Hello Space Cadet, today I wanted to muse about some parts of my time in the Big Green Weenie. I tackle the role that cadences and martial music in the development of military culture and cores. I hope you enjoy my ramblings, feel free to join the conversation afterwards! Without further ado, let the ramblings begin.
Everyone who has ever served in the military knows a universal truth: the value of music. You’re taught to march through music. Yes, I know they stopped using marching bands to train with years ago. Yes, I also know that they don’t even have lone buglers or drummers leading the charge. However, we were all taught to march via the musical stylings of our sergeants or petty officers. Shh, I won’t let on that I know your age (spies be spying yo) if you let me pretend everyone was smart enough to go Army! Hey, it keeps it simple because I can say sergeant instead of remembering petty officers and whatever the heck the Coasties and the Air Force had.
Think back, dust off that fuzzy sounding eight track and start running through your memories. Do you remember them? The marching cadences used to keep you in step? The sing-songy sound of your sergeant’s bellow? Something about yellow ribbons, Chuck Norris and ladies in multi-colored dresses. I had the rare privilege of having seen these cadences at all levels, the ones used for boot recruits, sergeants at the NCO Academy and officers in training. Yes, I know they’ve changed the name of the NCO school many times…. But hey, if I tried to keep current with that fiasco I wouldn’t have time to write this wee post or book three in The Sleeping Legion Series so go with it.
Yesterday I was using music to soothe the soul of several wild animals, most notably my two children, and the music they requested from Dad’s YouTube DJ Services took me places. My eldest asked for the soothing sounds of 1990s heavy metal, though you might call it light rock today, so much has the market changed. Guns-N-Roses, Metallica, Motley Crew…. The usual for kids these days, and if it isn’t it dang well should be. I was instantly taken back to my youth, rebellious thoughts of parental mutinies and my daring but unfulfilled plans to woo that special girl. To protect the innocent, I will call her Kimberly, but since I’m the writer here you’ll have to trust me when I say it isn’t important.
Anyway, after walking down the primrose path of my pubescent mental mausoleum, my eldest son’s turn was over and number two got his shot. What did he request? Ugh, he chose Army marching cadences. I know you’re asking yourself why my son might request the cool marching cadences of HAIL OH HAIL OH INFANTRY, but that’s probably not important. Had nothing to do with daddy’s gross lacking of musical depth, namely knowing zero lullabies, which led to some hypothetical person singing Army cadences to his colicky son. Hey, it was the ots! I mean, the double zeros excuse everything, that crazy post-Y2K time in our history.
So I kept my word, much to my wife’s chagrin, and I hit play to a few Army cadences. My seven-year-old joyfully marched in place to the sounds of unseen sergeants extolling the joys of war. “Off to battle we will go, to live or die, hell I don’t know” seemed perfectly rational when an 18-year-old Private Handley sang it on his way to the nastiest DFAC this side of Hades… but out of the mouth of my grinning cherub? I shuddered, I cringed, my wife bopped my head! I watched Kentuck drink out of the Euphrates fricken River, and then shared a bottle of Gatorade with him. (Note to self: brush teeth a few extra hundred times.) I did a multitude of other gross stuff, just to fit in with my fellow grunts. Somewhere, my doppelganger is still screaming to his buddies “Hey yall, watch this!” But all that paled when listening to my sweet boy, my little buddy, sing of death and war shook me to the core.
I’m not one of those apologists who throw medals over political fences. I won’t say I’m sorry for fighting my country’s wars, my job was to fight. I was good at it, and many of us came home because of the skilled riflemen I had the privilege to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with. While it was my job to fight, it was my fellow citizens and the politicians they elect, whose job it was to determined when and where they unleashed the beast. Not a perfect system, but it beats the alternatives. But, unlike my Handley predecessors, I will gladly surrender the mantel of ‘military family.’ We’ve done enough, let the Jones have the ball for a few generations. My sons, I want them to be patriotic, but maybe with a slight contrarian hippy bent? A few peace signs and tie dyed shirts to add to the effect? Maybe even a dreaded pair of Birkenstocks? For you Brits reading this, think along the line of Guy Fawkes…. And if I mangle that geopolitical reference, I can blame my British boss, Tim C. Taylor! Hey, blaming your predecessors is practically cannon over here!
Right, back on track… sorry, the wife had to beat me about the head and shoulders so the hamsters knew I meant business. Rest easy, they are back on that spinning wheel and we’re back on course. After I got over the shock of seeing a babe singing a violent military cadence, I realized something. We modern soldiers, those raised in a more genteel time, we NEED those cadences. Why? They prepare us for the idea of death, ours and theirs. They teach us to dehumanize our enemies and make us more comfortable with the idea of killing them first. It reminds me of the quote from Karate Kid. The motto of the Cobra Kai Dojo. “Strike fast, strike hard, no mercy sir!”
One author, a Mr. Dave Grossman, wrote a book ON KILLING about how the military used systematic approaches to accomplish the goal of preparing soldiers to kill and possibly die in war. Some have argued that this was a seminal book on the subject, and while I’ve not read it since my head injury, I instinctively realized how those cadences from long ago shaped my world view. I learned to hate the dreaded commie as I humped the hills of Fort Benning, GA. I learned of vaunted Airborne Rangers left dying in the mud, though I always thought Patton had it right, better let them die for their country instead. I remember fondly a cadence where the mythical soldier is asked how he earns his living, to which he replies: “with a cold kind of nod, I earn my living killing commies for my God.” We later learn that an acceptable way to do this is with your K-bar (combat knife). To save you from hearing me give you all the examples, I’ve posted links to a few at the bottom of the article.
So, I’ll assume you’re still with me because otherwise you’d have left the thread already. Now that we have shown how a largely peaceful civilian culture prepares warriors to fight and die, let us consider the world created by author Tim C. Taylor. Okay, I really do love his work but I’ll end my fanboy stuff here, I swear. So, in the universe of Tim’s Human Legion Saga there are no civilians, everyone’s a combatant. At least, the Marines in the Human Marine Corps are only exposed to militarism from birth, it’s possible that the culture of the White Knights is different… Maybe we’ll learn more in Book 6, The Battle for Earth?
Now that we’ve established the universe, how would their teachings differ from ours? Would these crèchelings/novices/cadets even need cadences to accustom them to their new reality? And what does one sing about when you have no non-martial references from which to draw upon? Who would be their mythical Jody, the bogyman who steals your girl or guy, while you’re gone when it’s likely your lover would deploy with you? And on a broader subject, how would their purely military society differ from ours? I’d bet their food would be worse, military cooks are the pits! I remember a DFAC at Fort Hunter-Ligget that even screwed up a burger! How do you mess up a burger? Ugh, but I digress. Seriously though, in what ways would daily life be different in world free of civilians? Do they trade in their humanity in the name of efficiency? And what would such a world produce for the lullabies which we take for granted when we’re singing them to our young? What kind of fairy tales exist in this militaristic society? I won’t pretend to have any answers, but the questions are intriguing. Let’s be honest, it is what makes science fiction so great in the first place!
Anyway, this was all just food for thought but let’s talk about it in the comment section!
Until next time, stay frosty and don’t forget to keep your powder dry!
J.R. Handley is a pseudonym for a husband and wife writing team. He is a veteran infantry sergeant with the 101st Airborne Division and the 28th Infantry Division. She is the kind of crazy that interprets his insanity into cogent English. He writes the sci-fi while she proofreads it. The sergeant is a two-time combat veteran of the late unpleasantness in Mesopotamia where he was wounded, likely doing something stupid. He started writing military science fiction as part of a thrapy program suggested by his doctor, and hopes to entertain you while he attempts to excise his demons through these creative endeavors. In addition to being just another dysfunctional veteran, he is a stay at home wife, avid reader and all around nerd. Luckily for him, his Queen joins him in his fandom nerdalitry.