There is nothing very boyish about a war soldier

Tuesday, May 28th, 2019

Dunlap didn’t like most of the civilians’ names for soldiers:

I do not like the use of that word “boy” in all places, either, for there is nothing very boyish about a war soldier regardless of his age. It used to gripe us to read blurbs about “our boys.” A soldier can call other soldiers boys, the same way a man refers to his lodge poker gang that way, even though there is not a lad under 60 in the bunch, but it irritated us to be called that in print and by civilians, the way it irritated us to be called “Joe” or “Buddy” by outsiders. I always wanted to hit civilians who called me that. No real soldier ever called another “Buddy” anyway. Besides, in the Pacific, only the Filipinos used “Joe” as a name. Privates were sometimes referred to objectively and collectively as “joes” but only replacements thought it a name. Soldiers called other strange ones “Mac” (or in our outfit, “Mate” was popular — the guys had been on ships so often they used sailor lingo). “Doughfoot” and “Doughboy” are more civilian terms. In the army if a soldier belonged to the cavalry he was a trooper, and if to the infantry, an infantryman. He was called foot soldier, or line man, if belonging to a combat unit.


  1. Kirk says:

    Infantilization of the fighting man has been going on since ferfreakin’ever… Note the root word for “Infantry”, as the ur-example.

    Me? I’m offended at the use of the word “warrior”. That’s my pet peeve, right there–”Warriot ethos”, “Warrior spirit”, and on and on and on.

    Soooo… What’re ya telling me, friendo? That you want me to be more concerned with personal glory and nihilism than with discipline and all the other things implied by the word “soldier”? That’s not good enough for ya? You want me to be some medieval git with a sword, looking out for number one, raping, pillaging, looting, and burning?

    [spit] That for a warrior; warriors are the idiots we soldiers kill when they act like a bunch of teenage gangbangers.

  2. Graham says:

    The underlying message of quite a lot of the contents of Pournelle’s There Will be War, both essays and fiction, and probably of a fair chunk of the military history and military sociology of an earlier era.

    I find it strangely disconcerting that the US and to some extent apparently the Canadian military official ideologies about themselves seem to include only the archetypes of international social worker and diversity consultant on the one hand, and “warrior” on the other. I can’t imagine either, let alone in combination, are signs of a healthy culture either of those services or our civilization.

    I have to trust that it doesn’t actually look like that at the level of or in the minds of the actual members of the services.

  3. Kirk says:

    The actual members of the services mostly don’t stop to think about it, to be honest.

    The US military is more a heavily armed bureaucracy than it is anything else. One rather gets the impression that the majority of the upper hierarchy would grasp fighting to the death to submit a TPS report (Office Space reference…) on time, rather than some other archetype of heroism like Horatius at the bridge.

    The sad fact is that we simply don’t bother to inculcate troops with the right mentality–You never, ever hear anyone talking about the duties and responsibilities of the “citizen soldier”, these days. It’s all careerism, all the time. We live in a sadly diminished age, in a lot of very telling ways.

  4. Ezra says:

    Filipinos still refer to all American males as “Joe”.

  5. Graham says:

    I sort of get it from the point of view of men in war being prickly about how the home front regarded them, but I have to wonder how much of that is just the idiosyncrasies of personality, including Dunlap’s own.

    The use of boys for and among men is so common, the acceptance of women calling us that is pretty common in the same kinds of casual social settings/remarks, as to be unremarkable.

    Naturally, calling women girls in the same way has become recently fraught with peril, but was once common.

    In the 2015 film “The Intern”, starring Anne Hathaway and Robert DeNiro [recommended if you like lighthearted rom-coms although this actually isn't that kind of story; also, there's a few patronizing moments from the point of view of this middle aged man; it's still heartwarming] there’s a moment when several characters are pretty hammered in a bar, or at least Hathaway’s character is, and she uses the term boys this way, and then launches into Slate-worthy regrets about how nobody calls men, men anymore, just boys, followed by speculations of the usual “are men obsolete” variety. Lightly worn, but recognizable.

    Now, as a narrative trope playing on the fact that three of the men present are ill-dressed, slouching, young game geeks who are interns at her company, and as part of the ongoing subplot in which DeNiro’s character, a spectacularly dressed and behaviourally put-together retired corporate executive, teaches them how to be men, this was a good scene. Trad masculinity as momentarily heroic. I still found it irritating. The old usage of the term boys assumed their existence as men, just men at play or in repose. Same with girls.

    Why do millennials and postmillennials feel the need to not only destroy so much easy, life affirming stuff, and make everything pointlessly difficult?

    Rant over.

    I was genuinely surprised, with the caveat of my first sentence, to see this sentiment coming from a man of the 1940s.

  6. Paul from Canada says:

    “[spit] That for a warrior; warriors are the idiots we soldiers kill when they act like a bunch of teenage gangbangers.”

    True, true, ten times true! This whole “Warrior” thing is stupid. As you pointed out, the Romans held the Warrior in contempt. Romans had “Soldiers” in their army.

    Canada has always had a bit of a hybrid military culture, being children of the British Empire, but living next to and fighting against or alongside the US.

    Lately, and quite understandably, the US military culture is starting to dominate, and most of it is for the better. Unfortunately, one of the things we have imported is this whole “Warrior” thing, and the “Hooah”. It is a small thing, but it bugs me and I hate it.

  7. Kirk says:

    The “Hooah” thing is annoying, but what’s really bad is that if you hang around people who use it a lot… You start doing it.

    It’s like a linguistic communicable virus; you start mimicking it unconsciously, and the next thing you know, you’re using it as punctuation. Seriously–I wish I could reproduce the effect, but it’s insanely memetic, and if I start again, I may not be able to stop…

    I swear to God, the whole thing is viscerally disturbing to experience. You aren’t even aware you’re picking it up, as a verbal tic–There’s some mental subroutine in a lot of people’s heads where they start picking up and internalizing the accents of those around them, to blend in. And, once that gets going with the “Hooah” thing, it’s “Hooah!” this, and “Hooah!” that, and the interrogative “Hoooo-ah…?”.

    Literally took me months to break myself of that habit, once I left the unit I picked it up in. That damn LT I was working for… Lord, love a duck… That young man had issues with the whole “Hooah-er than thou…” thing.

    It’s a damn memetic virus, I’m telling you…

  8. Paul from Canada says:

    “It’s a damn memetic virus, I’m telling you…”

    I think that was the idea. Not intentionally perhaps, but it was created to help foster an inclusive/exclusive culture, and succeeded too well.

    There are certain military tics that you keep with you. Luckily for me, I was out long before that bit of culture crept in.

  9. Kirk says:

    Frankly, it just annoyed the hell out of me–The more so when I realized, one otherwise fine day, that I was doing it, too.

    It’s too bad that the word/concept “meme” has been hijacked by the twitterati, because that was a useful little conceptual tool, one we don’t seem to have a meaningful alternative for, these days.

  10. TRX says:

    Back in ’95, about the time “meme” in its original meaning started becoming common, John Barnes wrote a rather disturbing science fiction novel called “Kaleidoscope Century.”

    Barnes noted that a meme worked more like a computer virus than the biological similes used previously; memetics predated computer viruses, after all.

    He likened a meme to a virus that ran on human squishyware and extrapolated memes designed to run on both humans and computers, ending with most of the world’s population being used as second-tier processors while memes battled it out in both cyberspace and meatspace…

  11. Kirk says:

    I’m more comfortable with the old definition, and I think it’s a very useful term. Unfortunately, it was commandeered by the ignoranti, and here we are.

    There really should be a “science of ideas” that catalogs and classifies them, in terms of the same way we do genes for organisms. I think that there’s a very good set of parallels there, with regards to “memes” and culture. Every culture is a separate organism from its participants, and the threads that tie that culture together are almost all entirely mental. The idea of memes would correspond to the individual ideas and beliefs of that culture, which guide and outline the expression of it by its members.

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