Against the Weak
Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
Cesar Chelala
President Donald Trump’s “Magical Realism”
Christopher Brauchli
An Education in Fraud
Paul Bentley
The Death Penalty for Canada’s Foreign Policy?
David Swanson
Top 10 Reasons Not to Love NATO
Louis Proyect
Breaking the Left’s Gay Taboo
Kani Xulam
A Saudi Teen and Freedom’s Shining Moment
Ralph Nader
Bar Barr or Regret this Dictatorial Attorney General
Jessicah Pierre
A Dream Deferred: MLK’s Dream of Economic Justice is Far From Reality
Edward J. Martin
Glossip v. Gross, the Eighth Amendment and the Torture Court of the United States
Chuck Collins
Shutdown Expands the Ranks of the “Underwater Nation”
Paul Edwards
War Whores
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail