Drill Oppressive?

Warren Sproule (Warren.Sproule@SOCIOL.UTAS.EDU.AU)
Fri, 16 Feb 1996 16:13:49 +0200

Elaine Hills <ehills@SOLEIL.ACOMP.USF.EDU> asks

Is it fair to say that drill is always oppressive, or am I missing some
context here? To put oppression in the terms of Marilyn Frye, I would not
say that those who participate in drill are necessarily in a cage,
or confined by forces or barriers that are unavoidable...<Snip>

My short answer (drill = oppression?) is Yes. There seems to be a
confusion here between the DESIGN and CONTEXT of a given activity, and the
participant's RESPONSE to it. This issue still blurs the line between both
structure/agency and cause/effect. Is 'dance' less dance if, for the
performer, it entails a degree of "dull compulsion"? If Mike Salovesh and
many others respond positively, sensually, exuberantly to undergoing a
military drill process; if hearts beat faster when viewing the Edinburgh
Military Tattoo, or a May Day march past in the (former) Red Square, or a
rescreening of _Triumph of the Will_; does this change any of the central
functions of military drill? The origins and purpose of military drill are,
as ever, combat effectiveness (in terms of both attack and defence), mass
subordination, indoctrination (the resocialising of civilians into "new
people", ie soldiers), the extension of the notion of 'war-readiness' into
a virtually permanent condition, and the enhancement of kill-capacity. In
_The Pursuit of Power_, William McNeill (spiritual godfather of the present
debate) spells these purposes out [1983: 117-143; BTW, Mike, check footnote
12 on pp 133-4, where he laments the lack of discussion on "the
psychological and sociological effects of close-order drill on human
beings", and bases his own remarks on "...reflections on personal
experience - and surprise at my own response to drill during WW II"].
Moreover, drawing from two strands of Erving Goffman's framework, let's not
forget that firstly, military drill takes place in total institutions; and
secondly, (allied to Merton's 'unintended consequences') the distance
between *expected* and *actual* responses to institutional resocialisation
attempts may be vast (G usually frames these in the negative, as
illegitimate ways of 'making out' in carceral settings, but I don't see
undue conceptual stretch in applying this to POSITIVE responses to
disciplinary technique). Lastly, Elaine, caging and unavoidable force:
dragooning and miltary press gangs are by and large anachronisms, in a
significant number[?] of states conscription is out of fashion, and
volunteer citizen-based standing armies are the order of the day - but
again it (a) depends how you define 'coercion' and whether its restricted
to the physical; [b] all this voluntarism and "de (or 'post-')
militarization" will change to naked society-wide circumscription (as it
has in the past) at the commencement of formal hostilities; (c) even free
societies contain self-standing coercive subsets; and (d) the recruit is
caged from Day One, both physically (extending from the uniform out to
wider enclosures), through regulations/protocols, and up to formal control
of how s/he moves, talks, eats, acts...'feels and thinks' have been seen as
logically following, but its here that "the emic bit" starts to bite. But I
still maintain the essence of the processes are in the program of the
DRILLER, not the response of the 'DRILLEE'...

Or I could be totally off-base; anyone know of any non-oppressive drills?