Fred Reed recalls Marine boot camp, circa 1966:
A recruit was standing on a roof at Parris Island in the burning sun at parade rest. His DI had put him there to work on the roof and somehow had forgotten him. A passing sergeant noticed, stared curiously for a second, and bellowed, “Git down from there, prive.”
The private didn’t move.
“Goddamit, git down here,” bawled the instructor, unused to being ignored.
Nothing. The private looked deeply unhappy, but didn’t so much as twitch.
Another DI came along and yelled, but nothing moved the recruit. He gazed desperately ahead, either deaf or crazed by the sun. A group formed on the sidewalk, including a warrant officer, a lieutenant, and, finally, a passing light colonel.
The colonel snapped his crispest order. The private stared ahead. The crowd conferred, decided they had a mental case on their hands and prepared to send for a struggle buggy and some big corpsmen. Then the private’s DI returned.
“Jaworski, Ten-hut! Git your butt down from there.”
Down came Jaworski. From parade rest, you see, the only acceptable order is “attention”. The manual of arms says so.
“You see,” a drill instructor explained to me, “a recruit’s in a place he doesn’t understand at all, and nothing ever works for him. Back home, he knows the rules. Maybe he’s a big dude on the block, got it made. Not here. Everybody’s yelling at him and he can’t ever do anything right.
“So he figures he’ll do exactly what he’s told. It’s his way of protecting himself. If something goes wrong, he thinks at least it’s not his fault. This is what a drill instructor’s got to learn — nothing’s too crazy for a recruit to do if he thinks it’s what you told him. And you really got to think about it. Otherwise you can get him hurt.
“One time in winter a friend of mine, Sergeant Grunderling, had evening duty at some building and he wanted to go take a leak. So he tells this recruit who’s with him, ‘I’m going out for a minute. Don’t let anyone in who doesn’t know the password. You got that?’
“The recruit says, ‘Yes, sir,’ so Grunderling relieves himself and realizes he can’t remember the password. So he hollers, ‘Minter, open the door.”
“What’s the password?”
“I forget. Open the door.”
“I can’t do that, sir. You told me not to let anybody in who doesn’t give the password, sir.”
“Goddamit Minter, now I’m telling you to open the door.”
“‘No sir, I can’t do that.”
“Minter, it’s cold out here.”
“No, sir, I can’t do that.”
“By now Grunderling’s mostly frozen and so mad he can’t see straight, but he sees threats ain’t going to help him.
“Please, Minter, let me in. I ain’t gonna yell at you. I won’t do anything to you.”
“Aww, you’re trying to trick me.”
“No, Minter, honest, I ain’t trying to trick you. Open the door.’
“You’re gonna yell at me, aren’t you sir?”
“No, Minter, I promise.”
“Finally, old Minter opens the door and Grunderling nearly kills him. But he should have expected it. A recruit does exactly what you tell him.”
Societies in decline are always shocked to discover that their militaries are no longer what they once were when they run into a harder, more disciplined enemy. Just consider Athens after attacking Syracuse. Or the Spartans when they confronted the Thebans.
Today’s Marine Corps may have more advanced weapons, but it seems highly unlikely that the changes in its preparation will prove to be for the better.