ASO-1960


The Armed Services Officer, Chapter 3: Responsibility and privilege, pp. [27]-[33]:  This is the chapter where the practical starts stepping in and the theoretical becomes a little less of a high flight.

When I went to school at Texas A & M University, there used to be two acronyms floating around campus: ‘R.H.I.P.’ and ‘R.H.I.R.’ and stood for “Rank hath its responsibilities” and “Rank hath its privileges”.  In the common parlance, they were both terms that were supposed to encourage stoicism: do your job, no matter how distasteful or inconvenient, and don’t look at what others have that you don’t.  Unspoken in the Corps of Cadets, I think, was that what you don’t have you can get by assuming the responsibilities of each progressive year at A & M.

The ASO tracks a theoretical progress out in real situations.  Some officers are in situations where promotion might be faster or slower, just as in business promotion.  The ASO is very direct on this point.

There is a comon saying. . . that greater privileges grow out of larger responsibilities, and that the latter justify the former.  This is part truth and part fable.
In military organization, as in industry, business, and political life, the more important a man’s position, the more lavish he is likely to be in his office appointments and living arragements, and the greater the care that is apt to be taken in freeing him of trifling annoyances.
But that is only partly because of the need for thim to conserve his time and energy.  When men are successful, they like the good things. of life.  Why deny it?

So a combination of incentivizing (“privilege a reward for effort and enterprise”) and efficiency create the trappings of higher office.  Rank is like a double-sided suitcase, with higher rank meaning more baggage.  And at one point, baggage is used as an example: 

In the early stages of World War II, it was not unusual to see a junior officer walking on the public sidewalk, hands free and looking important, while his wife tagged along, trying to keep up, though laden like a pack mule.  This was because somone had told him that is was not in keeping with an officer’s dignity to be seen heavily burdened.  In the nature of things, anyone so lacking in gallantry as that would stimulate very little respect for the officer corps. [29-30].

I think the unspoken part of this example (ha ha) is that anyone who treats his wife that poorly is bound to be a burden on the troops he commands as well.  A similar reading of Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty, under feminist lines, compares the fate of the unlucky horse through various owners as an exploration of the plight of women across class and personality of “owner”.  But never mind that now:  the idea is that there are universal codes of conduct, and those whose fortunes are somewhat dictated by a leader will invariably scrutinize that leader for indicators of fairness, temperament, style, and content.  Along with assessment, those observers begin to calculate a rudimentary comparison of benefits conferred and responsibilities undertaken: a ratio of efficiency factors versus prestige factors, and a ratio of prestige factors to contributions made.  It is a calculation that stock owners need to make with the presidents of companies, voters make when in the voting booth, and HR representatives make when deciding whom to hire and whom to promote.   The ASO notes in particular however, the friction between leaders and their staffs with this problem:

What puts most of the grit into the machinery isn’t that privileges exist, but that they are exercised too often by persons who are not motivated by a passionate sense of duty.  . . . .  [28]
In recent years, we have learned a lot about American manpower. (. . .) American young men when brought into military organization do not resent rank and are amenable to authority.  Indeed, they expect that higher authority will have certain advantages not comon to the rank-and-file, because that is normal in society in all of its workday relationships.
But they do not like to have their noses rubbed in it by officers who, having no real moral claim on authority, try to exhibit it by pushing other people around.  And when that happens, our men get their backs up.  And they wouldn’t be worth a hoot in hades if they didn’t.  [28-29].

Then the rest of this chapter talks about American military culture as it modifies this explanation of rank and privilege:

It is a paramount and overriding responsibility of every officer to take care of his men before caring for himself.  . . .  Hw deeply does this rule cut?  In line of duty, it applies right down to the hilt.  When a command is worn, bruised, and hungry, officers attend to their men’s creature comforts and make sure that all is going well, before looking to their own needs.  If a command is so located that recreational facilities are extremely limited and there are not enough to go around, the welfare of the ranks takes priority over the interests of their commissioned leaders. 

 Preserving service reputation is also included in this chapter, where poor conduct by a member of the armed services can be corrected by an officer who is using “judgement, tact, and [a required] nerve.”  Likewise, an officer has a duty to befriend a service member who has been left in uncomfortable or dangerous straits, such as a picked pocket or transportation delay from leave.   

The last set of adjurations in this chapter deal with skipping rank to get things done.  Quite frankly, in public life this is less understood, but generally true: any time you skip a supervisor, you are asking for trouble.  But there are ways and ways . . . 

And even though people who work for bosses could use much of this advice, far more could bosses in the private world take these maxims to heart.  Because in essence, they are about a strict, but essentially servant-based, leadership.

And if I had been that J.O.’s wife, I would have clonked him with this portmanteau.

Chapter 2: Forming military ideals.  pp. [13] through [26] continues with the exploration of dogma and development of “clear-eyed faith”. 

The author (who some believe to have been General Marshall, at least in first drafts) is writing for a specific audience: military officers.  He steadily contrasts civilian American ideals to military ones.  American civilians are “unregimented people, with a strong belief in the virtues of rugged individualism” and the right to do as he pleases up to the point of injury to others.  This doesn’t work when one is trying to develop “an all-compelling unity.”  By standing for unity and collective action, the author believes that the military stands not just as counterpoint to the rest of society, but comments upon it and enriches the values of unity for civilians. 

Much of this sound so aspirational as to be almost laughable in mainstream U.S. thought, and perhaps to military readers as well.  This chapter and the one before may sound a bit like the Boy Scout Manual.  Many of us are angry at the wars we have (I’m deeply unhappy, myself), and may have a strong urge to discount the most aspirational verbiage of military thought.  At the same time, many of us who have the luxury of this fury aren’t living the physical and emotional dilemmas that this book addresses.  At other points, it’s just the same, only less vivid: the boredom more easily given variety, the job more easily changed, and the loyalty asked for of less compelling nature.  The author considers several aspects of military life that make this necessary, not of all of them directly.

1. Military personnel are frequently stationed away from the benefits of the society they protect. 

2. Military personnel must balance the virtues of restraint in frequently unrestrained situations, such as, and specifically, combat, or other areas where force is its main advantage.  Therefore ethics are required; moreover, the use of greater force upon a disintegrating armed force, such as through punishment or discipline, will not be sufficient under these conditions.

3. Boredom, isolation, loneliness, create opportunities for lost morale and lost discipline.  Recognition in the form of promotions may be hard to obtain (hmmm, this is sounding more civilian all the time) and the situations that they may face inbetween these long, eventless periods are complex and require a critical awareness.

Much of this chapter reads like Rudyard Kipling’s “If”, plus an additional healthy dose of stoicism:

Ideals have the intensely practical end of strengthening men for the better discharge of the duties that devolve upon them in their day-to-day affairs.
What is the main test of human character?  Probably it is this: that a man will know how to be patient in the midst of hard circumstance, and can continue to be personally effective while living through whatever discouragements beset him and his companions.  Morever, that is what every truly civilized man would want in himselve during the calmer moments when he compares critically what he is inside with what he would  like to be.  That is specifically the reason why the promulgation of ideals is essentially a problem in the first person, singular. [15-16].

The simpler virtues:
The espoused virtues are a life’s work, no doubt about it.
1. Honor: holding oneself to a course of conduct because of a conviction it is in the general interest, even though one knows it may lead to “inconvenience, personal loss, humiliation, or grave physical risk”.

2. Veracity:  after study and reflection, one says and believes what he thinks to be true, even if it would be easier to lie or not speak up.

3. Justice: one acknowledges the interests of all parties rather than serving self-interest.

4. Graciousness:  One acts and speaks forthrightly, agrees warmly, disagrees fairly and respectfully, participates enthusiastically.  One does not hold grudges, takes reverses in stride, and does not whine and complain.

5. Integrity: One has integrity if his interest in the Service comes before personal pride, and when one does the right thing (book says: duty) whether anyone is watching or not.

These are the things to strive for, and a good deal more besides, and at the end of the chapter one sees why there is so much emphasis on this moral code.  This chapter is a lead-up to the most difficult of conditions for an armed services member: the Code of Conduct for Prisoners of War.  [25-26].  Since this book is elderly, I look up the Code of Conduct on the internet.  It was revised in 1977, and again in 1988 to make it gender-neutral.  Basically, the part A in each of the articles is the same, only more clarifications with respect to the Geneva Convention, etc, have been added.

And the rest of us?
For the purposes of U.S. civilians, the military ideals espoused in this book are little different than the ones we should try to grow for ourselves.  The difference is in degree of loyalty to command, and in the amount of personal sacrifice that is frequently involved.  In many ways, these ideals combine the best of self-improvement with those of a life lived for others.  It’s all very sentimental, unless one is in the midst of a maelstrom and wishes to emerge from it with something irreplaceable.  The part that the book leaves out: that even with strict adherence to these principles, or a best-case effort, one doesn’t always end up with one’s self-faith intact.  Yet what other method is there to try?  I’m still thinking about this.

The second worthwhile purpose is to reflect on the sacrifices that others are making, and the personal toll that it takes.  No, I am not talking about a murky faith in the military, but rather this: many in our society benefit from the service (military service or other service)  without reflecting upon its personal cost to those that serve.  In the case of the military at least, we rely upon their service without, in a sense, even having to make a personal request. 

One can be against conflicts in which we are engaged, yet the sacrifices made are still in our name.  That is the fault and responsibility of the leaders we elected (or failed to dislodge).  Our armed services also serve us in other ways and in other capacities, in other lands and at home.  Whether we believe the military to have incorporated these virtues intact or not–we could reflect that others have steadily trained in order to serve us more fully, and absolutely, than we are inclined to serve ourselves. 

In this, unfortunately, the Armed Services Officer Manual tells the truth: Civilians have the luxury of being self-indulgent mavericks, while military personnel, in many ultimate senses, do not.  Our recompense can only be to provide courtesy and whatever remediation possible to those who have made such sacrifices–and the reciprocity so far seems lackluster on our collective part.

Series Intent: Introduction & Forward to this Series 
  Next week: Less ethics, more practicality: Responsibilities, Privileges, and Careers

Further reading, for those who want to be ethically competitive:
The Enchiridion of Epictetus: The ultimate stoic of service
Rudyard Kipling’s “If”  — You’ll be a man, my son
W.E. Henley’s Invictus  — The captain of my soul

Opportunities to serve today’s military:
Veterans Administration Volunteer site
Wounded Warrior Project site
If anyone wants to write in with other programs, I’d be glad to check them out.

Chapter 1: The Meaning of Your Commission, pages [1] through [12] of The Armed Services Officer (1960) starts out with a tall order, a big case of the “shoulds”.

Upon being commissioned in the Armed Services of the United States, a man incurs a lasting obligation to cherish and protect his country and to develop within himself that capacity and reserve strength which will enable him to serve. . . . [1]

. . .  the trust imposed on the highest military commander in the land is not more than what is enjoined upon the newest ensign . . . Nor is it less.  It is the fact of commission that gives special distinction . . .  [1]

The formality of the commission, its ceremonial quality and the attentive scrutiny of the Commander-in-Chief, intends to ingrain the importance of leadership as a calling.  Civilian leadership might be felt intensely, but loyalties in business change far more often, and less ceremony is present at changes of rank.  The stakes are just not the same–or–are they?  Not in this book, anyway, which discusses civilians as “average citizens” (surely another timeworn terminology).  Here, the mantle of leadership is reinforced as a vow to a nation and each and every one of its citizens; most other kinds of social leadership do not incorporate this vow.  Since this book was written before the Vietnam War became a domestic contention as well as a foreign war, the book reposes confidence in society’s approval of the military.  Since 1967, society has been shown to waver, but the standard for the military has not (probably) wavered in this ideal form. And they probably shouldn’t, since the qualities of leadership as stated on the commission are four universal virtues: patriotism, valor, fidelity, and abilities.

Patriotism:
According to AFO, we can assume patriotism–“either a man loves his country or he would not seek commission at its hands, unless he . . . serves in order to destroy.”  However, the patriotism of the ASO also incorporates Samuel Johnson’s quote of patriotism being the last refuge of the scoundrel [ ], and gives a list of the historical thinking about the military which affects its quality.  They also seem to serve as the reasons for US military patriotism.

To summarize: Officers are innately noble and honorable, but not taken from one privileged social strata.   The U.S. considers first the dignity of man rather than a top-down approach to the rank and class.  Mutual respect is the order of discourse; an abiding interest in all aspects of human welfare.  Historically, we fought against and still despise impressment, floggings, “martinetism”, and other Old World practices.  Furthermore, the book encourages military men to despise war just as they prepare for its inevitability. [3-5]

Valour
Unlike patriotism, the ASO does not take valour as axiomatic: “. . . it is not given to any man to know the nature and depth of his personal courage.”  [3]  The reason that valour seems to flourish is in the “indivisibility of interest” within its cadres; or for us average citizens, a sense of responsibility to the team inspires courage under fraying or dire conditions.

Abilities
Like valour, abilities are individual: “Abilities vary from man to man, and are partly what heredity and environment have made them.  If nature had not imposed a ceiling, mere striving would make every man a genius.”  This pretty much leaves out the effects of schooling and training.  It also leaves out the subtext of this chapter, which is continually-renewing but the inculcation of a specific value standard through the fourth quality: fidelity.

Fidelity
According to ASO, it is fidelity that drives the other virtues, and it is the virtue that one chooses to embrace: a “derivative of personal decision.”  This entails self-examination: that person’s personal principles; the new requirements of his position; the common sense reasons behind these requirements.  In other words, one’s personal inclinations and abilities have to meet not just the expectations, but be integrated fully, i.e., personally, where the rules meet not just the road but the heart.  [3].  In a strange way, it forces a kind of stoic subordination at the same time it challenges one to find a personal style of loyalty.  Leadership by example, for instance, incorporates in my experience both obedience and intiative.  But ultimately this book calls to some spiritual quality to a practical, gear-filled career:

But it is well-said that the only truly happy people on earth are those who are indifferent to money because they have some positive purpose which forecloses it.  Than the Service, there is no other environment more conducive to the leading of the full life by the individual who is ready to accept the word of the philosopoher that the only security on earth is the willingness to accept insecurity as an inveitable part of living.  One thought should be added: There is no surer portal to inner peace than the knowledge that one is participating fully in moving forward the great undertakings of one’s day.  It is the cornerstone of character. [7]

The Meaning of Leadership:
Overall, to me patriotism is an awareness of one’s community and background.  Like the ASO, I don’t believe in jingoism or unthinking relations to what one is born to know.  My relation to my society is a kind of loving attachment/exasperation, but it remains inescapable.   The kind of leadership espoused here is, for lack of a better term, a kind of “servant leadership” which I am not stupid enough to think is universal in the military, any more than it is universal in the civilian world.  Nevertheless, this kind of leadership does represent the most decent kind; leadership by example, its twin, remains the most effective.   Furthermore, the belief in intensity of personal commitment, the sense of a “calling” makes this type of leadership sacred.  It is also as exhilarating to those who have it as it is convenient for those who can use it.  Sometimes this is termed “right livelihood”.  To me it represents the irresistible highest and best one can achieve, the place where the constant interflow of what is asked and what is answered remain dynamic and create a whole person.  And this chapter ends with what this might ultimately mean:

Loyalty to Service, like any other ideal, should not be a dogma but a clear-eyed faith. [12]

It is ultimately, whether in the armed services or not, a faith of contention with one’s self and one’s environment–it is also a path–to me, it is an irresistible prospect to be as human as possible.   Its great failing is that those who have achieved this great dynamic can be used in lesser endeavors–which is why the “clear-eyed” portion of the above remains essential.

See also: Introduction & Forward to this Series 
  Next week: Chapter 2: Forming Military Ideals, pp. [13]-[26] . . .

The Armed Services Officer.  (1960).  Office of Armed Forces Information and Education, Department of Defense.  DoD Pam 1-20/DA Pam 600-2/NAVPERS 15923A/AFP 190-1-12/NAVMC 2563.

I collect U.S. Military texts, when I find them at used book stores.  Rather than military history, I look at them as military cultural studies.  I found the above book (hereinafter called AFO) at a charity book sale, and purchased it for USD 1.  I am not military material in either temperament or inclination, but I find this book to be an interesting guide to comportment, skills, and qualities necessary for leadership, whether in the military or out of it.

From the Foreword:

The Armed Forces Officer is a guide to the philosophy, ideals, and principles of leadership in the United States Armed Forces.  Although intended primarily for junior officers newly embarked on their commissioned careers, the book should be of value to officers with longer experience.
This volume, originally published in 1950, has been revised and brought into line with recent concepts of warfare and military leadership.  It deals with the two major roles of the officer–as a leader of men, and as a loyal, efficient member of the Nation’s defense team.    . . . 

This edition of AFO is written just at the beginning of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam WarWACS in Vietnam.  The original 1950 date, and 1960 date of revision also sets the social context:  On July 26, 1948, President Harry Truman ordered the desegregation of the military by race.  1960 is however, before the full spate of civil rights movements in the U.S. were formulated for race, gender, and sexuality.  This battle of course is far from finished.  As a woman, I understand that the phrase “officer and a gentleman” or “leader of men” rather ruthlessly excludes my sex from consideration.  Nevertheless, I am undeterred. 

AFO, with whatever shortcomings it may have, contrasts favorably with most self-improvement books I have seen, sold, or read: these books are generally of two varieties.  The first type is experiential: name your feelings, know your weaknesses, understand your words.  The second type is just brutal: do what you’re supposed to do and stop whining.  The AFO instead appears to marry command with self-command far more intimately.  Its purpose marries the practical and the aspirational; its tone is sensible, matter-of-fact, and understated.  For this reason, I have chosen to view the non-inclusion of my gender in the book as a charmingly antediluvian and frequently humorous reminder to read critically rather than a barrier to reading it at all.

As “a scholar and a lady”, I equally wish to have facility with problems of rank and management; greater self-discipline; a noble and gallant spirit. 

If you check back periodically, you will find posts on my exploration of the 26 chapters of this book on proper living of the junior officer.  Its category will be ASO-1960. 

I welcome discussion from all comers, like a virtual book club.  One audience I would be interested in hearing from would be world military personnel, who might describe how this philosophy has changed or been adapted to new circumstances or other countries and cultures.  Those who have had to use or discard these ideals, or change how they formulate them under critical conditions are especially encouraged to write in (if you can stand it, anyway).  Another valued audience (and not mutually exclusive, either)  may want to challenge the book’s moral certainties, philosophies, and talk about alternate views.  All are welcome.  Most of all, I think it will be both fun and instructive to revisit the ideals of 1960, decide which are timeless, and which have passed into the dustbin of old assumptions. 

Whatever of these ideals and behaviors we might embrace or toss aside, examining them will surely make us better persons.  Studying them from the assertions of nearly fifty years past might also help us understand our own cultural milieu, through a prism of time and/or cultural tradition.

My version is 250 pages: there is a 61-page updated version on the Internet.

Photo: MAJ. KATHLEEN 1. WILKES AND SGT. 1ST CL. BETTY L. ADAMS, the first WAC military advisors in Vietnam, observe the issue of uniforms to members of the Women’s Armed Forces Corps, Republic of Vietnam, 9 March 1965.  From Chapter 9 of Betty Morden’s  The Women’s Army Corps, 1945-1978.