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Focault Analysis

.. entially more effective since its effects on the recruit remained hidden and relatively unobservable. Whereas the rhetoric of a bruised body once spoke volumes, one’s subjectivity remains much easier to control and effectively silence. The relationship between a Drill Sergeant and his recruit is unique, to say the least. It is, as Foucault notes, an uninterrupted, constant coercionwhich [makes] possible the meticulous control of the operations of the [recruits’] body, which [assures] the constant subjection of its forces and imposed upon them a relation of docility-utility (137).

One had to remain utterly passive and try to remain hidden while attempting to master a whole new set of foreign skills under intense methods of examination. A ‘smart’ recruit continually made an effort to remain concealed from the panoptic forces at work no matter how much one was verbally or physically aggravated. To show visible signs of resistance, intentional or otherwise, meant suffering continuing degradation and/or exercise to the breaking point. During the Gulf War, the level of stress that was brought to bear upon the recruit’s body was intense and, in many ways, escapes retelling-it is something I feel that has to be experienced to be understood. Discipline and punishment was a constant state of the recruit’s existence, which consisted primarily of verbal harassment and physical exercise to the point of muscle failure combined with the force of public humiliation . Generally speaking, recruits quickly learned that even unquestioning obedience to authority was insufficient to avoid the ritualized abuse since the cause of punishment was sometimes arbitrary or altogether indiscernible. Even if one performed the task at hand to the best of one’s ability and kept their mouth shut, one could nonetheless be both physically and psychologically terrorized for seemingly no reason at all.

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The recruit eventually learned to distrust his own bodily senses . Arbitrary punishment was a tactic aimed at systematically deconstructing any shred of individual confidence. Once the indoctrination process took hold, self-management became constantly deferred to an external locus of control. Distrust in one’s self, in the end, facilitated compliance with the military hierarchy. Previously I mentioned that a ‘smart’ recruit kept a low profile by remaining hidden. There were few, if any, opportunities for subversion and one, if they meant to resist, was naturally inclined to philosophical resignation and simply biding one’s time.

This tactic of remaining hidden, I realize in retrospect, was, in many ways, nothing less than an illusion, a self-imposed form of surveillance, the calculated end result of the forces at work within this disciplinary space. By making a conscious attempt to remain hidden, one adopted docility and became an accomplice. At the time, there seemed no choice except docility; to deviate meant immediate punishment. If one decided to continually deviate, the potential of becoming a military prisoner or an inmate of Fort Knox’ psychiatric ward existed. Despite the protection of stoic resignation, this self-imposed/ imposed docility was extremely painful psychologically; to be acted upon and not act for three months heralded a systematic ‘quiet death’ for each and every recruit. In essence, one became the ultimate object, which was, for me anyway, the true terror of boot camp.

On the first day, our Drill Sergeants made it clear that we were to speak only when spoken to and to end each phrase with the formal address of Drill Sergeant. From the perspective of the recruit, communication was reduced to a seemingly meaningless, one-way event that contained no negotiation, no co-construction of the recruit or the world around him. For fifteen weeks, the majority of a recruit’s communication was leveled to a dehumanizing, impersonal exchange. Usually, a recruit’s response was reduced to an affirmative Yes! Drill Sergeant! regardless of what was said. Also, the body, in strict accordance with military regulations, was locked into a fixed position of docility during all communicative events that both restricted movement and created what I would call a ‘micro-Panopticon.’ This panoptic position, the state of attention, could be imposed upon the recruit anytime the Drill Sergeant felt corrective measures were needed. To do otherwise constitutes criminal behavior punishable by military law. The Soldier’s Handbook gives the following description for the position of attention, the cornerstone of all military movement outside of a combat zone: Your weight should be distributed equally on the heels and the balls of your feet.

When you come to attention, you should bring your heels together smartly with the toes forming a 45-degree angle, as shown in figure 8. Keep your legs straight without locking your knees. Hold your body erect with your hips level, chest lifted, and your shoulders square and even. Your arms should hang straight, but not stiffly with the backs of the hand outward. Curl your fingers so that the tips of the thumbs are alongside and touching the first joint of the forefingers.

Your thumbs should be straight and along the seams of your trousers or skirt with the first joint of the forefingers touching the trousers or skirt. Your head should be erect, and your eyes should look straight to the front. (28) This position was assumed whenever the Drill Sergeant spoke to a recruit. On one level, the position of attention functions in the military as a means to ensure a proper respect for rank. As Foucault notes, modern disciplinary tactics have perhaps become more complete than they have in the past as they focus on supervising the processes of activity rather than its result (137).

In other words, discipline not only invests itself in the end result of an action, it now invests itself in the very means used to achieve an end thus allowing control to penetrate even deeper into the fabric of the body. It is not enough to simply have the proper respect; control during the indoctrination process becomes exerted over the very manner in which it is displayed. As I mentioned above, the position of attention has the effect of calling into existence a ‘micro-Panopticon.’ The position of attention acts as an extremely intense individualized examination of the recruit used to measure the correct level of docility. When the recruit’s body is locked into the position of attention, the eyes remain unfocussed, unseeing and to the front. To look directly at the Drill Instructor is construed as a challenge to his authority.

Foucault describes the Panopticon as a machine for disassociating the see/being seen dyad and that it assures dissymmetry, disequilibrium, [and] difference (202). Again, one is merely acted upon without acting. These power relations serve to teach a recruit the basic nature of military hierarchy. In practice, the Drills would lock a private into the position of attention for any perceived error or deviation from the norm and then proceed to verbally and/or physically harass them. Such exposure in a normative environment makes the individual highly conspicuous: Visibility, as Foucault notes, is a trap within disciplinary spaces (200).

If a drill told a recruit, for example, he was a cock-gobbling faggot for a perceived deviation, the position of attention would allow the drill to examine the recruit for any signs of resistance. The recruit’s face was scrutinized for any trace of emotion until [eventually, within the fifteen week process] a certain ‘blank look’ in [the recruit’s] eye’s was achieved (Eisenhart 211). If one involuntarily displayed anything but absolute docility, the normalizing and punishing forces were then increased. The indoctrination process’ surveillance methods made certain each recruit was individualized and made visible, which ensured the right amounts of corrective force were administered. While docility is imposed at the level of language itself, the emphasis placed on ‘drill and ceremony’ weaves docility into the very fabric of a recruit’s body.

One of the first things a recruit learns in basic training is how to perform drill and ceremony, which governs the way soldiers move in mass. The excessive length of time spent perfecting these drills seemed absurd to me at the time, since none of it would help a soldier stay alive if he was shipped off to the Gulf. As the ground forces continued to build in the Gulf and the Air Force persisted in its bombing campaign, we spent weeks simply marching. Although it seemed absurd at the time, the attention paid to drill and ceremony served to impose docility, a coherent tactic of control targeted at the recruit’s body. Drill and ceremony becomes a method of indoctrination, an initial gateway to the world of discipline since it produces a space for surveillance, for producing infinite errors and for their subsequent corrections. It serves to produce uniformity and precision by concerning itself with the minutest details.

In short, almost all of the forces at work within a disciplinary space are combined to form an intricate tactic of control. The act of drill and ceremony primarily utilizes what Foucault calls the the temporal elaboration of the acta collective and obligatory rhythm, imposed from the outside. It is, as Foucault notes, a ‘programme’; it assures the elaboration of the act itself (151-2). For one, marching is accomplished according to a cadence, a rhythm called by the ranking soldier in charge. All movements are accomplished in unison and the slightest deviation attracts the Drill Instructor’s gaze and produces an immediate correction.

Directives for moving in mass are comprehensive. Complete control is exercised and any former power the recruit once had over their civilian body is systematically placed in the hands of another. A recruit’s body must strictly conform to twenty-five pages worth of regulations that govern movement as part of formation (Department of the Army 25-55). Below I have included the directives for a simple maneuver as an example. I have chosen to include a simple set of actions, known as ‘present arms/order arms’, solely for the sake of brevity, as it appears in The Soldier’s Handbook.

Most procedures are certainly more complex: Present arms / order arms (from sling arms). a. On the command of Arms of Present, arms, the soldier- (1) Reaches across the body with the left hand and grasps the sling just above the right hand. (2) Releases the sling and performs the hand salute with the right hand. b. On the command, Order, arms, the soldier- (1) Lowers the right hand to the side, then regrasps the sling at the original position.

(2) Releases the sling with the left hand and returns it to the left side at the position of attention. (51) It should be noted that the separate actions of ‘sling arms,’ ‘the hand salute,’ and the ‘position of attention’ all have their own particular movements meticulously mapped out elsewhere in the Soldier’s Handbook. As Foucault correctly notes, each minute act is broken down into its smallest element. All parts of a recruit’s body are articulated and given a specific role to play in the combined exercise (151-2). Military regulations and a Drill Sergeant’s obsessive attention to detail leaves the recruit’s body no improvisational space, no chance for internal control.

Drill and ceremony also subjects the recruit’s body by imposing what Foucault refers to as a precise system of command (166). In the above example, of the first half of the verbal signal enables the recruit to anticipate the action’s execution. When the first half of the verbal signal order is announced, a one beat pause takes place before the order is verbally completed. At the sounding of arms, the body simultaneously completes the desired act. Through vigorous and repeated training, the correct response to the system of verbal commands becomes almost Pavlovian.

It is an automatic and unthinking response. Repetition and aggressive persecution of mistakes produce a platoon of marching machines. After years of moving in mass formations in this manner, one begins to feel like an insignificant human cog in the greater human/military machine. The process of drill and ceremony furthers the loss of the self while training one to submit to the exterior hierarchy. The military’s attention to detail allowed almost infinite opportunities for errors and their subsequent correction. Details, within the military, are one of the primary tactics of exercising disciplinary force. Constant surveillance of a recruit’s body and their living space were carried out routinely as well where any deviation of the smallest detail would again attract the Drill Instructors’ gaze. As Foucault suggests, Discipline is the political anatomy of detail (139). Discipline invests itself in the minutest ways and establishes an ‘infra-penalty;’ it exerts itself and creates a space that the laws [prior to the eighteenth century] had left empty; they defined and repressed a mass of behavior that the relative indifference of the great systems of punishment had allowed to escape (178). For example, the forces at work within this particular disciplinary space concerned itself with the correct way to lace a boot.

To those who remain on the outside of such disciplinary institutions, this small detail of lacing a boot ‘correctly’ may seem trivial and almost laughable; however, forces within view boot lacing as a matter of utmost importance. Quite obviously, the way a recruit laces a boot isn’t an error to be taken seriously, one that would, for example, produce casualties in the Gulf; such attention to details is a tactic that opens up an almost infinite space for deviation and correction, which provides for the exercise of discipline and punishment. According to military tradition, the left lace is always placed over the right. For a recruit to visibly err in such a minute way would certainly incur a rash of insults and the promise of more public humiliation in the future. Likewise, uniforms must always be starched and pressed, boots shined, headgear worn at a specific angle, rank placed at a precise distance from the bottom of the collar and so forth. Attention to detail allows for the infinite control of the entire mechanism and this control is transferred onto their living space as well. Regulations dictate the manner in which one folds their socks and underwear, length measured to the exact inch regulates the folding of a T-shirt; the sequence in which uniforms are hung; the particular way one must make their bed, the specific length the sheets were to be folded back; and, of course, everything had to be impossibly clean.


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