Focault Analysis The Manufacturing of an American Soldier: An Examination of the Indoctrination Process During the Gulf War at Fort Knox, Kentucky As a soldier, you have accepted a solemn obligation to defend the ideals of freedom, justice, truth, and equality as found in The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. Whether you are serving a single term or making a career of the military, your actions should never be contrary to the ideals and principles upon which this nation was founded. – Department of the Army, Soldier’s Handbook (62) In February of 1991, Bravo Troop of the 5/15 Cavalry stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky Training Facility performed a ritualized, ceremonial examination of its new recruits. The recruits arose at four a.m. and marched till eight to arrive at a small, secluded building surrounded by forest. The recruits stood in a single-file line facing the entrance of the building, eyes forward, feet shoulder width apart, hands folded in the small of their back.
Approximately one hundred and twenty recruits stood peering through the lenses of their protective masks, watching fifteen soldiers enter the building. Once inside the building, the fifteen recruits stood at attention, fingers curled, thumb locked on second knuckle of the index finger, hands placed at their sides, heels together, feet splayed at a forty-five degree angle, stomach in, chin-up, eyes forward, in three lines, five recruits deep, facing the Drill Instructor. The room was filled with thick, white smoke. The only light came from a small fire burning on the cement floor at the drill instructor’s feet. Beside the fire was a metal, olive-green container labeled in black, block lettering the read, Solid CS Agent.
The Drill instructed the recruits, still standing at attention, to remove their protective masks, which they did with little hesitation. Exposure to such high concentrations of CS gas produces a violent, bodily reaction that cannot be refused. Once the face is exposed, the valve connecting the lungs to the windpipe involuntarily closes. Those who were able coughed quietly to themselves for lack of air while others vomited silently. The eyes, once exposed to the irritant, attempted to flush the gas away with profuse tearing.
Likewise, the nose made an effort to remove the irritant. Thick ropes of mucus hung from the recruits’ noses, some of these ropes reaching as far down as the knees on shorter soldiers. The fifteen recruits tried to stand at attention, fingers curled, thumb placed on second knuckle of index finger, hands at their sides, heels together, feet splayed at a forty-five degree angle, stomach in, chin-up, eyes forward, in three straight lines, five recruits deep, facing the drill instructor with a mixture of mucus, tears, and vomit smeared across their bodies. The drill instructor, still wearing his protective mask, walked to the first recruit and demanded to know the maximum effective range of an M16-A2 rifle. The recruit barked back something unintelligible, his mouth making dumb O shapes. After the drill seemed satisfied, he dismissed the recruit, who then ran out the back door of the building.
The drill made his way down the line, examining each recruit individually in order to make sure that the correct level of docility had been exercised, while simultaneously administering his power to set each recruit free. Apparently, I had a lot to learn. *** The point of this essay is to examine the American military’s indoctrination of the new recruit. In many ways, this essay will echo and hopefully build upon the work of Michel Foucault, particularly Discipline and Punish. As Foucault admits in Discipline and Punish, There can be no question here of writing the history of different disciplinary institutions, with all their individual differences.
I simply intend to map on a series of examples some of the essential techniques that most easily spread from one [institution] to another (139). Since Foucault never intended a specific application in Discipline and Punish, the purpose of this essay is to examine the ways in which Foucault’s theories concerning discipline play out in actual practice at a specific place in time, namely that of the Fort Knox Training Facility during the height of the Gulf War. This particular historical event offers a snapshot of the American indoctrination process when it is at war, a scene not witnessed in this country since Vietnam. As the lead guitarist from the spoof, rock-documentary film This is Spinal Tap explains, Our amps go to eleven: Likewise, the emergence of the Gulf War presented a small window in time in which the social forces that worked to transform the bodies of its new recruits were undoubtedly increased. Furthermore, it must be mentioned that I am writing from the perspective of experience. Although readers understandably demand objectivity and may consider this perspective problematic, it should be understood that the only way this particular event in time could have been witnessed is from an insider’s perspective.
Foucault speaks of ‘enclosure’ as an important element of disciplinary space, and that is certainly the case here. Access to military space is always regulated and, in many cases, simply prohibited, but this restriction, although always present, becomes absolute during wartime. Finally, it should also be mentioned that the particular role I played in the United States Army (19 Delta, cavalry scout with a specialization in armored reconnaissance) required the longest basic training period possible in the Army’s combat arms field, fifteen weeks as opposed to the usual eight mandatory of all other Army regulars. This extended training period served to increase these ‘transformative’ forces even further. It is hardly a question that the United States military treats the new recruit as a ‘docile body,’ that which can be manipulated, shaped, trained into a well trained soldier that responds, becomes skillful and increases its forces (Foucault 136).
As Foucault describes it, as early as the late eighteenth century, the soldier had become something that [could] be made; out of a formless clay, an inapt body, the machine required [could] be constructed; posture [was] gradually corrected; a calculated constraint [ran] slowly through each part of the body, mastering it, making it pliable, ready at all times, turning silently the automatism of habit; in short, one’got rid of the peasant’ and ‘[gave] him the air of a soldier.’ (135) The indoctrination of the American soldier can be seen as a process that deconstructs the individual’s sense of self while simultaneously reconstructing the individual in accordance with the values of the military: As Eisenhart suggests, the military constructs physically fit and disciplined bodies that will obey orders without question (210)-ultimately a body that will not hesitate to violate the social contract and kill. The indoctrination process also reworks the individual into a collective mentality: The [recruit’s]body [is] trained to function part by part [and] must in turn form an element in a mechanism at another level (Foucault 164). Basic training teaches individual skills that are then combined with the forces exercised at the level of the squad, whose forces are then combined into a platoon, a company, a squadron, a regiment and so forth. Individual forces are not relevant except in their relation to the larger whole. On one level, it is our culture’s sense of individuality that the indoctrination process targets.
From the onset of the Gulf War, it was Fort Knox’s responsibility to train these new recruits in order to replace the expected losses in this complex, collective military machine, particularly the armored tank battalions/regiments that were expected to perform the majority of the actual fighting in the open terrain of the Iraqi desert. During the escalation in the Gulf, Fort Knox was an institution confronted with the problem of instilling proper ‘military bearing,’ of removing the perceived inaptitude, inefficiency, disobedience and general disarray of civilian life. Upon arriving at Fort Knox, recruits find themselves sealed within the confines of a disciplinary space. Enclosure is complete as all outside influence is severed and the recruit is forbidden to leave this space for any reason. A recruit’s social sphere becomes essentially limited to the Drill Instructor’s disciplinary tactics and his particular platoon consisting of about thirty other recruits.
The imposed isolation serves to increase the disciplinary forces at work since a recruit has nowhere to turn for support or a chance of experiencing any other ways of existing in this new world. In isolation, one loses their perspective; the sense of enclosure works to limit the recruit’s ability to formulate their own subjectivity. Even the recruit, once the indoctrination process has taken hold, becomes an accomplice to the silence and secrecy surrounding the process, which Foucault argues is necessary for abuse (get quote and cite from Amy). After fifteen weeks of constant physical and mental harassment, it becomes accepted as a matter of fact, something one deserved, a source of shame not to be discussed with others, or simply an event one dismissed entirely. The altering of a civilian’s subjectivity is potentially so complete, that oftentimes they lack the ability to discuss the indoctrination process from their previous civilian perspective and one simply becomes a functioning part of the military disciplinary system, which is the end result, or primary goal, of basic training.
In essence, the process inherently works to silence its own history. As a result of its physical isolation and altered subjectivities, the indoctrination process comprises a space that has the spiraled into relative obscurity from the rest of the American mainstream, oftentimes with drastic results. Operating within enclosure, the first week of a recruit’s life at Fort Knox is spent in a central processing area known as ‘Reception.’ The primary purpose of this space is to file more bureaucratic paperwork on the recruit and ‘prepare’ them for the permanent drill instructors that arrive to pick up their recruits once the processing is complete. Here the socialization process forces the civilian to emit the ‘proper signs’ of a new recruit. The recruit’s head is then shaved and the civilian clothes are replaced with military issue uniforms. Although the recruit has, as of yet, no real conception of military bearing, the recruit is at least forced to emit the external signs . These signs systematically work to displace the ego as the body of a new recruit begins its transformation into the clean canvass upon which the ideal of military bearing is written.
Since the shaved head is particular only to the indoctrination process, it serves no real purpose other than a humiliating method of normalization; a humiliation that even the military prisoner escapes . Pride in one’s former appearance is muted as the recruit’s once familiar self-image is transformed. Shorn and placed in fatigues, the civilian body is reborn into strict uniformity with the rest of the group. Normalized in such a way, the forces at work have begun to deconstruct the individual and situate him within the collective body. Not only does normalization affect the individual, it also affects the way the recruit’s body is perceived by others.
A dehumanized body is, after all, much easier to abuse. The body of a new recruit heralds one’s new position in life. As Foucault notes, the body isdirectly involved in a political field; power relations have an immediate hold on it; they invest it, mark itforce itto emit signs (25). Everywhere the individual goes, his body is marked and forced to emit the signs of a new trainee, which set the boundaries of its own confinement. These signs also function to further the indoctrination processes’ comprehensive system of enclosure. Although intermingling with the civilian workers and soldiers stationed at Fort Knox is minimized by the tight control that regulates a recruit’s movement within the disciplinary space (see timetable below), the embodied rhetoric of the marked recruit ensures that there is no confusion. Discipline, Foucault argues, proceeds from the distribution of individuals in space, and that it individualizes bodiesin a network of relations (141 & 146).
The shaved head, lack of a unit patch and rank communicates a particular signal to the military observer; it is the construction of the ‘*censored*ing new guy,’ a ‘newbie,’ a piece of ‘fresh meat,’ which is physically written across a recruit’s body. Soldiers permanently stationed at Fort Knox who randomly encounter the recruit are bound by tradition not to afford them any respect. The signs emitted by the recruit signal his position as an object within the network of disciplinary relations, which offers virtually any soldier the opportunity to exert absolute control over the body of the dehumanized trainee. If a noncommissioned officer (NCO) has a chance encounter with a new recruit, the recruit runs an arbitrary risk of being run through various drills, exercises and being verbally abused. NCOs understand how easy it is to humiliate and confuse the recruit who, once the indoctrination process has taken hold, becomes merely an order-obeying machine. This hazing is usually carried out on a recruit who was unfortunate enough to be caught at even a short distance from his platoon and away from the influence of his particular Drill Instructor.
As Edward Drea argues, group activity [is a] universal characteristic of basic training camps (331). It is as if a solitary recruit is immediately suspected of claiming agency, which becomes a source of possible resistance. Passing NCOs that harass a lone recruit reinforced the idea of hiding within and conforming to ‘the herd.’ In short, Reception is an area where the recruit is forced to emit soldierly signs, and perhaps be introduced to a weak concept of discipline, although they still know nothing of its true effects. The instilling of military discipline is the sole duty of the drill instructor. Our Drill Sergeants came for us on the 9th of January in 1991, the day of my nineteenth birthday and thus began a three-month, psychological war between the Drill Sergeant and each individual recruit .
I use the term psychological war since physically assaulting a recruit is no longer tolerated within the military. Since Vietnam, a drill sergeant’s disciplinary tactics within the military have shifted from the corporal to the psychological. This shift toward ‘a more gentle form of discipline’ is ess …