English: United States Military Academy Coat Of Arms (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Something you may not know is that Jess gets precious little guidance here, if she wants to write about the London fashion scene for 14-year-old girls, nobody is going to stop her, although I’d probably raise an eyebrow. I mention that because I specifically asked her to write Thin Red Line of Heroes. Because we forget, how strained the relationship often is between military and civilian.
Something else to note here is that the United Colonies during and after the Revolution absolutely hated the idea of a standing army, the British experience had taught them that soldiers were always a severe threat to liberty, not to mention good order.
To me, that sounds extremely quaint in a country that has come to see it’s military as the most trustworthy of servants, far better than any elective or appointed officer of government.
Part of the reason that Kipling’s Tommy rings false in American ears (although not always) is that America has pretty much always been a citizen army, granting that lots of Irishmen and Germans learned about America in her army. It reconstructed a lot of Southerners too. But you know, it wasn’t accidental.
As with so much in America, it goes back to George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson. And yes we are going to speak of West Point. The Continental army occupied it in 1778 and it has been a US Military post ever since. It is the oldest continuously occupied post, in fact.
But in 1802 Congress chartered (and funded) it as the United States Military Academy, and so it has been since. It’s first few years were pretty chaotic and the results in the War of 1812 reflected this. But after that war, in 1817, Colonel Sylvanus Thayer was appointed Superintendent. He established the curriculum still used today. Thayer instilled strict disciplinary standards, set a standard course of academic study, and emphasized honorable conduct.
By contrast for many years, until well past our Civil War, the British Army was a dumping ground for the younger sons of the nobility, buy them a commission, occasionally and forget about them. In case you’ve forgotten, that’s how Winston Churchill got his start. He did do better than most, however!
But Colonel Thayer figured out something else. He figured out how to train officers for a democratic army. The regulars in America epitomized what Jess said earlier even more than the British Army
Although the analogy with Monks might raise an eyebrow or two, there is a parallel (no, not that one). Soldiers live a life apart. They are trained to do things which ordinary people don’t do, and probably don’t want to do.There has to be a high level of commitment, and at times the dedication to duty means that a soldier puts everything else to one side.
But the American regular army has always been a combination constabulary for the territories and a cadre for vast expansions of the army if we got into a war. We managed to do that in the Mexican war, and in every subsequent war. And the thing is, the officers trained at West Point have always known how to make American civilians into effective soldiers. Often they wouldn’t have impressed anybody on the march, whether in Mexico, Georgia, Pennsylvania, France or finally Germany but , they always manged to get into the battle and fight effectively. But like Billy Yank before him, GI Joe wasn’t particularly interested in the niceties of showing officers respect.
And so America’s Army has always reflected America, loose-jointed, casual, intelligently lazy, goal oriented and not deterred by much of anything.
But Jess speaks of the British authorities recommending the troops wear civilian clothing off post. I can remember a time when the American army ordered it, and further when junior officers sometimes went armed to the barracks. In the early 70s the American forces were broken, especially the army, ill-disciplined, ragged, riddled with drugs, and anything but combat ready. But the officer corps, men like Schwarzkopf, Powell, Starry, and thousands of others didn’t despair, got down to work, raised the standards, worked, [wash, rinse, repeat]. What emerged is the superlative force we have today
But, it seems to me, the other thing we learned from Vietnam is this; We no longer fight with our professional, regular army. The way we’ve structured it now, the army can’t fight without the reserve forces and almost always with the National Guard as well. This has put the local back into American war making, not many out here missed it when a truck convoy of the Nebraska Guard was rescued from an ambush in Iraq by the cavalry from the Kentucky Guard. These “Weekend Warriors” as we call them are normally amongst us as civilians except for about 2 weeks a year and a weekend a month. They more than any soldiers in history are direct representatives of our communities for good and bad.
And this, I think, is one of the secrets of how to keep your army dear to the hearts of your population, it has to represent your population. Jess knows more about how we do this than she lets on, because she reads so many of us, and she has mentioned occasionally what seems to her as incredible support for the troops. But, of course, British troops wouldn’t respond to that, or would they?
Those Anglians look pretty happy to me
Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”
But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.
Somehow this seems like a good place for the infantry motto