I recently saw an article in the Army Times about the Army putting the Kibosh on the “Shark Attack” style of soldiering for Basic Training recruits. The premise, or bottom line, is that it’s just mean and that there are better ways, more constructive ways to motivate soldiers and prepare them for battle. Interesting. Most of this feedback and direction is coming from people who have not served in combat MOS’s, have not experienced it, or in the military at all. After reading the article, shifting in my seat, and fighting off the old Sarge in me I was reminded of a principle of training from warriors long ago. Real long ago.
Here is the link to the article. https://www.armytimes.com/news/your-army/2020/09/21/draft-era-shark-attacks-on-army-infantry-recruits-are-over/
In my work we reference back to a lot of warrior practices and training. I work with combat veterans who struggle with thriving in life away from the war and military environment. In our sessions we’ll discuss how soldiers of days past dealt with the fronts of home and war. Much of our discussions revolve around training. Most of us have seen the movie that released in 2007, “300”. The movie is about the Battle of Thermopylae and the 300 Spartan warriors who met the invading Persians at the “Hot Gate”. The book, Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae, outlines that battle. Prior to the book building to it’s climax, the author takes a deep dive into the Spartan culture and their training. The battle took place in 480 B.C. so when I said, “I was reminded of a principle of training from warriors long ago”, that is what I was referring to. One thing that is interesting about their training was the psychological training they received while at Agoge and beyond. One reason they are so hard on the young recruits was not so much to toughen them as to build an unbreakable cohesion and esprit de corps among the men. They consider this the “glue” that held the phalanx together. The Phalanx is the style of battle the Spartans were known for and what led to much of their success on the battlefield. The principle of it is also what held Sparta together as a civilization; men, women and children. All the lashings from whips, pushing of the tree line, grappling naked, long walks, survival in all climates, yelling and other forms of discipline were meant to bring the men together. No one was above or able to escape the torment. It wasn’t about them protecting themselves as much as the men on their right and left. It was about the unbreakable overlapping of the shields that allowed them to defeat thousands of Persians in “The Narrows”. I highly recommend reading the book as it is very inciteful. Aside from reading the book, I’ve studied Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War. It’s very dry and somewhat boring with some nuggets of pondering scattered throughout. As far as Thucydides goes, that dude was legit. Even as a failed naval commander.
Jumping back to the article and our modern military. Over the years, mainly since 1999, we’ve seen the transformation of our military to a … different one. A much more heart felt one. Especially in the Army, which I can speak more about since that’s the branch I spent 26 years in. When we weaken training, we weaken performance on the battlefield. Yes, we’re awesome and can blow things up from afar. However, in trenches it’s a different story. Read or watch the films about Restrepo or Operation Red Wings. Those were much more like the battles of warriors thousands of years ago. The only thing that has changed are the tools used. I believe it is still necessary for certain styles of psychological training to prepare young men for their worst days in battle. As Thucydides said,
“We must remember that one man is much the same as another, and that he is best who is trained in the severest school.”
That severest school he was referring to is combat. He believed that and said that because that’s what he witnessed and lived. There are things that happen that cannot be trained for. There are experiences that these warriors are able to bring back home and share that only they can have knowledge of. That brutal training, those harsh living conditions and that “Shark Attack” like style of training IS necessary to train our young men to go and do evil and unimaginable things to protect our way of life. We must be cautious about the succumbing to the opinions of those who don’t know. Tolerance begets weakness, weakness begets defeat, defeat begets death. Something to think about.
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