No one but the high command can punish them

Monday, March 11th, 2019

After Dunlap went to Africa the long way around, some of the Americans traveled on and picked up some British Tommies, who had a different way of doing things:

A day or so later when they discovered they were only to get two meals a day, things happened. They didn’t like it. The British Army may not get such good food, or very much of it, but it demands its regular rations when they are available. At any rate, the 500 Britons raised enough hell so that the schedule was revised and the whole 8,000 on board ate three times a day for the rest of the trip, even if the third meal turned out to be mostly tea, bread, butter, jam and an orange.


When more than three enlisted Americans come to any higher authority with a complaint, it is mutiny, they get court-martialed and spend the next couple of decades regretting it, but British soldiers can petition or complain in numbers and no one but the high command can punish them.


  1. Kirk says:

    I’ve long noted the historical irony that the US military is far more authoritarian and rank-conscious than the army that it purportedly takes much of its military tradition from, the British Army. Which is really… Odd, considering that we’re a republic that supposedly and objectively threw all that off, back when.

    It’s not as bad as it was in first half of the 20th Century, but there are still vestigial signs of it hanging around, particularly in regards to information flows and how much the NCO corps is trusted.

    As an example–Circa 1995-ish, we did a bunch of work with the Brits when they came over to Fort Lewis, WA for an exercise, Trumpet Dance. During the course of things, I found out that the (pay attention, here–Warrant Officer in the UK is an NCO grade, equivalent to an E-7, roughly…) platoon sergeant-equivalent was reviewing the copy of the new British Army field manual-equivalent for conducting route clearance operations. The one he’d written. Why was that astounding? For one thing, it was being written by a guy who’d just gotten done with a tour doing actual, y’know, route clearance in Northern Ireland, something he’d done several times over the course of his career in the British Army as a sapper, and for another, he was a senior NCO who’d been tasked with writing the damn thing, not a committee of tyro company-grade officers like we would have had working the issue of writing a new manual and developing new doctrine back up at the Engineer School.

    As an American NCO, that was eye-opening. An actual practitioner writing the manuals? An NCO? WTF? And, the manual was a clear, cogent summary of how best to go about the task, unlike our usual half-assed imaginings that failed to cover about 90% of the issues encountered in such missions, mostly because the guys writing them were only vaguely familiar with the mission in the first place…

    The organizational culture of the US Army is bizarrely out of touch with the nature of the country it defends, and dysfunctional in ways you wouldn’t expect, at all. And, it’s been that way for a long, long time–Most of this stuff is an outgrowth of the days before even the Frontier Army, back to the Revolution. The militia was more egalitarian, but the Regular Army was a bastion of self-identified aristocratism, for want of a better way to describe it. Some of that was justified, but an awful lot is just plain… Wrong. You need a certain amount of social separation between ranks, but at the interface between the commissioned management that’s theoretically tied by career to the institution, and the lower shop-foreman up-from-beneath institutional leadership…? We’ve got some serious issues going on, which very, very oddly got worse the better that lower level of the hierarchy got. At least, over the course of my career. When I enlisted, those positions in the organization had tons more authority and responsibility than I was able to take by brute force when I hit those grades, and the irony was that the guys I’d worked for were not all that bright or responsible, collectively. There were a lot of afternoons where my bosses in the early days would return to the barracks and let the troops watch TV, rather than be productively engaged in training or maintenance–Which is something they could do, because they had been given a lot more control over our time than my generation of NCOs was ever entrusted with. The irony was that by the time I was in their positions, the micro-management of time was so thoroughly engrained into things that we were all basically straight-jacketed by the training schedule.

    Which is probably where I first grasped the idea that the more control of something you reach for, the less you’ll actually have.

  2. CVLR says:

    Kirk, America never really had a tradition of war. In the light of that fact and the fact that the extra-SF military is a dinosaur left over from mass-drafted-mass-mobilized WWII, what you say doesn’t really surprise me. What I’m most concerned about is the extent to which it [the micro-management] is rational, which is to say how much are those people actually needed in a potential conflict given the 2019 technological situation? I mean, give it another 10 or 20 years and you’ll have guys playing video games with robots on the other end. Just saying.

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