Mike Salovesh (t20mxs1@CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU)
Thu, 15 Feb 1996 02:08:35 -0600
There's an odd side effect to the direction we've taken in talking about
military drill and non-military dance. What my insides are telling me,
if carried to a logical conclusion, involves a direct attack on what I do
with my head and my heart as an anthropologist. Let me explain:
As a one-time insider in Army culture, I feel like saying "You non-vets
just don't understand. You *can't* understand unless you have been
through it yourself."
The reductio ad absurdum of that emotional reaction is to conclude,
therefore, that I as anthropologist should limit my ethnographic work to
participant observation within U.S. academia. I suppose there are some who
might actually believe that. Watch out for them, because what they're
really saying is that anthropology should be eradicated.
I'm not proposing a neutral question here, either. Way back in the
1960's, the AAA approved a resolution holding, in essence, that
homosexuality, as a human cultural phenomenon, was worthy of serious
consideration by anthropologists. The same resolution also said that
gay anthropologists are the ones who should study gay culture. More
recently, trends in gender studies that I can only consider to be
reflections of ideology seem to propagate the message that the male half
of humanity is not fit to study gender roles or male/female realtionships.
Ooops! Before you turn on your flame throwers, all that I'm asserting is
that there is good reason to look for an outsider's view as well as an
insider's view of any cultural phenomenon. I say so precisely because the
two kinds of view are bound to be different. For me, neither view by
itself is sufficient for a well-grounded understanding. BOTH are
Back to military drill. Let me insert one ethnographic example in an
attempt to convey to those who have not done military service just what
marching means to those in the service.
In 1952, I was sent to a special interservice short course training
session in practical defense against chemical, biological, and
radiological weapons (CBR Defense, as it was called). The school was in
Gifu, Japan, and the course lasted two weeks. My class included U.S.
enlisted men from the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps. (It was no accident
that there were no women there, but that's a subject for another day.)
We marched from barracks to mess hall to classrooms to field exercises,
around and back again, every day. Three senior N.C.O.'s (sergeants all,
two from the Army and one from the Marine Corps) took turns in marching
us from place to place. Marching is, after all, a pretty efficient way
of moving a body of men from place to place, and this WAS the military.
I haven't said anything that requires an insider's view yet.
>From the first day, the three sergeants who were put in charge of moving
the class used marching commands as an element of play. One of the games
was to deliver a series of commands properly and by the book, with the
intent of inducing at least some of the marchers to fail to follow them
properly. The rules for giving commands are lots more complex than it
might seem. For example, commands of execution (represented on paper, but
never in performance, by the word "MARCH") must be given as the foot
associated with that command hits the ground. It's easy, but not "playing
the game", to confuse the marchers by giving the command when the wrong foot
So what can the man in charge do to confuse the troops? One way is to
issue a series of commands to identifiable portions of the whole, each
batch getting clear but different orders. "First rank to the rear MARCH,
second rank to the rear MARCH", for example, with two or four beats/paces
separating the commands. Another is to issue a connected series of
complicated orders which inexperienced marchers are likely to miss.
(By "inexperienced" here I don't mean being unfamiliar with marching.
Successful marching takes more than just knowing the steps; it requires a
kind of group cohesiveness that has to be performed to be felt.)
Some maneuvers are inherently difficult to perform when marching in a
group. For example, the command "right oblique MARCH" is executed by the
entire group simultaneously turning forty-five degrees to the right while
continuing a normal march pace. There's something about the maneuver that
presents visual cognitive dissonance to the marcher. The people to your
right and left look like they're out of line even though they are just
where they're supposed to be. If the person in command then orders "to
the rear MARCH", each marcher is supposed to turn 180 degrees and march
back over the line just traced. But the visual impact of doing that from
the position created by the right oblique move can be quite confusing.
Those are just illustrations of some of the moves in the game. The whole
thing is lighthearted. Group laughs of satisfaction when everybody does
a newly invented routine properly are common. When the NCO in charge
loses track of the command sequence he has given, and fails to bring the
body of troops back together by giving the right commands at the right
time and on the right foot, men who are doing just what they were told
inevitably march right into each other. If that happens, the troops "win"
and the marching breaks up into a bunch of men -- well, breaking up. It's
hilarious to the participants. The same thing happens when part of the
group gets the commands wrong. "Ha! Gotcha!", the sergeant says as HE
Each man in charge of the drill has an individual style and an individual
repertoire. The Marine sergeant's trademark, for example, was delivered
when the group got to its destination. His last commands often were
"to the rear MARCH to the rear MARCH troop HALT troop DISMISSED." The
commands were given on successive beats of the 120 to the minute
metronome, so that each man reversed direction twice in three steps. As
I recall it, the first time he gave that sequence of commands, people
ended up pointing every which way and laughing like crazy. After a few
times, everybody swung in unison. Then the sergeant tried to catch the
troops out by varying the intervals between commands -- which sometimes
worked and sometimes failed to induce any wrong moves from confused marchers.
Whatever the result, the doubled "to the rear" sequence always was received
with laughs as the group fragmented into a collection of individuals.
At this point, I'm talking to two audiences. Old service people know
just what I've been describing, and probably are nodding "yes, that's the
way it is. Ain't it fun?" Those who have never marched, and even those
who learned about marching in a non-military setting, can read my words
but that doesn't really make the behavior something they feel.
What makes that kind of marching into play has all the elements of
performing dance figures. Let me remind you: when I say that I'm
talking about the way the *marchers* react to the experience. For some
outside observers, that's not what's going on at all. Marching, to them,
is about regimentation (appropriate word!), and marching Homo militaris
can't simultaneously be Homo ludens. Military discipline, from the
outsider's viewpoint, is and must be DISCIPLINE to the exclusion of
anything else. From such a viewpoint, equating military drill with dance
or play or pleasure is an "obvious" error.
Since I cut my teeth on linguistics before I got into anthropology, I've
always felt uncomfortable with Kenneth Pike's extension of the terms
"emic" and "etic" beyond the borders of Bloomfieldian (or Pikeian)
linguistic analysis. Marvin Harris's different use of the same terms
leaves me even colder. Both usages seem counter-intuitive to me. I've
always been delighted with Robbins Burling's re-sorting to the terms
"anemic" and "emetic" for just that reason.
Nonetheless, everything I've been saying here fits comfortably into what
others call "emic" and "etic". Considering marching, a behavior I once
would have though antithetical to my pacifist orientations, finally
pushes me into a different kind of appreciation of who can "really" have
Here's another way to put that last: Paul Robeson was one of the great
performers of this century. I still shiver every time I hear a recording
of his way of singing "black music". Quintessential soul, if you ask me.
His recorded work also includes several chassidic songs, mostly in
Yiddish. His pronunciation is impeccable in these recordings, and his
voice, as usual, is magnificent. My Russian Jewish grandfather, whose
singing voice was not very good by anybody's standards and whose Yiddish
was marked by a strong non-standard accent, used to sing a couple of
those songs. He sang rings around Paul Robeson. You see, he had Jewish
soul. His off-glides were within the cultural tradition; his turns to
nasalism at just the right places, and his insertions of ad-lib figures,
made his singing into the essence of expressing his culture. Robeson
just sang the notes, not my grandfather's melodies.
God, this is threatening to my intellectual stance that the world needs
anthropologists looking at cultures that are NOT their own!
Somebody please haul me back to my professional reality . . .
mike salovesh, anthropology department <firstname.lastname@example.org>
northern illinois university PEACE !