Uncertain Future – Part III – Online Harassment

Beginning in August 2014, a the hashtag #GamerGate [6] began to form. It was began by groups of video game enthusiasts on differing camps of the politics of gaming. Those on the side of Gamergate gave the stated purpose for it to be combatting political correctness, censorship, and poor journalistic ethics in video game reporting. Specifically, many organized their efforts to target several female members of the gaming community for attacks against the genre norms and values. In retribution, these women and commenters denied the ethical basis and condemned the affair as misogynistic, which then led to reprisal attacks from across the internet world.

The roots of the debate began as a progressive pull to make  females in video games less… um… genetically improbable babes.

Designers and other feminist gamers argued against the exploitive nature in which females were depicted in many games, showcasing outrageous body types, and surfacing new controversies like “Same Armor/Same Stats” and “Less Armor/More Protection”.

So yeah, anyone who argues that is pretty much arguing, “I want more boobs! Don’t take away the boobs!” Granted, in the defense of the status quo, some interesting arguments did come out  deeper than merely, “Save the boobs!” Many Gamergates, argued that coming down on developers was a legitimate attack on free speech, while others decried the very nature of political correctness for gaming. Perhaps the best I had yet heard gave a rather remarkable feminist appeal by asking whether a very popular, and famously buxom, character from the 1990’s should be “reduced” for the upcoming remake. The argument there was that to retool, some said sensor, a character which is already well known on account of her body type is an attack on anyone who legitimately has that body type. In this case, it sends the message that simply having large breasts or long legs is wrong, and something to be ashamed of.  [7]

I honestly didn’t know if I just heard a masterful counterargument supporting both sides of the controversy from the feminist perspective or simply some grade A BS. Regardless, many of the feminists dismissed such views outright, some retaliating through the absolute attack on what it meant it meant to be a “gamer”, coinciding the meaning with being synonymous with misogyny. This, as it should surprise no one, led to a greater and greater tit-for-tat assault on both sides. More joined the Gamergate cause simply in opposition to the radical feminists among those who in over the top demonstrations, stated that all those who don’t agree with the narrative of the feminists were misogynistic, and eventually homophobic, racists, and bigoted.

That was wrong, but what happened next disappointed many as conversation wasn’t the only thing that came out. Users operating, mostly anonymously via sites like Reddit, 4Chan, and 8Chan, began attacking against leaders on both sides taking the stances that games need to redirect. The attacks eventually grew to threats, including the threat of rape and murder for many of the feminists, and threats to have get many of the Gamergaters fired from their real world jobs. Most of us were surprised it got as bad as it did as fast as it did. I wondered why so many gamers became so visceral in their attacks against activists in the industry, or even just their defense of the boobs. I, along with much of the rest of the gaming community with large internet followings, just wondered with surprise how it got that bad.

And that is what is really scary about online security threats like these. People online can get really mean, hateful, and even cruel. I’m not talking about calling you an “asshat” cruel. I mean subjecting people to the constant barrage of hate that results in  IRL (in real life) ugliness. There is even a hashtag going out on snapchat called #TBR. For those of us blessed not to work with children on a daily basis, you’ve probably never heard of #TBR, but it stands for To Be Rude. Literally, it is nothing but children being hateful to one another, insulting one another in “secret”, via Snapchat. Snapchat is a novel tool for kids because it allows sharing of content that will “delete” after a predetermined time or number of views, and only to those you choose. I suppose this may be useful to revolutionaries fighting against totalitarian regimes, but mostly kids just use it to post pictures of themselves naked and be monsters to one another. It sort of explains the ghost icon, though; a hint of secrecy.

Now where this fits into the GamerGate controversy was that we didn’t just see children acting like children. We saw adults acting very maliciously with the intent to cause fear and psychological harm, with the intended purpose of manipulation. By most accounts, that’s terrorism. What made normal, boring actually, twenty and thirtysomething year old gamers turn into, well let’s call it what it was, terrorists is a question we all need to answer, but it is probably the same reason kids use snapchat to post hateful videos instead of Youtube.

Not getting caught.

In both cases of Snapchat or #Gamergate, the offenders function behind a wall of protection from authority. For middle schoolers acting badly, it is really no different than any other time when mean girls said mean things when no teachers were around. With #Gamergate, we saw something very different. Grown adults behaving online in a way they never would in the real world. Many attribute this to the anonymous nature in which they gathered, communicated, and executed their “operations.”

Anonymity on the internet is an important thing if for no other reason than to understand how people act when functioning under the guise of anonymity. Dr. John Suler is a Professor of Psychology and has written on the subject of online behavior. In his paper The Online Disinhibition Effect, Suler argues that those on the internet are able to disconnect from their normal behaviors and can frequently do or say as they wish without fear of any kind of meaningful reprisal. An example being most Internet communities, even one such as Quora which uses real names. The worst kind of punishment an offender can expect for bad behavior is being banned from interaction. In practice, however, this serves little use; the person involved can usually circumvent the ban by simply registering another username and continuing the same behavior as before [8]. Suler calls this toxic disinhibition.

CB radio during the 1970s saw similar bad behavior:

Most of what you hear on CB radio is either tedious (truck drivers warning one another about speed traps) or banal (schoolgirls exchanging notes on homework), but at its occasional—and illegal—worst it sinks a pipeline to the depths of the American unconscious. Your ears are assaulted by the sound of racism at its most rampant, and by masturbation fantasies that are the aural equivalent of rape. The sleep of reason, to quote Goya’s phrase, brings forth monsters, and the anonymity of CB encourages the monsters to emerge.

Suler’s work was a brilliant synopsis, but we on the internet need a simplified version. “John Gabriel’s Greater Internet F***wad Theory” was a posted comic strip by Penny Arcade. The post regards reflects the unsocial tendencies of other internet users as described by the online disinhibition effect. Krahulik and Holkins, Penny Arcade’s creators suggest that, given both anonymity and an audience, an otherwise regular person becomes aggressively antisocial. [9]

How this relates to security is obvious to those who have experience it. The internet can feel like an unsafe place sometimes. The internet can be an unsafe place sometimes. Looking to the long term effects of bullying that are being better understood every day [10], sometimes I wonder if this place I’ve called a second home is a place I want my kids to play on. Most of us who are active on this playground understand this as the status quo, but in the future of internet security, the debate will center around the freedom to be private and the freedom to be anonymous. Many fear, given precedence, what may happen under this veil of anonymity. I can’t help but agree that his is a rational concern for many. Sometimes the internet comments go far beyond words or threats, which carry lasting psychological damage to some of the victims, but transforming to very legitimate real world threats. What this will mean for the future is that companies is deciding what kind of culture they want to deal with. For the internet to stay the internet we want to be on, we may see more companies adopt guidelines like Quora’s, with it’s real names policy and Be Nice Be Respectful Policy, a place where people feel welcome and safe to exchange and interact.

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Uncertain Futures – How Safe Will You Be and How Security Will Change in the World of Tomorrow

I’m starting a multipart series on what are the biggest ways in which the world will be be different 20 years from now, with a key focus on how changes in the security fields will impact all of our lives.

When you ask most people what the groundbreaking “X-factors” of the future will be, they’ll say many wildly bold, exciting, and optimistic predictions of a future not far from us today. So far, answers to that question have ranged from technological leaps in machine automation, biotech, robotic swarms, and 3D printing; to social evolutions such as the conversion to all credit economies, an end to diseases, the post-scarcity, and new levels of international individual equality. Yet more promise better governance via more openness, and even a possible end to war through an even more interconnected world. Of course, others are going the other direction with predictions of diseases we haven’t yet discovered, or worse, haven’t yet invented. Some warn weapons too terrifying to detail. Others have echoed cautionary tales against the possible destruction of us all through climate change, energy crisis, nuclear devastation, and now to add to the list… radical religious fundamentalism.

As I examine the answers I wonder to myself what the odds of any one of these outcomes may be. Some seem well thought out, bringing in insights from brilliant minds. Some are simply ridiculous. I am left, however, with one surreal and terrifying truth… at least a few of them will be right. Some of these predictions, wild as they may be, will come true. The sad thing is, we aren’t really sure which ones. All we can be sure of, is that there will be change. Change, however it happens, is the one certainty among all this speculation.

Change will most certainly come, but it won’t come alone. After great change, there is always a period of disruption. Disruption is often used in Silicon Valley to symbolize the moment one company strikes it rich by finding an unknown vacuum to fill, a need to satiate, or dismantling an inefficient system. For many others, it is the fear that automation will leave them and millions of others out of a job and no hope to fill it. To some governments, disruption means a protest of thousands of angry and jobless people turning into a riot, or even a full blown rebellion. Disruption may be in the creation or destruction of entire industries, or as has been the case very recently, entire regimes. Most of the world has already experienced a decade pass where we feel less safe, less secure, and less sure that some catastrophic event won’t destroy our lives in the blink of an eye or the click of a mouse. Likewise, many millions have already felt the effects of change destabilize their nations with ramifications that will echo for years to come. Many of the other answers to this question have illustrated why, whether they intended to or not.

Consider a case study in change and disruption that was the Arab Spring of 2010. Then, new technology gave way to empowering the youth of several nations with information. A wave of democratic energy swept across the region. Caught in this wave were dictators over nations like Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria. The world watched in amazement as millions upon millions flooded streets to demand change. To them, change indeed came. In several nations, reforms are taking root, and dictatorial regimes have been replaced, if not ousted entirely. Millions are indeed living freer lives.

But…

At the same time, today there are three nations currently gripped in struggles of civil war, numerous uprisings already violently crushed, millions already killed, and many tens of millions of people displaced from their homes both nearby and across the world. Worse yet, chaos and anarchy in the region formed in the void of power that once existed under the despots who ruled there. In that void grew medieval death cults bent on absolute devastation and the full scale disruption of the Western world, for no other reason than that the West needed to be disrupted. Today, news of the Middle East centers only on one word – Chaos.

This isn’t to say that change is necessarily a bad thing, nor even that the disruption that change brings is evil in itself. It is just acknowledging that change happens, and that where change occurs, not far behind it, disruption is sure to follow. Finally, where disruption takes place, as we have seen in Middle East, instability is sure to follow, as well. It is this instability that leads to the crises which we hear about daily, and this instability that creates an ever widening gulf between where are today and the world we envisioned for it twenty years ago. Furthermore, as we experience yet more change, the kinds of technological, social, and political changes highlighted over and over throughout this question, instability will build upon itself, sometimes making way for progress and improvements, but other times, most of the time, preparing the ground for the kinds of horrors that only come from the vacuum where order once existed. It is in these environments desperation happens, and the kind of dangerous actions take place which only further dismantle everything. We see a model of this in Syria, where a desperate leader does unspeakable things to his people, to stop rebels and religious fanatics, all empowered by modern technology, both military and civilian. From the chaos of that nation we have seen yet more chaos spread far beyond when millions fled to Europe, bringing with them terror hidden as one of the refugees.

For this reason, the real “X factor” won’t be any one technology or suite of technologies. It won’t be an idea or a revolutionary act of governance, nor will be the culmination of one single ideological movement. The real “X factor” will be how we deal with all of these changes that are sure to come. How do we deal with change which could come from any source, at any time? How can we continue our operations when others fall into chaos? How do we guarantee safety when we have no guarantees on what tomorrow will look like? The world will change, but it will be the people who can adapt to that change that will survive it the best. Those people are going to be the ones who protect themselves, their communities, and their assets. As others fail and a little bit more chaos is built, these groups and individuals will be those who provide the long term stability needed and become anchors in ever changing worlds. For that reason, the true “X-factor” in the future will be the force, in all its forms, that allows the most positive change for the greatest numbers of people, while preventing the kinds of negative change that pulls us all a little bit closer to the abyss.

The factor, is security.

But wait, security isn’t something that is “possible.” It is everywhere around us already. While I would agree, this answer will seek to explain just how good our security needs to be in the future, and how it has failed us today. More so than this, I want to show all the needs we have for security already, and how improbable it is that we will live in perfect peace in the next twenty years. Internationally, 2015 saw a surge in terrorism born from conflicts in the Middle East. Attacks in Paris, one at the beginning and again the end of the year, along with another in California, woke many in the West to the present threat that exists when terrorists inspired by jihad overseas are brewed at home. The year also saw tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of individuals hacked in some of the largest information attacks in history. Going beyond this, privately operated drones are now being empowered not only to deliver mail to our doorstep, but to look right in on our lives, as well. What this means for today is a desperate scramble to attempt to find a new normal which we can all feel a sense of peace. What it will mean in the next twenty years is a complete change in the way we see the security industry, and scale which we deal with it in our daily lives.

The rest of this series will be dedicated to listing some of the ways the security industry will need change, and how those changes will affect off all of us. Perhaps more than the question asked, this answer will leave you realizing one truth. Anyone can handle when something goes right, and some new technology makes your life better, but who is going to be left when everything goes to Hell?

Marine Corps given 15 Days to Rebuild Boot Camp as Co-ed

I recently wrote a long piece on Women in the Military over some major changes to the way that the US Marine Corps is going to fight its wars. Over the last few months there has been a massive shake-up in the US Marine Corps, in what some, including myself, are calling heavy handed, dictatorial, and perhaps even ill-advised decisions to “modernize” the most lethal warfighting organization in the world. This criticism, however, doesn’t relate to opening of the infantry to women, however, but to other demands for change also placed on the branch this month.
Between December 4th and January 6th, two major Department of the Navy memos were sent out to key commanders of the Marine Corps by way of Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. The first, was the groundbreaking decision, one made against Marine Corps recommendation and against the recent findings of numerous studies performed by the Marines, to fully integrate women into all combat roles. Many of us are undecided on whether this is a good thing for the military overall, not knowing if the added value of a few good women will significantly increase the number of capable warfighters, or whether their contributions will not outweigh the potential loss of manpower risk posed by events such as their increased rate injuries or eventually starting a family, as well as the logistical burden an integrated force will have on deployed forces.
It’s a future that I personally would like to see, but having read from many differing accounts, I have many concerns. I’ve attempted to voice many of the problems and conflicts such a decision would bring about for the armed services. What I, and many Marines, have a problem with, is the way in which this process of inclusion was done. I find that the manner in which this decision was made was in such a way as to serve as a great disservice to the military as a whole, the Marines who took part in the studies, and even the women in question. Frankly, there has been a great deal of evolution and debate, but most of the key issues I’ve had since the beginning have been completely ignored by recent policy enactments. The question isn’t being asked, “Is this a sound policy for the future of the Marine Corps and American national security?” Instead, we are promoting women in the forces not because it helps the nation’s military, but because it helps the cause of women. While I am supportive to the cause of women, as a veteran of the Marines, and knowing that their struggles are not of equal pay in the workplace, but of the chance of death or living a life of dismemberment and trauma, my loyalty in this regard goes to them. If the cause of women can be helped, that is a wonderful thing, but if such a policy harms the chances of mission success overall in the military, or the survivability of any of the Marines, both male or female, it shouldn’t be supported.Right now, we still hang in the balance of not knowing what women in the infantry will mean. We simply don’t know, but the gavel has fallen anyway, and those who question the ruling, are currently facing the hangman’s noose of social justice. This, I feel, was a detrimental failure in the administration, whereby an attempt to force the matter prematurely was made, not in an attempt to better the forces, but due to political pressures aimed around promoting equal rights, but in a realm where equality rights was never the issue to begin with.
The idea of women serving on the front doesn’t honestly bother. I hope it works, I sincerely do, though as I have said before, I am very disappointed that the Marine Corps was forced into the integration prematurely in the manner in which they were. As I said in the answer before.
What I can say is that I don’t feel that the way in which it happened was correct. Blindly ignoring the studies and experience of the world’s most lethal organization in the area they excel above all others was a failure. More so, I don’t think this had much to do with what is best for the Marines, or the military as a whole, but of political expediency to further the political aims of a few politicians. The manner in which the rug was pulled from beneath the Marines was one that will leave lasting conflict within the service. Instead of welcoming the women into their new roles, they will be forced into it artificially. The manner in which this decision was made, quite honestly, was too soon, for all the wrong reasons, and a disservice most of all, to the women who will be first to enter this role.
That’s all I want to say on the December 4th announcement, though I would encourage everyone to read the full article for in depth analysis of the decision, and the debate over it, as well as the way in which it was handed down.
What actually concerns me far more is the more recent announcement that Marine Corps boot camp, will be forced to fully integrate with coed training. This mandate was one which I consider to be exceptionally ill-advised for reasons I will explain throughout the article. More so than this, it was mandated in what is being called conservatively as an “aggressive timeline” where massive changes to the Marine Corps most important institutions are being given only fifteen days, from January 1 to the 15th, to completely redesign the training method, as well as many of their facilities, and to have the entirely new approach in operation by April. I want to be honest, I was cautiously optimistic about the call to open the infantry to women, but I feel that this newest policy is a complete failure on the part of the person charged with safeguarding not only the men and women of the Marine Corps, but also their future success as a military force.
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How is this different from today?
Currently, Marine Corp basic training is segregated by gender. Male Marine recruits are trained in San Diego, CA or Parris Island, SC. All female recruits are trained in Parris Island, as part of the 4th Recruit Training Battalion. 4th Battalion Marine recruits enjoy (term chosen loosely) the same facilities and training as their 1st – 3rd Battalion male counterparts. They eat at the same facilities, hike the same routes, shoot at the same ranges, and live in identical barracks to the men. The only aspect noteworthy to boot camp that is very much different than the rest of Marine Corps training, is that men and women do not mix in boot camp.
To begin, I’ve dedicated a great deal of time and effort to communicating how Marine Corps boot camp works, why it works, how it is different from that of other branches, and namely, why it produces the largest crop of the highest caliber warfighters alive today. You can read much of that here: What is the logic behind making military boot camps so intensive? What I have come to learn is that the way that the United States Marines produce warfighters in unparalleled among all other military organizations of our era. No other training environment creates in its basically trained warriors such a high degree of exceptional fighters. This is due, in no small part, to its mastery of psychological factors and incentive training system, regardless of the world famous rigor highlighted in every evolution of their training. It does this, as I have said either, with identical training, facilities, and expectations of both its male and female Marines, with no policy that discriminates against either, nor hinders their career development. This isn’t to say that there is forever exclusion between the men and women, but only during the formative months of boot camp, where they are still learning to be Marines, rather than just a collection of individuals.
For example, immediately after boot camp in the Marines, there is the School of Infantry (SOI) and Marine Combat Training (MCT). These schools teach basic infantry tactics and abilities to all Marines. The School of Infantry focuses on Marines whose primary job is infantry fighting. I’ll say this, since it is basic job training, by this point, it should be fully integrated to the best of the SOI’s ability, i.e. the same as Army boot camp is now with separate billeting, but the same on everything else. MCT the same way, if it isn’t already done so on the East Coast. Likely, since the December mandate opening the infantry, we will start to see this very soon, anyway. The only reason there are probably no women in SOI now is because those who joined in December, aren’t even through first phase of boot camp. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if the first batch of women start showing up at SOI in the early spring.
This would mirror how training is already done at all other MOS (Military Occupational Schools) and has been done for many, many years. There women who have completed their MCT training, join men in completely the same training, in the same platoons, same, same, same. We even had a women who was one of our squad leaders. This was back in 2004 and this, is why I argue that the Marine Corps doesn’t have an integration problem. Their job training saw men and women treated equally and with the same responsibilities, and since MOS school is often much longer than boot camp, I fail to see how this training is being overlooked, as if the first time a Marine sees a female of the species is when they show up together in Iraq or Afghanistan.
At all times where men and women have been employed together, they trained together. The soul exception being that of boot camp, which I have said before, is a good thing. “Boots” are immature. Many lack a firm understand of how to be an adult, let alone be a Marine. Few understand responsibility and are realistically, still kids. Of course there are many who are not this way, but many who need the military to grow them up. They need the three month intensive period to learn to operate as a Marine before they learn to operate in the Marines.
What is being proposed, is that this needs to change. No… “proposed” would imply that there was a discussion, where the legitimacy of such a system would be talked about, the experts on both sides would have made valid and respected arguments, and that it might be possible to consider that the world’s premier force perhaps has more understanding of how to produce world class warriors than those who do not take part in the warfighting profession. Instead, the Marine Corps has been “directed” to “correct itself” by the same Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus.
That said, I have to ask, what possible benefit does full inclusion in basic training possibly offer that in any way improves the quality of service, or even better the prospects of women of the service? I have no idea how creating a training platoon that does not live, eat, breathe, shower, sleep and piss together, as part of a single unit, will lend itself towards the creation of unit cohesiveness for the Corps, nor do I possibly understand how it will improve upon its standards.
The mastery of boot camp is focus. You don’t communicate back home for months. You don’t have access to social media, or media of any kind. You are basically cut off from the rest of the world. There are as few sources to prevent focus as can possibly exist. It is literally just you and your fellow recruits, that insular platoon for three months. As a young newlywed, only having been married not a week when I joined, I understood this hardship greatly, but having gone through that, I understood the need for it, too. You wouldn’t have had the quality of training with more distractions. When you deal with one of the only professions where life and death matters are not a thing of hyperbole, eliminating those distractions matters.
For the types of recruits that willingly go to the Marines, you deal with many of the types that do well in segregated environments. These are the young ones looking for challenge, needing the adrenaline high, and dripping with testosterone. I’ll say it another way that these are the types of young men you don’t trust with your daughters, for good enough reasons. By my estimation and experience, females of the Marine Corps have the same prerogative. They are alphas in their own right, and many come in with just as little natural discipline as their male counterparts. That said, I don’t honestly feel the need these two types of people should be given the opportunity to damage promising careers through integration. That is to say nothing of the thousands of others who would just find it too difficult not to sneak a peak, when otherwise, they would have been fine just paying attention to the instructor give a class that may one day have saved their life or the life of another Marine.
Frankly, adding sexual temptation to the mix doesn’t improve the Marine Corps’s system of creating Marines, as there is a cost/benefit that must be measured. I do not see how “helping Marines integrate” isn’t already served after boot camp through occupational specialty training and through all the training they will undertake together in the fleet, so sacrificing the focus and immersion recruits get from the training doesn’t actually seem like a gain. As I have said before, I do not know how the Army is able to do it.
I’m not alone in asking these questions. U.S. Marine veteran, Captain and Counterintelligence officer Eric Kirsch spoke on the subject. He first made comments in regard to Secretary Mabus:
“The Navy Secretary served for 24 months (1971-1972) in a non combat role within the United States Navy prior to attending Harvard Law School.He issued his memo request on 1 JAN and expects a detailed plan to be delivered no later than 15 JAN, erasing 241 years in 14 days, the United States Marine Corps, compliant to lawful order, obedient and faithful, always, is scrambling to dismantle title, as if it were an gangrenous arbitrary item and they have 5 further business days in which to do it.”
Then Kirsch continues:
“I served with Males and Females and Homosexuals and I’m cool with Transgendered because nothing would make me happier then hearing the frantic stuttering hand held radio transmissions of ISIS fighters announcing the assault of fabulous Marines who also enjoy alternative lifestyles raining steel upon their intolerant bullshit.That said, I believe, firmly, in gender segregation, in basic training….why WOULD YOU NOT SEGREGATE GENDERS? Of what benefit to either gender is mixing the two in initial training? If you got something I do not know about, regarding how it will IMPROVE the Marine Corps, sound the fuck off, I beg you.
Some are calling the act of recruit segregation in basic training just a “tradition”, and Marines like Kirsch simply overly conservative, or worse, dogmatic or even subconsciously bigoted. While some argue the effectiveness of the training, others are arguing that the sentiment is merely steeped in sexist ideology, echoing throughout individual Marines’ careers. Right now, the most logical argument I’ve seen is based on unit cohesion, “Officer and enlisted basic training is the first opportunity to develop the cohesion needed for full integration of women in the Armed Forces,” said a senior defense official with knowledge of the situation.
That word though, “tradition”. I don’t like it. It paints an image of the Marine Corps as having no logical reason for the decisions they make, but just a backward collective of old men who don’t read the news and no understanding of science. The word suggests that there is no empirical data and research with which they base their beliefs upon. Take for example the Marine’s own study on the subject, going on now for a few years, but attacked because, as Mabus said, negative attitudes towards women on the part of those overseeing the research had served to “almost [presuppose] the outcome.” How he justified the validity of that statement, particularly considering that the second senior officer of the command was, herself, a woman, I don’t understand, but he made it clear that he would take no countenance to the Marines’ objections to women serving in combat and publicly dismissed the Corps’ multi-year, multi-million dollar study.
The Marines, however, aren’t the first to study the effects of coed training. Notably, the issue of coed training has been studied before by the Pentagon. In 1997, the Defense Department assembled a bipartisan panel to examine the implications of gender-integrated enlisted training. At the time, the panel concluded that the coed approach used in Army, Navy, and Air Force recruit training resulted in “less discipline, less unit cohesion, and more distraction from the training programs.”
The Marines practice excruciatingly high standards to maintain the quality of troops they have fielded, both male and female, for two and a half centuries. Reports like the 1997 Defense Department study and the recent studies by the Marines are making many in the Marine Corps speculative that these high standards will be maintained in the future, a ramification that could endanger future Marines. One such Marine brave enough to comment on this is Marine General John Kelly.
Asreported by CNS News, “Marine Gen. John Kelly, commander of the U.S. Southern Command, said at a Pentagon press briefing on Friday that he believes that future generals will face “great pressure” to lower the standards for women in combat in order to get more women into combat roles.“My greatest fear—and we see this happen a lot over the 45 years I’ve been in the Armed Forces–is right now they’re saying we are not going to change any standards,” said Kelly. “There will be great pressure, whether it’s 12 months from now, four years from now, because the question will be asked whether we’ve let women into these other roles, why aren’t they staying in those other roles?“Why aren’t they advancing as infantry people—persons–I guess? Why aren’t they becoming, you know, more senior?” he said. “And the answer is–I think will be–if we don’t change standards, it will be very, very difficult to have any numbers, any real numbers, come into the infantry, or the Rangers or the Seals, but that’s their business.”So,” said Kelly, “I think it will be the pressure for not probably the generals that are here now, but for the generals to come, and admirals, to lower standards because that’s the only way it’ll work in the way that I hear some people, particularly, the agenda-driven people here in Washington–or in the land–the way they want it to work.”
Mark Oakley describes how the Army handles coed integration in his answer to How does the US Army conduct coed basic training?
Females are only segregated in their billeting. So they are not in the platoon bays or rooms with the males (unless there is a class going in there…then there are also Drill Sergeants around).Other than this, they are integrated into the squads and platoons and function just as the males do. There are no differences in treatment of expectations. This is exactly the same way it will be once they are out in the Army (and the same way that the other services operate outside of training).
While he is optimistic that the Marines will do fine, I fail to see how this improves the quality of troops that come from basic training or mitigates the perceived problems, where they exist, of female integration. The Marine Corps’ recruit training is also lauded for it’s near perfection in training basically training warriors, as noted in his book On Combat, (Army) Lt. Col Dave Grossman compared its training to the equivalent of many nation’s Special Forces and ranks the basic Marines above that of the average American servicemen. Speaking from the point of view of a retired Army Ranger, I took that statement with a point of pride. What I don’t see being communicated is the understanding that Marine Corps boot camp isn’t designed to make anything other than basically trained Marines. That means that in the three months they are there, they don’t even time to learn basic skills like tactics and most of the weapons systems they will use. It is about taking immature people and through a process mastered by the Marines over a period of more than a century, making them that. Mixing men and women add nothing to this process, and I will argue, take away from it greatly.
Mark Oakley’s explanation that females are only segregated in their billeting, so they don’t share living spaces. He mentions that they do join the men for classes there and that there are Drill Sergeants always around. For the Marines, I simply can’t see how this wouldn’t fundamentally change the way training takes place. For example, so very much training happens in the squad bays, as far as uniforms, inspections, and even drill. Hell, even cleaning the place becomes a semi-religious ritual of team building. Given that, I don’t see how each and every time a task has to be performed, the women have to run all the way down to get the necessary training or team building. There is also the matter of discipline in the squad bays. While few people who haven’t read What is the logic behind making military boot camps so intensive? will understand what is meant by the term “quarterdecking” as miserable as the practice is to endure, it serves the necessary purpose of instilling discipline, perhaps far better than any other single incentive device I have ever seen. It happens mostly in the barracks, in front of the others. You suffer together. It’s part of it. The fact that they have separate barracks, to me, loses something very insular to the boot camp experience and, in the process of driving cohesion… destroys it.
This isn’t to say they should ever live together by any means. One drill instructor reporting on the basis of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak on the subject said, “The thing is how much more integrated can we get? We already train with females. What do they want? Them to live in the same squad bay? Cause that ain’t going to happen.”
There is also the question of supervision. While perhaps the Army does have training that lends itself to recruits being watched all the time, I can say quite easily that on the nights in hikes, I’d be surprised if more than one incident didn’t occur between recruits in the bushes. The deserts at Camp Pendleton are wide enough for privacy and the those swamps at Parris Island aren’t any different. 100% isolation isn’t realistic in those situations, nor 100% of the time is oversight by the few Drill Instructors available. Slip past the firewatch and you can get a lot of things done. Up to this point, I’ve never seen what incentive there was to this sort of sneaking around. To paraphrase Freud, sex is a motivator.
To make it clear, these men and women, the Drill Instructors are tasked with supervision of upwards of eighty people and there are normally no more than three of them. If this were an elementary school classroom, that would be a teacher/student ratio over the legal limit in many parts of the United States, but in the Marines, this ration of leaders to recruits is responsible for the troops safety and instruction, all the while participating in grueling exercises, and often under arms. This isn’t to mention being over them literally 24 hours a day. At some point, among some individuals, a Drill Instructor’s oversight can’t be directed at all times. That is to say, it is 0% acceptable for a recruit to get pregnant with six weeks left of training, at the beginning of a year of training. That simply doesn’t happen in today’s Marine Corps, but the experiences I’ve had in the fleet, I’m sure it will happen soon under Secretary Mabus’ Marine Corps.
That said, Mabus’ directive on integrating boot camp wasn’t sent until after the deadline for infantry integration, a plan which was part of the works for some time. There was no planning done, or consideration made toward changing its entry-level training. Yet the memo dated January 1 indicated that plans to revamp the training system for the all of Marine Corps boot camp needed to be made by no later than January the 15th. A Marine official said called Mabus’ 15-day deadline to come up with a plan to integrate Marine boot camp “an aggressive timeframe.”
It’s called aggressive because, besides the logical impediments to training, numerous others considerations must be made.
“It requires a look at … how much personnel to bring, how many drill instructors to bring, the leadership and support cadre that comes along with that,” the Marine said. “The barracks in San Diego are H-shaped, for example, so you can see everything that’s going on. If women are living in them, do you black out the windows or make an entire building that’s theirs? Do you do a floor for men and a floor for women?”
To say the least, giving only a 15 day time frame to redesign the most crucial training element of any Marine’s career, of all Marine’s careers, seems reckless. To be frank, I’m very concerned that Mabus is risking the efficacy of the world’s premier fighting force for a personal experiment on subjective morality. More so than this, I feel there is no evidence to suggest that this is good for the Marine Corps, in fact it stands against a great deal of evidence to the contrary. I don’t even see how this  definitively improves the prospects for women and their advancement in the military.  Quite honestly, I see no one truly benefiting from this decision to integrate the boot camps besides Ray Mabus himself, and his own political aspirations. Of course, my disappointment in the standing SECNAV is nothing compared to others, such as California Representative Duncan Hunter, a former Marine veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, who has already called for Mabus’ resignation in September and said very clearly that “a greater threat to the Marine Corps than ISIS.”
As I said, I was cautiously optimistic when he decided to make the changes for the infantry, but relatively speaking with this new decision to reform boot camp, an institution in no need of reformation, I’m elated at the decision to bring in women to the infantry. Frankly, I can’t believe that an idea this bad would be considered good by anyone who puts the needs of people who will one day see combat first. That goes for the women, too.
I’ll repeat the closing of What do members of the United States Marine Corps think about the decision to allow women into front line infantry roles? as it rings even more true here than when the infantry was opened to them.
What I can say is that I don’t feel that the way in which it happened was correct. Blindly ignoring the studies and experience of the world’s most lethal organization in the area they excel above all others was a failure. More so, I don’t think this had much to do with what is best for the Marines, or the military as a whole, but of political expediency to further the political aims of a few politicians. The manner in which the rug was pulled from beneath the Marines was one that will leave lasting conflict within the service. Instead of welcoming the women into their new roles, they will forced into it artificially. The manner in which this decision was made, quite honestly, was too soon, for all the wrong reasons, and a disservice most of all, to the women who will be first to enter this role.
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Why Boot Camp Won’t “Brainwash” Recruits

Today, on social media, I was again told that the military only do what they do simply because they are all brainwashed. Don’t we love social media, the place where anyone, no matter what their place on the intellectual food chain, can observe the right to spew forth their ignorance upon the rest of us? This one was elicited because in a conversation about the high-and-tight haircut. Really world? Still, the idea is a one which is a part of veterans’ issues and the public’s perception of us, as well as the active duty troops in the field. “The military are just mindless drones brainwashed into doing whatever they are told.”

Even those who don’t outright dislike the military function under this negative stereotype about us. I received this email once from a follower in response to an article on Marine Corps boot camp training.

I read the boot camp answer (among the first I’ve read on Quora), once again one of the finest you’ve written. You mention how it is a place where you train young people to become warriors and you had written about the procedure. You had written about how everything the instructor do is done with a very specific purpose. Through it all, what is being done is, in a sense, brainwashing these people into running to the sound of gunfire and to kill for their country. Aren’t such people dangerous?

Even a person who at least has a positive curiosity about the US military, has a negative bias that because of our training, we are real threats to society. You ever wonder why so many veterans can’t find work? I don’t really know where ideas like this come from; the idea that someone can blow a whistle or snap their fingers and we will be propelled to fix bayonets and charge to our deaths, or presumably to slaughter some village in the name of the good ole’ US of A. Perhaps it is from movies, such as the 1960’s Manchurian Candidate, themed around a group of soldiers captured by Chinese Communists and North Koreans and psychologically reprogrammed to become mindless assassins at the command of the Reds. The image of a dead-eyed soldier blankly pulling the trigger to brutally murder a fellow comrade, who himself was programmed not even to care about it, to the onlooking Chinese, Russian, and North Korean panel behind, is a scene that will leave a person affected.

I’ve wondered, if it gave people other ideas about the US military, as well. Perhaps it is others, such as the numerous films which depict wave after wave of soldiers allowing themselves to be mowed down senselessly at the commands of inept leaders. Perhaps it is just that most people can’t fathom putting themselves in any sort of risk, so the only rationale they can produce is to assume that the military, people they don’t associate with and of whom none of them understand, could only put themselves in that position because they are having their strings pulled. Of course, maybe it is just people attempting to get back at the guys their girlfriends are really thinking about at night through the use psychologically vague insults to make incontrovertible attacks on the intelligence of others, desperate grabs at regaining their own sense of self-worth.

Who knows, but anyone who has been there, and knows how hard it is to field a band of Lance Corporals eager to avoid the working party to sweep out the motor pool parking lot, knows that Marines are not brainwashed into mindless service. On a more serious note, if you’ve been in the field, you also know that the American military isn’t one to just blindly charge into the killing fields knowing their orders were wrong (that’s a Charge of the Light Brigade reference for those fans of military literature.) Frankly, the longer you serve, your odds of telling some new officer that he has no clue what he is doing grow exponentially… until finally, on that day during Land Nav…

The point is, we in the military aren’t brainwashed into mental servitude to some master class of aristocratic officers or the evil government. Think about it for a moment. Even considering the fact that we have been in conflict for fourteen years, we a much smaller force than you think. Budgetary cutbacks and efficiency requirements have made us a much leaner force of warriors. Yeah, there are still inefficiencies, but given the prevalence of troops engaged in conflicts across the world and the reduced strength of forces, the warriors of today are forced to carry more of a burden, on few shoulders than ever before. What this means is that troops need to be thinking machines. They need to have more leadership and decision making power pushed lower and lower down on the totem pole. This isn’t a new thing, but a continuing process since the evolution of modern warfare began in World War II. Since that point, we’ve seen the power of the battalion shift to the power of the platoon in Vietnam, down to independent squads in Iraq and Afghanistan and continuing to transition to the “teams” of Special Forces operators. Eventually, given the interconnected battlefield that has been one of the focuses of DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the force of today’s Marine Corps squad could be pushed down to the level of a single Marine in the field.

A future like that will require troops who are intelligent and independent. They are going to need to be capable of leading themselves and to react on their own motivation and insights with thousands of split second decisions and no time to relay to a higher command. You simply can’t program a human to be able to react with the diversity of action that will be required in tomorrow’s conflicts. Brainwashing doesn’t work, today or at any other time in history.

I’m writing this prompted by a previous article on indoctrination and conditioning that takes place in Marine Corps boot camp. I described the methods of mental conditioning which are used for recruits and why this isn’t brainwashing, as well as why the military actually can’t afford to have brainwashed individuals running around making our combat decisions for us. The Marine Corps has branded itself as being masters of the art of breaking down the civilian, individualistic nature of an 18 year old kid, rebuilding it and refining him into a warrior capable of engaging men in battle. To do this, there are thousands of imperceptible practices that happen in boot camp that are engineered to change how recruits perceive the world in high stress environments, and how they act on that new information. When a lot of people read that, they translate it as a series of euphemisms that are just clever ways of saying, “brainwashed.” Far too many people relate boot camp to brainwashing. That’s a very inappropriate word to describe what is going on to recruits. Remember that Drill Instructors are not scientists in lab coats performing experiments on children to turn them into killers. Nor are they Islamic State recruiters, wooing potential recruits online then turning to threats of murder and their families annihilation to force their new soldiers’ compliance. They were all once recruits, too.

Brainwashing is the forced removal of will. Clinically, it is defined as a theoretical indoctrination process which results in

“an impairment of autonomy, an inability to think independently, and a disruption of beliefs and affiliations. In this context, brainwashing refers to the involuntary reeducation of basic beliefs and values”.[1]

In an interview for Vox, Steven Hassan—a former member of the Moonies and author of Combating Cult Mind Control discusses the subject of Brainwashing.

Brainwashing was coined in the 1950s about communist indoctrination.  Patty Hearst, for example, was kidnapped out of her apartment, put in a closet, raped, and tortured. She became a member of the Symbionese Liberation Army. She was what I’d call brainwashed, in the sense that, initially, she would have never gone with these people—she was taken by force and quite brutally assaulted.

Brainwashing is a form of conditioning that takes away a person’s ability to perceive and act according to their logical processes. It doesn’t build on those logical processes; it limits them. It is a form of mind control, is always done to reform someone’s thoughts and actions, and are always done against their will.

The conditioning of the Marines, and other similar military training, doesn’t do that. They don’t brainwash as part of their training and conditioning programs. The military doesn’t want to produce robots in places where it needs thinking,  rational minds that can problem solve their way through obstacles, challenges, and against an enemy who is actively trying to kill them, one which is also fully aware. It needs Modern military training doesn’t remove logical thinking processes they have. Instead, it removes barriers to thinking that minds who have not had the training lack, along with the understanding of how it differs from their perception of what brainwashing is. It eliminates the sort of fear that causes humans to collapse in the face of stress. They do this through educating future troops on the risks and dangers, as well as the means available to them to minimize these risks and dangers… like killing them. It, however, preserves the sense of fear to provide rational caution to real threats. Brainwashing could produce fearless warriors, but fear in the correct dosage is a good thing. Maintaining a rational warrior will win far more battles than sending in a human drone. Modern training, rather than programming a human to not sense fear, inoculated them to it, by giving them confidence in their own skills as well as experience in experiencing fear in controlled environments. People become used to stress, so stress doesn’t affect them like it does for other people. This allows them to perform at the best of their ability, using their full cognitive capabilities, and their full reason under dangerous situations.

That isn’t to say that military conditioning doesn’t compare to mind-control. The truth is that many people make the causal connection between mind control and military conditioning because there is a great deal of psychological sophistication involved in the training military members endure. Lt. Col Dave Grossman, a former West Point psychology professor, Professor of Military Science, and US Army Ranger, speaks at length in his book On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society: on the subject of various psychological processes that take place in various military training programs, some with aims of preserving their warriors sense of self and capabilities, others wishing only to produce a force of psychopaths.

The training methods militaries use are brutalization, classical conditioning, operant conditioning, and role modeling.

Brutalization and desensitization are what happen at boot camp. From the moment you step off the bus you are physically and verbally abused: countless pushups, endless hours at attention or running with heavy loads, while carefully trained professionals take turns screaming at you. Your head is shaved, you are herded together naked and dressed alike, losing all individuality. This brutalization is designed to break down your existing mores and norms, and to accept a new set of values that embrace destruction, violence, and death as a way of life. In the end, you are desensitized to violence and accept it as a normal and essential survival skill in your brutal new world.

Classical conditioning is like the famous case of Pavlov’s dogs you learned about in Psychology 101: The dogs learned to associate the ringing of the bell with food, and, once conditioned, the dogs could not hear the bell without salivating.

The Japanese were masters at using classical conditioning with their soldiers. Early in World War II, Chinese prisoners were placed in a ditch on their knees with their hands bound behind them. And one by one, a select few Japanese soldiers would go into the ditch and bayonet “their” prisoner to death. This is a horrific way to kill another human being. Up on the bank, countless other young soldiers would cheer them on in their violence. Comparatively few soldiers actually killed in these situations, but by making the others watch and cheer, the Japanese were able to use these kinds of atrocities to classically condition a very large audience to associate pleasure with human death and suffering. Immediately afterwards, the soldiers who had been spectators were treated to sake, the best meal they had had in months, and so-called comfort girls. The result? They learned to associate committing violent acts with pleasure.

The Japanese found these kinds of techniques to be extraordinarily effective at quickly enabling very large numbers of soldiers to commit atrocities in the years to come. Operant conditioning (which we will look at shortly) teaches you to kill, but classical conditioning is a subtle but powerful mechanism that teaches you to like it.

The third method the military uses is operant conditioning, a very powerful procedure of stimulus-response, stimulus-response. A benign example is the use of flight simulators to train pilots. An airline pilot in training sits in front of a flight simulator for endless hours; when a particular warning light goes on, he is taught to react in a certain way. When another warning light goes on, a different reaction is required. Stimulus-response, stimulus-response, stimulus-response. One day the pilot is actually flying a jumbo jet; the plane is going down, and 300 people are screaming behind him. He is wetting his seat cushion, and he is scared out of his wits; but he does the right thing. Why? Because he has been conditioned to respond reflexively to this particular crisis.

When people are frightened or angry, they will do what they have been conditioned to do. In fire drills, children learn to file out of the school in orderly fashion. One day there is a real fire, and they are frightened out of their wits; but they do exactly what they have been conditioned to do, and it saves their lives.

The military and law enforcement community have made killing a conditioned response. This has substantially raised the firing rate on the modern battlefield. Whereas infantry training in World War II used bull’s-eye targets, now soldiers learn to fire at realistic, man-shaped silhouettes that pop into their field of view. That is the stimulus. The trainees have only a split second to engage the target. The conditioned response is to shoot the target, and then it drops. Stimulus-response, stimulus-response, stimulus-response: soldiers or police officers experience hundreds of repetitions. Later, when soldiers are on the battlefield or a police officer is walking a beat and somebody pops up with a gun, they will shoot reflexively and shoot to kill. We know that 75 to 80 percent of the shooting on the modern battlefield is the result of this kind of stimulus-response training.

These methods of conditioning do seek to rewrite the way that a prospective warrior handles himself on the battlefield, but if you’ll notice, one of these isn’t used in the United States military. That being classical conditioning. There are no programs that I am aware of that seek to utilize classical conditioning to rewrite an American warrior’s basic sensation around a desire for violence. If there was a true thing called “brainwashing” it would be classical conditioning, as displayed by Pavlov’s dog and in media such as the Clockwork Orange or the Manchurian Candidate. As Grossman stated “Operant conditioning teaches you to kill, but classical conditioning is a subtle but powerful mechanism that teaches you to like it.”

I’ll also make this point, when many people see terms like “brutalization” they imagine recruits fresh out of high school tied in chairs being beaten by drill instructors with brass knuckles and bamboo shoots while watching old war movies or images of terrorists. This is wrong thinking as well. Boot camp is, as it should be, a place where young men and women are, for like the first times in their lives, introduced to ideas about the brutality that takes place in war as if it were a science. There the history of conflict is depicted to be studied analytically and the arts of war practiced as matter of course. The recruits themselves aren’t physically brutalized, but they are made aware of the brutality of war and are prepared for that.

That’s why I say that the training isn’t brainwashing. Brainwashing removes a part of ourselves and changes fundamentally what we value on deep psychological levels. It can even be used to transition a reasonable human to one who loves violence and killing by associating it with pleasures such as drink and sex. It is the pervasive and deceptive way of rewriting a human into something else. Boot camp isn’t this. It doesn’t removing anything. It helps a person deal with fear, but it doesn’t remove a person’s ability to deal with other situations reasonably. It doesn’t make you look at your wife differently and it doesn’t make you decide who to vote for. It does give you an increased reaction time to threats, sometimes and instinctive reaction time, but it doesn’t make you want to kill people.

This also explains why military recruits aren’t dangerous or broken human beings for life. There has actually been a lot of studies, once again, at least for America, that have show that average military veterans are much less likely to be the culprit of a violent actions and to become successful members of a community after they leave the service. That is, if they are given the chance. They haven’t lost their reasonable capabilities; they’ve gained the ability to deal with problems that others can’t.

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Continue to Summary – The EGA and What it Takes to Make a Warrior

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The Crucible – On Endurance Training

Among the many training elements that recruits must endure, the greatest obstacle they all must face is one of immense endurance, pushing their physical and mental stamina well beyond anything most of them could have endured before the Marine Corps. This is the “The Crucible”. Everything they have suffered up to this point is needed to push themselves through this final training exercise. By enduring long hikes like this, recruits are trained to overcome pain and fatigue, and to learn how to endure the long haul missions requiring stamina, endurance, and fortitude, rather than the short burst of energy, bravado, and couragousness that are the stuff of movies.

The Crucible, the last of these training evolutions in boot camp, consisting of a three day march totaling around 60 miles. Recruits sleep around four hours per night (if they don’t also have the unfortunate task of fire watch, which most will at some point).  They have been functioning on perhaps two meals over the last three days, not to mention numerous stops to do obstacle course workouts, mock battle simulations, and carrying a huge amount of extra gear and equipment. The entire ordeal is also made all the worse by carrying massive packs with all the recruit’s gear and supplies. This isn’t to mention body armor. In total the recruit will be carrying around 70 extra pounds with him on this journey. The Crucible ends with a climactic day-long final march up a mountain named “The Reaper”, and 10 miles downhill before returning to their barracks, completing the grueling exercise.

The hike sets out before dawn. You’ve been awake for hours and with the first hint of sunlight, you are off on this final exercise. By this time the recruits have been in training for the last few months and are all physically in shape enough for the Crucible’s challenges. Even well rested, it would still be difficult. They, however, are exhausted beyond belief by the beginning of that third day.  Given the ordeal of the last few days, the Crucible is an event that goes beyond physical strength. Mental toughness is what is being pushed here. All the mental trials and training, the pushing, and discipline of Drill Instructors were leading up to a point to test whether the recruit is ready to lead himself. It takes fortitude and a desire to not give up and to not lose face in front of the other recruits, as well as to lose what little respect you have from the Drill Instructors.

There are moments throughout the climb, and even worse on the descent, where you wonder if you will be able to keep going. I for one learned that, even under these conditions, you can still run carrying all this equipment for more than a few hundred yards even while you’re sporting the worst cramp in your leg you’ve ever had. The pain doesn’t actually stop your body from working, you just keep moving and somehow the pain will go away just as fast as if you stopped and cried about it. This mental training is necessary as it will give them the strength to survive much harder and longer training once they reach the fleet, and missions that will test them physically and mentally.

In the end, you’ll be making that hike alone. You might be surrounded, but when it comes to putting one foot in front of the other, you are utterly alone and dependent only on yourself to do it. It will really just be you battling against the constant desire to quit, to give up, or to find a way to escape. This makes you think. You think back on the workouts, the endless IT sessions, the sleepless nights, and all the things you have already overcome. Remembering what it was like with your face was in a sand pit, the last time you did one of these hikes, or the numerous times you’ve conquered the O-course, you’re reminded of your own capacity. Each of these were a reminder of the capabilities you have and are each a piece of providing efficacy towards your belief in your ability to complete today’s long march.

Secondly, when you look around you, all the other recruits are still engaged in the task. It’s much harder to fail when others around you are still going, especially being that these are your friends and peers who you have grown close to and respect. What you don’t know, is that at the same time you are looking to them to keep going, many of them are struggling just as much, looking at you to stay strong, as well. Each of you has the same stone faced determination, which says to all the others, “I got this.” That man is no different than you. If he can do it, I can do it. I find it amazing that when two people who would likely fail a venture on their own, set out together, there is a mutual spirit that carries them to the end of the goal.

Lastly, you learn to celebrate the little victories. You’ll say things like, “Just over that hill” and visually calculate the halfway point, picking some random rock in the middle, and then perhaps some other random rock between that. You focus on just that rock, getting closer and closer until you pass it. A little victory. The little victories add up and push you onward, until you see the barracks in the distance. Now you are counting down until you reach the place you’ve learned to think of as home, and now you have a big victory, one that you will drive you for the rest of your life. Some psychologists would call this compartmentalization, breaking large problems down into more manageable chunks, lessening the burden of fear and creating challenges, which one can be easily overcome on the way to actually impressive feats.

These three skills, ones no one explicitly taught, which can’t honestly be taught, are part of the mental toughness which all Marines require to survive boot camp and the trials they will face later on in their military career – Looking back at obstacles already conquered as a reflection of your strength, looking to your peers for motivation, and compartmentalizing problems to be better able to handle them. These skills one learns through the osmosis of Boot Camp. They are skills Marines will use for the rest of their lives, but which can’t truly be ingrained in a person until they’ve experienced the process by which mental toughness is forged. It will not be easy, but when they reach the top of the mountain, they will have completed the most important major obstacle and last right of passage to becoming a Marine.

Continue to Why Boot Camp Won’t “Brainwash” Recruits

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They are Called “Drill” Instructors for a Reason.

Act and Think as a Unit

Drill, or the endless marching about that is synonymous with military life, is part of the ancient traditions of martial culture that, in all honesty, have very little with getting people from place to place. Recruits drill endlessly. It seems like one of the greatest wastes of time ever conceived in an era of satellite guided munitions and 747 delivering us to Kuwait the same day we left California. For that reason, drill is one of the most overlooked elements of the Boot Camp process to nonveterans. Drill was a tool first recorded being utilized by the Greeks to maneuver large armies in necessarily tight formations to fight in close quarters. It was necessary as far back as our Civil War when formation fighting in pitched battles allowed the greatest use of the technology of the era. With the implementation of rifling and field artillery, the marching of formations of troops no longer made sense. With the advent of automated weapons, it’s practice was ended completely on battlefields. Drill, however, still lives on more so as a valuable learning aide for military practitioners, more so even than for being a time honored tradition.

Getting people where they are going isn’t really why we drill. It’s about conditioning a mind to think as a part of a team; to align to it. Drill is refined groupthink where an entire unit of eighty men or women are eventually trained to act in perfect unison. The movements are always performed the same way and at the same speed. The vocal commands of the Drill Instructor initiate, by that point, instinctive reactions in recruits. That is what “Drill” is about. It is the reason for the terms “Drill Sergeant” and “Drill Instructor”.

Secondly, drill still has relevance today by training Marines to focus on the instructions of their leader and to gain unison in their actions. This practice is instant obedience to orders, following instructions immediately without thought, persuasion, or other action. It also teaches the importance of individual action in teamwork. Individual recruits have to master their movements individually, and once coalesced, they achieve something much more powerful as a group. Drill is a sort of metaphor for many things the military hold important: unity of the group, following strong and experienced leaders, precision and excellence, and experiencing the feeling of shared success not achievable by individuals. It’s such an important metaphor that hundreds of hours are literally dedicated to little else, but learning how to walk – as a team.

That still doesn’t make it clear why all these things are rationally necessary today, so I’ll be clearer. When the overarching goal of boot camp is to train recruits to one day be able to function in extreme stress environments, overriding the fear response is the most important things you can do. There are two ways, realistically, to do this; you can train to the point of muscle memory, or you can train obedience. Muscle memory and learning to rely on your skills are good; that’s what gives efficacy in your abilities when you will need them, but even faith in yourself sometimes isn’t enough when you are truly afraid. Fighting gets to be much easier when you see leaders taking action. It’s also much easier to do your job when you’re given direction to do so. It’s basic psychology that the young crave direction when they aren’t sure of themselves. It’s much less known that there are proven experiments showing how simply giving a person an instruction from someone they perceive as being a leader, can be enough to help someone overcome fear and do what, alone, would be impossible for them.

Battle is an extreme example of this. Young combatants look to experienced leaders. More so than this, but battle doesn’t afford the normal democratic processes of debate and rigorous analysis to test out and vet if an idea is good or not. Quite honestly, there is no time, so often when dealing with situations on the ground, the only practical means of resolving a situation is to bank on the person who has the most experience and to do whatever he says immediately.

This is why the military invests so much into ensuring that your brain is hardwired to do just that, listen to the sound of experience and instruction as a default in moments of stress. It is an instinct that saves lives. As time goes on this instinct fades, but as it does, the individual’s experience grows. In time, they are the one with experience and able to lead the new recruits. It’s one of the cycles that works, but one which the civilian world has no comparison for. Why should they? It makes more sense to rationalize things out with charts and review panels when time is a luxury . In almost all military endeavors, this too is true. The military in many ways functions like a huge bureaucratic company.  Sometimes though the necessity to have a culture of people who can simply do what they are told immediately, is the difference between your people surviving or mission failure. For this reason alone, the entire culture of the Marines still devotes countless hours to the art of drill, when most reasoned arguments would argue against it.

Below are three videos I wanted to showcase various phases of recruit training evidenced by their precision in drill movement as a unit. This is a platoon of female recruits a few weeks from the end of their training. They are learning, but still have some time before they are perfected.

Below is a platoon preparing for what is called Final Drill. This is a performance review of their abilities to carry out drill as a platoon. It is one of the most important training events as a platoon and culminates the highest point to test unit cooperation and teamwork. Once again, these are 18 year old men fresh out of high school. There are 80 of them and they have learned to carry out actions involving several steps and intricate footwork… in perfect unison.

Finally, Final Drill.


Continue on to The Crucible – On Endurance Training

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