Thursday, June 25, 2009

Potemkin Villages and the Army: or, How The Army Mimics Soviet Russia

Back in the late 1700s, Empress Catherine of Russia toured the Crimea, her new conquest, with a large slew of ambassadors, etc. To impress her and them with how valuable and well developed it was, her military advisor, Grigory Potyomkin, created fake villages along the way-with fires erected in towns no better than stage sets in the distance, to make them look more real.

This plan was adopted by the USSR, when it came to power-visitors, especially from America, who were communist- or socialist- leaning were often shown to specific villages, towns, factories, etc, and told they were typical of their kind in the Soviet Union. In reality, they had been fictitiously constructed or exaggerated to appear the model of happiness and ease, to try to convince the visitors that the system worked.

How is this like the US Army, you ask? Well, yesterday my unit got a visit from the Sergeant Major of the Army, SMA Preston, as well as the Sergeant Major of USAREUR, CSM Beam. They came, ostensibly to view the unit and see how the wounded warriors were doing. I think it's very likely that our unit, and the soldiers who were present, were presented as typical of a WTU, and typical of the soldiers who are there.

The reality, of course, is very different. Our unit has the most luxurious and fully sponsored barracks. The rooms which look so beautiful, far from being available to all soldiers of the kind, are fairly unique. In addition, the mere suggestion of such a visit stops the functioning of a unit-the kitchen was locked up so that no one could use it and potentially make a mess, the laundry room was carefully tidied and soldiers were instructed not to wash clothes-barely to breathe. And the soldiers, of course, were prettied up too. Political dissidents such as myself were hidden away and instructed not to talk to the sergeant majors. A soldier with a soft-shoe profile from injury was instructed to put on boots, as the sergeant majors wouldn't want to see any tennis shoes. A soldier who chose the option not to wear his combat patch as he didn't believe in it anymore was kept away as well-not even an IVAW member, just a regular joe who happened to be frustrated.

The soldiers, far from being typical of our unit, were very carefully chosen. Those who might have issues with how things were being run were also told to stay away-as was a female Military Sexual Trauma victim who had expressed that she felt discriminated against and harassed within the unit.

We were a Potemkin village. A village of happy soldiers who still believe in Army Justice. A village of happy soldiers who still think that our leadership cares about the soldier instead of their own promotions. A village primarily made up of those who might not show leadership that people who are different exist.

I will only say that when people get that out of touch with realities of what they are leading, major problems arise. Our military leadership are the new kings, isolated from the common people and unable to appreciate their views or ideas. Isolated, too, from the democracy and ideals we are all sworn to protect-long-time followers will recognize CSM Beam as one of the individuals who expressed so much interest in my political thought.

It does not serve anyone well-either the Army, the soldiers, higher leadership, or the American public.


Jonn Lilyea said...

So you joined the Army yesterday? Was that your first inspection? Ever?

Army Sergeant said...

No, of course not. But it was the first one I blogged about. I know it's not really interesting to veterans who already know the score, but I do have some civilian readers too, you know.

Anonymous said...

You're so melodramatic all the time! Of course the army is stupid, and erects these facades of perfect happy army life to make the higher ups feel good about themselves. They don't give a fuck if this one lone Army Sergeant "political dissident" knows its bullshit; its so the brass can get their rocks off seeing its authority in action. It's always been that way, and it will never change. If you don't like the army and its perennial nonsense, then why the fuck don't you get out of it? Then you can get a nice civilian job and write these pretentious blogs complaining about how much you hate your tiny cubicle!

Besides, you got it pretty easy right now in your WTU, with or without the occasional inspection. After all, you could be rucking up and down Afghanistan mountain sides all day long, getting shot at from battle-hardened insurgents who want to see you dead. Seriously, you should hear yourself sometimes. You sound ridiculous!

Jen H said...

God isn't it scary how anonymous always has something to one up everyone with. That Anon REALLY gets around!

Anonymous said...

Maybe asking a few of the other soldiers who were there talking with the SMA might give a better more acurate representation of what really happens. This is just one sad persons view of reality.