“But Why, Sir?”


The military has always been a place of strong authority and government. An effective fighting unit requires strong leaders commanding responsive soldiers.

In the new military, however—reflecting attitudes of society at large—strong authority carries a stigma, and a massive effort is under way to eliminate anything that could be perceived as an abuse of power.

During boot camp, for example, drill sergeants face a litany of rules restricting their dealings with new recruits: Don’t shout, don’t demean, don’t overtax, don’t touch. Recruits are provided a Miranda-like list of their drill sergeant’s limits. “It destroys what we call our power base right there,” says a former drill sergeant at Fort Jackson. Matched with this is another list of the recruit’s rights: “‘You have the right to do this, you have the right to do that,’ right on down the line,” he says. “By the time they get down to the basic training company they have this huge attitude.”

This very unmilitary-like process is followed up with regular “sensing sessions” where recruits provide “feedback” on whether they have received enough respect from their drill sergeants. Thus, drill sergeants essentially lie at the mercy of the very cadets they are supposed to lead.

The idea of training soldiers to respond to orders unquestioningly has been attacked for various reasons over the last few decades. In a 1997 Los Angeles Times article, Paul Richter reported, “Not long ago, the recruit asking why he had been ordered to perform some task would be told, fortissimo: ‘Because I said so!’ Now instructors are to explain the rationale behind each order so recruits learn to think and understand and carry on willingly. ‘They’ve always got a question,’ sighed Master Chief Petty Officer Garry McClure. ‘Whatever it is, they want to discuss it and discuss it some more.’”

Not exactly a habit you want a soldier to develop before charging onto the battlefield, trying to defend your freedom!