The thoughts expressed here are entirely those of the writer and in no way reflect the policies of the Air Force, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or the Department of Defense. This article was prepared with assistance from the Committee on National Security Policy Research of the Social Science Research Council.
One of the most notable causes for people leaving he military service is that elusive factor which is referred to as “chicken.” Nothing upsets the average American more than to be pushed around and treated rudely. His reaction is to voice expletives of unprintable words, among which will be found “chicken.”
One cannot move about in the service for many days without running into what seems to be unreasonable behavior. Here’s an example of what I mean:
Not long ago I returned from overseas and landed early in the morning at a USAF base to change planes. I had twenty minutes in which to catch a bite of breakfast and learned that a restaurant was open in the military terminal building.
The restaurant turned out to be a self-service bar, the likes of which I had not seen in two years in the Far East, but which is to be expected in the United States where waitresses are expensive. In short, the establishment was a hash house. Yet what struck me as incongruous was a large sign on the counter, “Flying Clothes Not Permitted.”
Having just landed, I was wearing a flying suit. And with less than twenty minutes to spare there was no time to change.
I liked my flying suit. It fit. I kept it clean. And it was decorated with the insignia of some very proud outfits. The admonishment against wearing it in a self-service terminal restaurant located on the flying line seemed decidedly chicken.
I looked about at the other patrons. I saw a cook eating in his soiled white working uniform. I saw some men in two-day-old sport shirts. I even saw some Air Force uniforms that looked considerably less presentable than my flying suit.
Moreover, if I were expected to wait on myself from start to finish, to carry my tray to my table, it would seem incongruous to be too well dressed. When food is dispensed so informally, informal dress should be entirely appropriate.
Just what were they trying to prove by “Flying Clothes Not Permitted”? Did this imply that clothes designed to fly in were ipso facto unclean or unsightly
A terminal restaurant presumably should cater to the traveler. The flying Air Force crewman is usually dressed in flying clothes when traveling. Why should he be singled out and prohibited from eating at an Air Force restaurant on the flying line when dressed in his regulation working uniform
What kind of an Air Force officer is it who believes the flying suit to be so unattractive as to require the segregation of those who wear it? Certainly, some Air Force officer made that rule. What was he trying to do? Was there some unconscious snobbery behind it? No doubt it was an honest (however shortsighted) effort to raise the class and prestige of an establishment by setting standards of dress. But when signs announce to all patrons that a certain dress is not permitted, this advertising in itself lowers the prestige of the place, not to mention those alluded to in the sign. If the place has class, it won’t need signs to keep out the slobs.
Well, I stood politely at the counter until it appeared I wasn’t going to be served. (The uniform of the waitress behind the bar, I noted, was more soiled than mine.) Upon questioning, she informed me that she was not permitted to serve anyone in flying clothes.
This was the completely inconsiderate rule! A civilian hash slinger had been ordered to discipline Air Force men by denying them service if she considered them improperly dressed.
It is just such an instance as this which for thirty years has raised the big question mark. Should I get out? Would I perhaps find less chicken behavior on the outside
Then I ask the question: Is there something in the nature of military life which causes more chicken rules than one finds outside? Certainly service life has that reputation. Is there some foundation in fact? If so, is there something I can do to correct it? Then I decide to stay in.
I submit that military life does foster an inconsiderate approach to people in uniform and that we must constantly strive to overcome this if we are to achieve high morale and true dedication from those people. Why is it that a squadron can develop such a high esprit that its members would die for one another and who go to any lengths to remain in that squadron? Perhaps the principal reason is that they respect one another and are treated with this mutual respect. There is consideration to the ultimate degree—the complete opposite of “chicken.”
But the higher up the echelons we go, the more rules and regulations are published, and the less consideration is given to the individual—his wishes are secondary to what is believed best for the group. The higher the echelon, the more inspectors there are to enforce the many rules, and the less understanding and considerate are the inspectors.
The voice of the turtle which might protest this inconsideration is very weak indeed.
But how about civilian life? Don’t we find a parallel in big business? Yes, but seldom to the same degree found in the military service. Discipline, good order, and uniformity are necessary in any organized business enterprise, of course. But the military claims it needs more of this than do civilian organizations. The reasoning is that discipline and military success correlate, and this assertion has not often been challenged.
To achieve more discipline, modern states have placed their military services in a special legal status—a status which is designed to provide the military leaders with more authority. In our country, this is the Uniform Code of Military Justice. A soldier cannot quit, for example. It is illegal. He may be put in jail for talking back to his leader, or for many other actions a civilian could get away with.
This special legal status of the soldier does not enhance his prestige. Quite the contrary. The laws governing his behavior are more strict than the laws governing the behavior of the civilian. The soldier is, in truth, less free. He has lost some of his liberty. Thus, in the eyes of a free people, he has dropped down the social scale rather than risen.
In time of war, the man in uniform is a hero to almost every civilian. The soldier is cast in the role of a fearless protector of the commonwealth, risking his life so that others may live. This role is universal, wherever the soldier serves and in any period of history. To some extent this great prestige compensates for the soldier’s loss of freedom.
But in peacetime, the soldier is too often considered a bum. His nonmilitary peers think he is simply an unfortunate wretch who has been caught by the draft and forcibly denied his civilian freedom. Or they may believe he has stupidly volunteered in order to live a life of protected loafing, having little ambition and selling out his liberty for security.
Unfortunately some of those in the military hold this attitude toward one another. It is a psychological fact that any minority group in a culture tends to regard itself as the majority regards it. So the military itself is not immune from the civilian attitudes held toward the military.
It follows that we in the military do not respect each other as much as we should. (The one exception is the mutual respect held by those in the same outfit.) And with this lack of mutual respect, the next step is to push one another around without consideration. This is the chicken attitude.
With chicken rules and behavior, we tend to foster the very aspects of military life which we deplore and which, quite blindly, the chicken rules are attempting to overcome. Remember, “Flying Clothes Not Permitted” was designed to raise prestige, when in fact it had the opposite effect.
One of my officers’ clubs on Okinawa built a beautiful swimming pool, landscaping it tastefully with trees, shrubs, and flowers. But within two weeks after its opening, one could hardly see the plants for the signs.
“No dogs allowed in pool,” was one. I couldn’t recall any civilian pool requiring such a sign. Dogs are just not taken into a swimming pool. Everyone in the pool would object.
Another large sign on each dressing-room door, “The Club is not responsible for valuables lost or stolen.” My thought was, “Of course not. Who would expect it?” Other signs prohibiting glasses or food in a certain area (an Air Force regulation, no less, covers this), notifying swimmers of deep and shallow ends, and where not to run or dive, all cluttered the area.
It hardly seemed worthwhile to go swimming because there were so many rules. Who wants to stick his neck out? Better to go to the free beach.
But only two beaches on the island were “on limits,” and these beaches had almost as many rules as the pool. Of course it was all right for civilians to swim wherever they chose, but the military were protected from the dangers of public and unguarded beaches. There had been some drownings in the past. This is not good for accident records. Little or no thought was given to the freedom of the soldiers and airmen, even in a matter like swimming.
And so it goes. Not only does our special legal status abridge our freedom, but we, ourselves, deliberately restrict them still further with prohibitive and oftentimes unnecessary regulations. This is the aspect of military service which probably does more to hurt recruiting and professionalism than any other feature of our duty.
Moreover, the military man, irrespective of rank, has little recourse. He can seldom object. Even as a commander, he must generally accept the mass of prohibitive regulations and enforce them. He may attempt to make a few rules less obnoxious and some others more permissive, but to do too much of this is to buck the system and brand himself as unorthodox.
The professional military is equally helpless at mitigating its legal status should it wish to do so. It has imposed upon itself a nonpolitical code of conduct and to get legislation changed or adopted through political action would be unthinkable. True, through the prescribed military channels the military requests congressional bills on all matters affecting ‘the services, but such legislation is presented strictly on its national defense merits. Seldom is considered the serviceman’s freedom or legal status, as such, unless pressures are exerted by some civilian political groups, as, for example, the “Doolittle Board” hearings. (I am not defending the results of this.)
So the serviceman must develop a hide like an elephant in order to stay with the colors. What seem to be inconsiderate laws, regulations, and policies hound him. He can vote, but never can he openly complain about a law which disturbs him. Nor can he publicly support a candidate who ‘might promise to repeal that obnoxious law. This would be indulging in political action which is both illegal and unethical.
If our military service is ever to become a strong elite corps that this technical age of danger demands, we must do some radical thinking about it. The kind of discipline which seems to be at the root of chicken laws and regulations may be necessary—or it may not. Have we accepted too many of the forms of Prussian “spit and polish” without relating them to purpose? Are not some organizations found in industry more truly productive? Are we getting real discipline this way, or just the trappings
But assuming the present concept of discipline to be necessary, then it would follow that some sort of compensation should be provided.
It is unreasonable to believe that traditional American freedoms can be abridged without incurring a deep-seated resentment. After almost a lifetime of service, I still feel a sense of loss in the curtailment of my civilian rights and privileges, and I know that many of my contemporaries feel as I do. So what kind of compensation might be considered
Appropriate pay and allowances would be a sound step. Never has service pay been comparable to that found in civilian life for similar work. Allowances, nontaxable in particular, tend to set up the military man as an especially deserving member of society. Good quarters and transportation are tangible allowances of this sort, but they are hard to find.
Many other changes might be considered. It’s not hard to find ways to give special consideration and privileges to those whom we truly feel are deserving.
For example, a ruling of the Internal Revenue Service does not permit an income-tax deduction of the cost of uniforms for military men although this deduction is authorized for nurses and policemen. How easy it would be to change this rule and how quickly it would be changed if there truly were a high regard for professional ‘military service.
Up to now our society has given most recognition to people who have inherited or made the most money in private enterprise. Perhaps public service that has incurred more hardship and greater loss of freedom should be provided with at least comparable rewards.
In any event, we in the service can examine our regulations and policies carefully to be sure that customary civilian freedoms and privileges are not abridged without this being necessary to fulfill some bona fide military purpose.
General Smith, now a Special Assistant for Arms Control to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is a well-known writer on military affairs and the author of the 1955 book U. S. Military Doctrine. Before his present assignment he commanded an air defense division at Stewart AFB, N. Y. His postwar assignments have included staff work on the Operations Coordinating Board in Washington.