(On July 22nd, Michael C officially left active-duty U.S. Army service. In an attempt to explain why, he started a series about the Army’s culture, its successes and its failures. Read the rest of the “Why I Got Out” series here.
On a more positive note, if you want to know why Michael C joined the Army, read about it in “Why Do I Fight?”, “What Did You Do Out There”, “Did You Accomplish Anything Out There?”, “Why I Served”, and finally, “Hasta La Vista...Baby”.)
I have a theory for why America’s military spent the last ten years embroiled in two counter-insurgencies it was completely unprepared to fight.
Check out those boots.
Not the current ones. The old, black, shiny ones. Oh, how black those boots shined!
In my post on “That’s Just the Way It Is”, I said most soldiers didn’t know why we shined boots. That was a tad disingenuous. We knew why: it looked grrrrrrrrrrr-reat!
When most senior officers think of finely shined boots, they think of a professional looking army. I think of the time wasted. By my rough calculations, in the decade before 9/11, the U.S. Army spent 570 million hours shining boots.
Here are my back-of-the-napkin calculations:
Size of the U.S. Army in 2001: 480,000
Number of nights before a workday each year: 240
Hours spent each night shining boots: 0.5
Multiply those numbers together and you get 57.6 million man hours spent each year shining boots. Multiply by ten, and you get 570 million hours in the decade before. If you increase the size of the military, which was larger prior to 9/11, and raise the amount of time spent shining boots to one hour, one could easily pass a BILLION hours spent shining boots.
This massive emphasis on uniformity and shined boots is a failure of productivity, a word never mentioned in the U.S. Army. While ubiquitous in American business, senior leaders in the Army don’t think in terms of productivity; they’ve never been trained to think like that.
So all that time shining boots disappeared. Was it a good investment? The U.S. Army adopted that ineffective policy for reasons that had little to do with winning our nations wars. Looking good wasn’t the real reason officers enforced a shined boots army, “enforcing discipline” was.
Did we really have a “disciplined” American Army heading into Iraq? Did the boot shining cause that discipline? I would have made troops learn discipline by having mandatory foreign language homework each night. Who would have been the more disciplined soldier, the one shining boots for hours each night, or the one studying foreign languages? Who would have been more useful in a counter-insurgency, the boot shiner or language learner? Early morning physical fitness also creates discipline like boot shining, but also creates teamwork and develops physical attributes.
The emphasis on discipline harkens back to the Revolutionary, Union, and World War II armies that still had legions of draftees who couldn’t read. Our all volunteer force has high school degrees or GEDs. Many enlisted soldiers have college degrees. And our modern army is an all-volunteer army. We got the discipline thing handled. Google succeeds without boot shining. So does Walmart. And police stations. And law firms. Not to mention some of the best Armies in the history of the world have looked quite slovenly--I’m looking at you barbarians.
Alas, the old, ineffective, unproductive attitude is still lurking. The regular Army absorbed it into its DNA through recombination. While thankfully abolishing mandatory wear of the beret, the newest Chief of Staff recently said the Vibram Five Finger-style shoe is verboten on Army bases in Army PTs. The reason, they:
Guess we’re already preparing to lose/bog down in a civil war our next war.