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The US Army goes Crossfit and America’s Changing Social Mores

This sounds very much like Crossfit:

New soldiers are grunting through the kind of stretches and twists found in “ab blaster” classes at suburban gyms as the Army revamps its basic training regimen for the first time in three decades.

Heeding the advice of Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans, commanders are dropping five-mile runs and bayonet drills in favor of zigzag sprints and exercises that hone core muscles. Battlefield sergeants say that’s the kind of fitness needed to dodge across alleys, walk patrol with heavy packs and body armor or haul a buddy out of a burning vehicle.

And this is hilarious – and largely true in my observation, at least for most LMC -UMC suburban teen-agers who become Army recruits:

Trainers also want to toughen recruits who are often more familiar with Facebook than fistfights.

….But they need to learn how to fight.

“Most of these soldiers have never been in a fistfight or any kind of a physical confrontation. They are stunned when they get smacked in the face,” said Capt. Scott Sewell, overseeing almost 190 trainees in their third week of training. “We are trying to get them to act, to think like warriors.”

Godspeed to you, Captain Sewell. And a hat tip to Dave Dilegge

The culture has changed. School anti-bullying programs have eliminated a lot of the physical aspects of student conflicts but had the unanticipated effect of making the nonphysical but verbal and social bullying far worse because organized ostracism, slander and anonymous internet harrassment are far harder for school authorities to prove in court when challenged by the always litigious parents of the chronic bullies who have (finally) been disciplined.

Consequently, most suburban kids a) feel quite safe in saying unbelievably heinous things to each other that a generation ago, and certainly two generations earlier, would have resulted in an instant punch in the mouth, if not a savage public beating; and b) are completely inept at defending themselves when they come across someone outside their narrow, whitebread, cultural zone who takes offense at their wanton disrespect and reacts with an “old school” response. They are the Emo generation.

Coupled with a widespread loathing of physical exercise and an expectation of gratuitous consumer-debt financed luxury, a sizable segment of young Americans are better prepared for conflict in the court of Louis XIV at Versailles than joining the Army. Or even a moderately resilient soccer team.

Thus concludes my cranky, old man, rant. 🙂

25 Responses to “The US Army goes Crossfit and America’s Changing Social Mores”

  1. Michael Says:

    You’re so cranky! You hurt my feelings!!

    I’m putting you on my list…

    Random thoughts because I completely agree with your rant and echo it myself…

    "The best defense is a good offense, Mel the cook on Alice" from the Bob Rivers Comedy Corp (?) "Boot to the head"

    When I was a kid, we got into fights over a dollar. Those kids are still some of my best friends.

    When I was in the military we got into verbal and physical fights, the verbal ones were more brutal, but also more funny. The physical ones were much more dangerous.

    I often have to restrain myself from giving a moron a good, sound thrashing just on principle. I feel like Thomas Paine being restrained by Alexander Hamilton when I just want to go all Aaron Burr… or maybe Patty Hearst is better… 😉

    Damn I am old. Where is my crotchety license? Pesky emo-kids.

  2. Smitten Eagle Says:

    I look back in a strangely-fond way at a number of confrontations I had on the playground–there I learned a few important things:
    1)  What you say and how you act has consequences in how you fight, and how you fight impacts how you act and what you say.  They are inextricably linked.  Trying to de-couple them through laws and rules will have many negative consequences.
    2)  Some fights are worth fighting.  Some fights are absolutely necessary.  Some aren’t worth the trouble.
    3)  Learning what it’s like to take a smack, realize that it doesn’t hurt terribly bad, and keep fighting through is a lesson in how to handle pain.
    I certainly wouldn’t be the person I am today without having defended myself physically at the right time.

  3. MM Says:

    So what.One thing is certain on this Saint Patrick’s Day, it is no longer 1874 and the US does not need Irish Gandy Dancers to drink and fight and build railroads like "Real Men!"  In a world where typing on a keybaord in a stock exchange can crash an economy having people who can "fist fight" is about as useful as, well Gandy Dancers and steam engines.The world does not more child soldiers, we have far too many.  It is no longer 1960 either and if we need people who’s only skill is "fist fighting" then we can outsource them from Nigeria or Palestine or wherever they have a surplus of young people with no future because their only economy is fist fighting.In the words of Officer Barbradey I call "Shenanigans" on living in the past.

  4. onparkstreet Says:

    Ha! Lil at Inkspots highlighted the same article and the regular crew over there is having fun in the comments section, too.
    I used to get so confused as a kid because my nice American teachers in my nice progressive school district would tell me one thing, and my immigrant parents would tell me something else.  I remember – so vividly! – me telling my parents that we weren’t supposed to fight EVER because that’s what the teacher said. And then my parents looking at each other and replying, "well, you should listen to your teacher, but if someone smacks you, maybe you should think about smacking them back."
    Plus, the stories my Dad would tell about us about the old country! You might be an Indian redneck if the stories sound like they should have a soundtrack of dueling banjos, or something.
    Funny post. Hey, it was different when we were growing up, wasn’t it? I totally walked uphill both ways. That’s just a proven fact.
    – Madhu

  5. zen Says:

    True, America does not need Gandy Dancers ( great reference) nor Bowery Boys, Shirt-tails or other hooligans. Nor do we really need to encourage fistfighting per se but there’s a problem when the natural, experimental, social cruelty of children is, as SE notes, de-coupled from the obvious consequences. 

     Lacking a reason for restraint, the tormenting gets worse and becomes a cultural norm, expressed covertly or with the passive permission of adult authority. While my modestly rough, blue-collar, secondary schools saw frequent fistfights, and I had my share in which I did not emerge the winner, they never saw a stabbing much less a shooting; and in general kids were more capable of sorting out minor problems amongst themselves. This has larger causes than the mere lack of fistfights, including more infantlizing parenting styles, lack of time for free neighborhood play ( or lack of real neighborhoods, period) and society as a whole edging toward nannyism.  We’ve gone overboard.
    The net effect is kids growing up with less personal resiliency, something they could probably use to get themselves through life’s more difficult scrapes.
  6. Purpleslog Says:

    I think one of the major events that shaped who am I in real life was giving a beating to the 6th grade class bully of my class in class and in front of everybody.

    He started it. He didn’t expect the reaction he got from me.

    My dad (a veteran Marine sergeant) had taught me to take and give a punch, basic wrestling and judo, and joint locks. I was used to roughing it at home, with my next neighbor boys (all older then me)  and with scouting. I had been in fights before I had always won or at least gave it as good I got it. I was a quiet/smart/bookish/introvert type at school though, and the bully knew nothing of me besides that.

    Anyways, the beating continued until the teacher called/pulled me off him.

    After school, the bully – now with a friend at his side – threatened me outside the classroom. I said something like "let’s fight again right now" and began walking toward him. The bully paused, then broke and ran away – again in front of everybody.

    He was never a bully again toward anybody (as best I can recall). I was in school with him another 6 years, yet we never spoke again.

    It wasn’t my first or last fight…but it was the best and still makes me smile.

  7. Purpleslog Says:

    It was a different time. It never would have occurred to me that somebody would have pulled a knife or gun on me.

  8. Larry Dunbar Says:

    "True, America does not need Gandy Dancers ( great reference) "

    If my long-term memory is not failing, Gandy Dancers were workers laying the steel rails for the railroads. I didn’t know it was an Irish term, but sounds about right. I think it is one term that might have gotten lost in a black history sort of way, but it is probably more, cultural, worker orientation specific, instead of a race or ethnic origin. Gandy Dancers helped build a nation of workers, as much as, in the process, help form a country of immigrants.

  9. TDL Says:

    The quote that was highlighted above also stuck out to me as well.  I was a bit of a hell raiser as well (although at a Catholic prep school.)  Years later my Dean would tell me that although he found it frustrating that I was always sitting in front of his office, he preferred the fact that I would settle my own affairs instead of constantly running to a teacher and complaining.
    A couple lessons (or more) learned, 1) words and actions have consequences, 2) standing up for yourself requires more moral courage than physical and 3) will create more self-esteem than any teacher intervention ever will, 4) losing (as well as failure) is not the end of the world, and 5) it is important to be physically fit and mentally prepared.
    Also, how did emo ever come out of the punk scene?  I have been grappling with this philosophical question for over a decade!!


  10. Curtis Gale Weeks Says:

    I learned to make the bullies lose without ever knowing they had been in a fight.

  11. Larry Dunbar Says:

    "I learned to make the bullies lose without ever knowing they had been in a fight."

    That’s nice, but there is an old saying, among the motorcycle crowd, you don’t know how fast you can go until you fall down. I can’t imagine never falling down. Perhaps you were supposed to fall down.

    It is pretty easy to judge an enemy that in not in the fight, he is a loser. How does one judge an intergroup tournament (Howard Bloom, Global Brain) with only one participant? Is winning everything or even anything?

  12. Schmedlap Says:

    I still remember getting in trouble in fourth grade for "fighting" which wasn’t even really a fight. Some kid cut in front of me in line at the end of recess and a brief shoving match spilled over into a harmless wrestling match – no punches or kicks. The teachers freaked out as though we had donned explosive vests or something. At first my father was mad upon finding out because, well, I was misbehaving at school. But his anger soon turned to the teacher when the teacher said, "your son didn’t start it, but we don’t condone fighting back." My father objected that and, in front of the teacher, said to me, "don’t listen to that BS. If someone pushes or hits you, you hit him back twice as hard." He then looked at the teacher and said, "what the hell kind of BS are you trying to teach my kid?"
    Really, the only lesson that I learned was to consider whether any authority figure was in the vicinity before throwing down.

  13. zen Says:

    "But his anger soon turned to the teacher when the teacher said, "your son didn’t start it, but we don’t condone fighting back."
    Your father was a man who had his head on straight.
    Schmedlap your story epitomized the problem and reminded me that this nonsense was partly started years ago by school board lawyers because it was easier for them to defend school districts in court if the bully and victim were treated exactly the same way instead of having to justify disparate disciplinary measures ( quaintly known as justice before either of us were born).
    The wrestling bit was once never even seen as being worthy of called "fighting". I recall in third or fourth grade starting a "wrestling" match in a hallway and the principal, Mr. Dewey, came up behind me and put his foot firmly into my ass and told us to get the hell back to class where we belonged. That was it, no emergency meetings or hearings and I stopped fooling around in the hall.

  14. Schmedlap Says:

    You know, another thing. Kids don’t really fight to inflict harm upon one another. They are just establishing the pecking order. Most "fighting" is really just harmless "wrestling" in which one kid tries to obtain a position of physical dominance over the other to assert himself as higher up in the pecking order. It’s called male childhood. In some cases, it is mere competition. I remember one day, when I was around 10 years old, me and my best friend were wrestling for fun and keeping score of how many times one of us took down the other. It was harmless. But for two ten-years-olds, it was good fun.

  15. Joey Says:

    Up the physical standards for recruits,  recuit from the working class poor, blacks, hispanics, depressed white areas.  Compulsory boxing classes, teach you to keep your head up in a fight.  Take a leaf out of the FFL playbook, recruits have to look after themselves, the drill Sargents  don’t give you protection from bullying, those that can’t stand up for themselves are weeded out.

    But most of all make sure your grunts are from the poorest sectors of society, recent immigrants are the best, they generally dispise the natives as weak, pampered and work shy, thus its easy to flatter there egos when building units. 

  16. Curtis Gale Weeks Says:

    Larry,  I was speaking with tongue in cheek.  However, I’d note it is possible to "fall" without ever having been in a fisticuff fight; lessons need not come entirely and only from a 1GW approach to conflict!

  17. TDL Says:

      I would have to say that approach has a potentially dangerous result.  Recruiting exclusively from the lower echelons of society (assuming that they have the attitudes that you describe towards society in general) will cultivate a disgust with "civilians" that could have potential to create a very wide gap between the general culture and the military.  This is the attitude that police forces and public servants have cultivated in the U.S. over the past several decades and it is attitude that I believe does not exist within the military.  We can criticize the military and overseas adventurism, but the bulk of military personnel are well integrated into U.S. society (something that can not be said for other public servants) and we should not encourage any activities that would change this level of integration.  A subservient military requires members who are well acquainted and well integrated into the general culture they aim to protect.


  18. Joey Says:

    Yeah I was a bit OTT there, but thats what you have an officer class for, by all means incalculate civic virtue in them, but you want your grunts to consider themselves a warrior elite, sure they have disdain for civilians, you hold that in check with military discipline.

    By the by, this problem stems from recruitment issues during the Iraq war, from all accounts they were taking anyone who turned up at the recruitment office.
    It should be hard to get into the army, not easy.  

  19. Charles Cameron Says:

    I haven’t had very good net connection recently, but just wanted to say that was a very interesting post, Zen.

  20. Schmedlap Says:

    I find Joey’s comments to be not very insightful.
    I had Soldiers in my platoon and company who were from just about every socioeconomic background one can encounter in the US. I saw no correlation between any particular skin color, ethnicity, family history, citizenship status, or what have you,  when it came to aggressiveness, intelligence, effectiveness, et cetera. I will say that one individual (an outlier – again, I saw no correlation overall), who was a minority and recent immigrant from a lower class background, regaled us with stories about how tough his neighborhood was in LA. The first time that he found himself in the kill zone of a near ambush, my middle-class white ass had to drag him out of our burning vehicle because he froze and panicked. So much for the theory of minorities and the poor being better "warriors" (he did okay after that incident – first time jitters).

  21. Stilgherrian · The 9pm Edict #6 Says:

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  22. onparkstreet Says:

    @ Joey and Schmedlap:

    I think you have to be careful in differentiating the stories – or mythologies – immigrants tell about themselves versus the reality.
    Which might be a good topic for Charles Cameron or zen or whoever to discuss (maybe you already have?) – the "glamour" of certain mythologies and their use in recruitment. If I listen to my own regional and caste-ish mythologies, supposedly we are all from super-duper tough warrior class stock. The reality is quite often prosaic, dull and the opposite of glamorous. But if you are struggling with your ideas of yourself, how to assimilate and how to "be real," you might be drawn to those particular myths.
    – Madhu

  23. Dan from Madison Says:

    I am a bit late to this party, but I agree 100% that our young kids that are joining any branch of the service need to know how to fight, or at least have some basics.  I would choose western boxing, just because that is pretty universal and basic.

    I have trained in Muay Thai for three years pretty much non stop and at this point I know how to take and deliver a punch (and elbow, knee, or kick for that matter).  The teens in this day and age can do no such thing.

    I saw a "fight" just the other day outside a high school and it was just a couple of kids throwing roundhouses, no technique.  Pretty much anyone with just a little training would have kicked either kids asses.

    Also, a lot of it is attitude.  There needs to be some serious de-programming done to kids joining the service, but I think that most drill sergeants know this.

  24. zen Says:
    Hi Dan,

    Agree on western boxing – I think the issue for the Army is instil the psychological resilience to take a punch/pain in stride and not have emotional paralysis 🙂

  25. Dan from Madison Says:

    Which is exactly why they should do it.

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