Different Drummers: Military Unit Cohesion and Its Discontents

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Tad Tuleja
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One goal of military basic training is to replace recruits' focus on their own individuality with an unquestioned devotion to group solidarity. No military unit—whether as small as a squad or as large as an army—can survive unless its members subordinate their personal desires to collective action. This "de-individualization" is evident in everything from dress codes to forms of address, from small-arms drill to a reverence for "proper channels" and "chain of command." To be a member of the armed forces is, by definition, to be subordinate not only to those higher in rank but also to a protocols, regulations, and orders designed to ensure the efficient functioning of the whole.

That's the ideal. In reality, unit cohesion is constantly being challenged by human beings clinging obstinately to their non-collective personalities. Breakouts from the ideal-type norm appear in forms as minor as the creation of mock-official acronyms (SNAFU, FUBAR) and as major as desertion and the fragging of superiors. The essays in Different Drummers, a book I will edit and introduce, will explore similar examples of creative insubordination, seeking to analyze internal dissent by individuals whose military identity is ambivalent or conflicted. The intended focus is not anti-military practices (like civilian marches) but versions of what Lisa Gilman has called the "oppositional positioning" of service members themselves. I'm interested in the experiences of folks who are in the military but not completely of it—of folks who, while loyal to the uniform, still sometimes feel themselves marching (to borrow Thoreau's famous phrase) to a "different drummer."

Currently under review for the proposed volume are studies of AWOL narratives, "wannabe" soldiers guilty of "stolen valor," interservice rivalries that threaten a unified front, bodily "micro-resistance" by U.S. Marines, and a British soldier's declaration of conscience against World War I. If you have a paper or idea that may coordinate with these studies, please email me a 300-400 word abstract by March 1, 2016. I'm particularly interested in considering studies of military humor, media representations of "irregular" soldiers (Rambo, Beetle Bailey), and the experiences of female, minority, and non-U.S. "discontents."

I'm a folklorist whose recent military work includes Warrior Ways (Utah State 2012), which I coedited with Eric Eliason; and Hammerhead Six (Hachette 2016), which I cowrote with Green Beret veteran Ronald Fry. I welcome submissions from fellow folklorists, but also from journalists, historians, and social scientists.