Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The (F)utility of military drills

Regular posts will be on Thursdays.

Military drills have lost the utility they once had in warfare. In many battles before the advent of automatic weapons, the success of an army depended largely on the ability to move as a unit. This was true during the Roman times when soldiers moved as a phalanx and up to the American Civil War when soldiers had to keep to their lines. In modern times, marching in lines is probably the worst military formation on the battlefield.

And yet modern military training still requires such drills even if they will never be used in the battlefield.

Several generations of Filipino men were required to do military drills 3 hours a week for three school years of their lives and the sentiment of these men was that these drills were absolutely useless.

Despite the seeming futility of these drills, they do serve certain social functions. First, the cadet learns to obey authority even to the point of absurdity. I turn left because my officer says so even if I had just turned left a few heartbeats ago and we really are not going anywhere. Logic does not matter here. only the fact that the cadet learns who is in charge and whose logic, or lack of it, is to be followed. In other words, cadets quickly learn their place.

Secondly, the drills are an exercise in appropriate deportment. Women, they say, love a man in uniform and the drills represent a test of whether or not a man can properly carry the uniform he desires to wear. The officer often inspects the deportment of a cadet, checking to see if his shoes are spotless (if a drop of water will fall like a tear over his shoe), if all the brass items are shiny and even if his hanky is properly folded. The officer also checks to see if the cadets movements are snappy and if he carries his body and his gun well. After a while the deportment becomes second nature to the cadet to the point that outside the military, the cadet will easily be recognized as someone who has undergone military training.

Thirdly, the cadet learns the importance of camaraderie, that he must learn to work with his unit. A mistake of one cadet is taken out on the whole unit so the cadet must learn to work with his team.

The practice of drills, like many other social practices, serves no practical purpose in themselves but are conducted nonetheless for reasons other than learning how to march.

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