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05 April 2005

Adventures in Universal Military Conscription

If you put on your Wellies and slosh on down into the Comment Sewers of Vleeptron, my brother Maury and I are having a Nostalgia Fit & Mild Dispute regarding his years of service as a young enlisted man in the United States Air Force during the Hot Parts of the Cold War. A few years later, Little Bobby did a burst of two as a drafted/conscripted enlisted man in the United States Army during the Vietnam Misunderstanding.


An ENLISTED person (a private, e.g.) peels the potatoes and cleans the toilets.

A NON-COMMISSIONED OFFICER (sergeant, sergeant major, first sergeant) screams at the privates and makes their lives a living hell.

A COMMISSIONED OFFICER (lieutenant, captain, major, colonel, general, commodore, admiral, etc.) seems to spend most of his/her time keeping his/her hands, fancy uniform and footgear clean, or having privates do this for him/her.

There is something in between called the WARRANT OFFICER who flies helicopters and gets to go to the Officers Club (Enlisted People cannot go there). Enlisted people have to salute Everybody. Nobody salutes an Enlisted Person, unless she or he happens to be wearing a Congressional Medal of Honor. (I don't have one of those, and you can call Army Records in St. Louis and check.)

A very strange jazz trumpeter and comedian, Jackie Vernon, who billed himself as "Mister Excitement," was the most unattractive, depressing and boring man on Earth, so he had to think up tricks to chat up attractive young women at the beach. He would dig in the sand with his toe, and say, "Excuse me, I seem to have lost my Congressional Medal of Honor around here somewhere."

The life of a young enlisted man, drafted or similarly compelled to serve in uniform for a couple of years, is pretty much the same in all countries, at all times. Nothing much beyond crude and unpleasant manual labor is expected of an enlisted man. Modern militaries have evolved on the assumption that any young male caught up by conscription is some sort of idiot to begin with.

Your time consists of the unpleasant labor, ridiculous mass rituals that begin very early in the morning, eating together, showering together, sleeping together, and living for weeks or months at a time in an entirely monastic female-free or female-Lite environment during the horniest period of your life. Having neither money nor a car, you are stuck at Fort Apache in the company of thousands of other young men.

Occasionally your benevolent, supportive sergeant gives you a Weekend or 3-Day Pass, and if it's very shortly after payday, you may have ambitions to try to get to Atlanta or New York City or San Francisco where Something Might Happen if you are Very Lucky. You can fly cheap standby or ride the train or bus for cheap if you agree to travel wearing your ridiculous enlisted man uniform.

This is apparently a National Defense Message to the Public that the national transportation infrastructure is crawling with soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen ready at every instant to defend the nation, and this reassures civilians. Actually they are just trying to get laid affordably, and some of them are trying to desert and flee entirely, but civilians are encouraged to take whatever comfort they wish.

In Philippe de Broca's 1964 film, "That Man in Rio," a French enlisted conscript wrangles a 3-day pass and hops le tren to Paris to spend the weekend with his beloved gorgeous sweetie-pie Agnes. His barracks buddy is on a similar mission, and they agree to meet at Gare du Nord to catch the last train back to base after their weekend. Agnes' bf is portrayed by Jean-Paul Belmondo, and Agnes is played by Francoise Dorleac.

Mlle. Dorleac was the sister of Catherine Deneuve, and in that family, Catherine Deneuve was the ugly sister. Mlle. Dorleac died tragically, at 25, after far too few movies, in a high-speed expensive sports-car crash. (Young women who look like that do not die at slow speeds in Renaults or VW Beetles.)

As for M. Belmondo, I could watch a closeup of his amazing face -- it looks very much like the Alps -- or watch him lean against a lamppost smoking a Gaulois forever. He taught me all the French I know.

Anyway, "That Man from Rio" / "L'homme de Rio" is the screamingly funniest movie ever made about universally conscripted enlisted guys trying to get their ashes hauled on a 3-Day Pass during la Guerre Froid. Just rent it tonight. It's got subtitles, but you don't need them.

Albert Einstein, a young Swiss pacifist, publicly objected to the system of universal military conscription in Switzerland. Maybe Pat Z. can give us some local details about the famous Swiss system of universal military service. Einstein believed that if all young men refused their conscription, there would be no more wars on Earth. During the Vietnam anti-war protests, there was a very common protest sign:


Here is a story about the American Army:

SERGEANT: I need a volunteer who knows a lot about music.


SERGEANT: Okay, move that piano to the third floor.

Here is a story about the Israeli Army:

SERGEANT: I need a volunteer who has a driver's license and speaks perfect English.


SERGEANT: Okay, clean the barracks toilets.


Blogger pat's pub said...

The Swiss Army? Weeeell, it ain't what it used to be. The Swiss Army is currently undergoing a massive change, thank god, it was about time.
Simply because the Swiss Government cannot afford to spend too much Money on the Army, they are closing bases, facilities and airports and reducing staff, mainly because they can't find enough recruits and soldiers despite the fact that service is still mandatory. An enourmously large number of recruits is failing physical and psychological tests or just refuses to do service or gets kicked out for smoking pot or drinking or both while on duty (haven't we heard thet story somewhere else?) Serving time has also been reduced, my mates got their release papers in their mid-twenties or early thirties (back in the ol' days service was mandatory up to 40.)simply because they are no longer needed. The old days of the Swiss Army's reputaion are about to be over and that's fine with me. Some people are a bit p.o. because sheer economical reasons led the government to shrink "their" army and the reputation it had. That's fine mit me as well.
....Can't helpit but I just had a flashback from Monty Python's Meaning of Life (Drill Instructor Sketch)...

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Françoise Dorléac didn't dies in a expensive sport car. She drove a cheap rent-a-car Renault-10.


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