American foreign policy has come a long way, evolving from the country from the foundation of the American experiment in democracy to the global superpower as we know it. Military and economic power at home not only affect how America sees the world and deals with other nations but also how those countries interact with the U.S.
Many of us know America is a country founded on war with the idea that we, if left to our own devices, could co-exist peacefully with the world and be a responsible player on the world stage. For the most part, we were right. Our early, limited wars we fought with a sense of necessity – to keep the seas free for American merchants to conduct trade and to affirm our independence from the British Empire.
But not every American politician was content with this philosophy.
If the United States had kept every country it invaded, purchased every territory it negotiated, and acquired all the land ever proposed by American politicians, it might span the globe today. Countries like the Philippines, Iceland, Nicaragua, Cuba, and territories like Greenland have all caught American’s attention at some point.
America has a wandering eye. (Quartz – qz.com)
Politicians met with mixed success on acquiring these lands, of course. But the 20th century brought with it great power and great responsibility.
The digital news website Vox made this outstanding explainer video on just how we came from a confederation of colonies to a global superpower – and what might be next with the incoming President, who is known to think a little different.
Watch the video below, and visit Vox’s YouTube page for more. There’s a lot of great history there.
On May 7, 1915, the British ocean liner Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat.
From the first shots of the Great War, Germany was desperate to gain an upper hand by any means necessary. They warned the world that their submarines patrolling the North Atlantic would target any ships belonging to Great Britain or her allies. Germany stated that anyone sailing in the waters around Great Britain did so at their own risk.
On May 7, at just after 2 PM local time, the Lusitania was bound for Liverpool from New York, when two German torpedoes hit the starboard side of the ship near the bridge. The Lusitania went down — and took 1,198 people to the bottom with her in under 18 minutes.
Despite the German warning, with 128 Americans dead aboard the sunken ship, President Woodrow Wilson rejected the German explanation for the sinking in a series of notes to the German government.
Privately, the Lusitania incident turned the President against Germany, convincing him that America should soon be a British ally. It became a key motivator for America’s entry into World War One nearly two years later when, on April 2, 1917, President Wilson would ask Congress to declare war on Germany.
117,465 Americans would be killed in The War to End All Wars.
Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have joined with 1,000 of some of the world’s smartest people in warning of the potential rise of killer robots being used on the battlefield.
“If any major military power pushes ahead with [artificial intelligence] weapon development, a global arms race is virtually inevitable,” reads an open letter from more than 1,000 AI and robotics researchers. “And the endpoint of this technological trajectory is obvious: autonomous weapons will become the Kalashnikovs of tomorrow.”
The letter, presented at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Buenos Aires, Argentina, was signed by Tesla’s Elon Musk, Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, Google DeepMind chief executive Demis Hassabis and professor Stephen Hawking along with 1,000 AI and robotics researchers.
The letter states: “AI technology has reached a point where the deployment of [autonomous weapons] is – practically if not legally – feasible within years, not decades, and the stakes are high: autonomous weapons have been described as the third revolution in warfare, after gunpowder and nuclear arms.”
Artificial intelligence on the battlefield poses many difficult questions, according to the open letter. Besides the possibility of SkyNet, some of the concerns posed by the letter are:
A military arms race akin to nuclear weapons in which nations build smarter and more powerful robots
Killer robots falling into the hands of terrorists
Dictators using such robots for genocide and other violent campaigns
From the outside, the U.S. military is the finest fighting force on earth. For those who have served in its ranks, the reality behind the scenes is a bit different. In fact, most units have tons of gear that is either too old or too dangerous to use these days. But, you can’t throw them out because they’re still sensitive items in someone’s property book. Here are some of the most common.
1. Reagan-era vehicles and their associated items
Maybe it’s the keys to a CUCV that was turned in decades ago but never signed over. Or perhaps it’s a maintenance manual for the M880 Dodge that’s now being driven by a local who works as a contractor on post (still don’t know how he ended up with the keys). Better yet, a starter motor for a deuce and a half that keeps getting signed over from NCO to NCO because no one wants to get rid of something so valuable. This kind of stuff seems to be hanging around in every motor pool across the military. Just hope you don’t have one of the actual vehicles still hanging around. If you do, make sure your SGLI is up to date before getting in it.
Technically, this stuff is still used by the Navy. Even so, it’s mainly the old K-pot that’s officially in use aboard ships. Yet, somehow, these old vests and helmets in M81 U.S. Woodland camo still hang around supply rooms like an annoying party guest that you just can’t get rid of. Naturally, they’re still on the property book and can’t be DX’d either. Introduced in 1983, the Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops was a huge step forward in protective gear from the old M1 steel helmet and flak jacket. However, armor has come a long way since then. The only folks in uniform who should be wearing this stuff is ROTC cadets and that’s only so they can build character.
3. KOI-18 Tape Reader
If you’ve had to account for one of these and didn’t know what it was, you’re in good company. If you’ve ever actually used one, you’re a unicorn. The KOI-18 is a hand-held paper tape reader developed by the NSA. It’s a fill device for loading cryptographic keys into security devices like encryption systems. These days, NCOs just instruct on the history and operation of the KOI-18, but never actually use it. If you did have to use it, and thus burn the tape, you have our sympathies. The tape is thin, prone to jamming, and surprisingly difficult to burn. Most units still have them because of MTOE requirements, so don’t you dare lose track of it.
4. Old laptops
Let’s be honest here. These things can barely run your annual cyber awareness training. The only reason they’re still signed to someone is that S6 can’t (or won’t) take them back. These things are sitting in a drawer somewhere and only come out for property inspections or when someone new arrives and you really want to mess with them. Yes, that is a floppy disk drive. No, you can’t get a new computer.
Glock Inc. plans to sell the pistol it developed for the US Army’s Modular Handgun System program on the commercial market, a company official told a German publisher.
In January, Sig Sauer Inc. beat out Glock, FN America, and Beretta USA–the maker of the current M9 9mm pistol–in the service’s high-profile competition to replace the M9.
Glock protested the decision, which was upheld by the Government Accountability Office, and shortly thereafter released photos of its entries for the program: versions of its 9mm Glock 19 and .40 caliber Glock 23 pistols.
Earlier this month, Dr. Stephan Dorler, managing director of European Security and Defense, a publication based in Bonn, Germany, interviewed Richard Flur, head of international sales for Glock GmbH, based in Deutsch-Wagram, Austria.
Glock, Inc’s one-gun entry for the US Army’s Modular Handgun System program. Photo from Glock, Inc.
ESD: Will there be a version of the Glock Modular Handgun System pistol for the commercial market?
Flür: Yes. We think this is a great pistol and would like to give all interested parties the opportunity to try and purchase it. All costs associated with the development of the pistol were financed by Glock, so it is also possible to market the pistol independently. Of course, we will be able to make good use of the experience gained from completing this project. Some aspects will certainly be reflected in future Glock products.
A Glock official in the US said there is no timeline yet for such a plan.
Don’t like yelling in formation? Well, you can blame one soldier from World War II for all those early morning sing-alongs.
Pvt. Willie Duckworth was a young soldier at Fort Slocum, New York in May, 1944, whose unit was dragging their feet during a march. To pep his brothers up, he began calling a chant to hep the men keep in step and to give them more energy.
The chant was an instant hit on base. The next year, the Army worked with recording engineers to make a V-Disc, a special recording distributed during World War II to aid morale. It was known as the “Duckworth Chant,” on base, but it was recorded and distributed as “Sound Off.”
Many of the traits of today’s calls are apparent in this first cadence. There is a back and forth between the caller and the formation, the lines are catchy, and Jody even makes an appearance (at 2:15 in the video above).
When the USS Wahoo sailed into Pear Harbor on Feb. 7, 1943, she had an odd ornament on her periscope: a common broom. But that broom was one of the most impressive symbols a crew could aspire to earn because it symbolized that the boat had destroyed an entire enemy convoy, sweeping it from the seas.
Flush with torpedoes and no other threats in sight, the Wahoo decided to engage. It fired a spread of three torpedoes but had underestimated the destroyer’s speed. The Wahoo fired another torpedo with the speed taken into account, but the destroyer turned out of the weapon’s path.
And then it bore down on the Wahoo, seeking to destroy the American sub. The crew played a high-stakes game of chicken by holding the sub in position. When the destroyer reached 1,200 yards, the crew fired the fifth torpedo, which the destroyer again avoided.
At 800 yards they fired their sixth and last forward torpedo, barely enough range for the torpedo to arm. The risk of failure was so great that Lt. Cmdr. Dudley Morton ordered a crash dive immediately after firing, putting as much water in the way of enemy depth charges as possible.
But the last torpedo swam true and hit the Japanese ship in the middle, breaking its keel and causing its boilers to burst.
The next day, Jan. 25, was relatively uneventful, but Jan. 26 would be the Wahoo’s date with destiny. Just over an hour after sunrise, the third officer spotted smoke over the horizon and Morton ordered an intercept course.
They found a four-ship convoy consisting of a tanker, a troop transport, and two freighters. All four were valuable targets, but sinking the troop transport could save thousands of lives and sinking tankers would slow the Japanese war machine by starving ships of fuel.
There was no escort, but the Wahoo still had to watch for enemy deck guns and ramming maneuvers. The sub fired a four-torpedo spread at the two freighters, scoring three hits. The first target sank and the second was wounded. Wahoo then turned its attention to the tanker and the troop transport.
The troop transport attempted a ram, sailing straight at the Wahoo. Morton ordered a risky gambit, firing a torpedo at the transport after it drew close rather than taking evasive actions.
After the torpedo was launched, the transport took its own evasive action and abandoned its ramming maneuver. In doing so, the transport presented the sub with its broad sides, a prime target.
The Wahoo fired two more torpedoes and dove to avoid another attack. It was still diving when both torpedoes struck home. Eight minutes later, the Wahoo surfaced and saw that the transport was dead in the water. It fired a torpedo that failed to detonate and then a carefully aimed final shot that triggered a massive explosion and doomed the Japanese vessel.
A few hours later, the Wahoo was able to find and re-engage the two survivors of her earlier action. The tanker and the wounded freighter had steamed north but couldn’t move fast enough to escape the American sub.
The Wahoo waited for nightfall and then fired two torpedoes at the undamaged tanker. One hit, but the ship was still able to sail quickly. With only four torpedoes left and the Japanese ships taking evasive action, Wahoo waited and studied their movements.
When certain they could predict the Japanese ships, the crew attacked again. The first pair of torpedoes were fired at the tanker just after it turned. One of them slammed into its middle, breaking the keel and quickly sending it to the depths.
The crippled freighter was firing what weapons it had at the sub and almost hit it with a shell, forcing it to dive. Then, a searchlight appeared from over the horizon, possibly signaling a Japanese warship that could save the freighter.
The Wahoo carefully lined up its final shot at 2,900 and fired both torpedoes at once with no spread, a sort of final Hail-Mary to try and sink the freighter before it could find safety with the warship.
The final pair of torpedoes both hit, their warheads tearing open the freighter and quickly sinking it before the Japanese ship, which turned out to be a destroyer, cleared the horizon.
The American crew escaped and continued their patrol, attempting to attack another convoy with just their deck guns on Jan. 27 and mapping a Japanese explosives facility on Jan. 28 before returning to Pearl Harbor with the triumphant broom flying high on Feb. 7.
Across southern Ukraine, US special operations forces trained with Ukrainian special operators and conventional US and Ukrainian naval forces during Sea Breeze 2017, July 10-21.
An annual fixture in the Black Sea region since 1997, Sea Breeze is a US and Ukrainian co-hosted multinational maritime exercise.
This year, Ukraine invited US special operations forces to participate, and US Special Operations Command Europe’s Naval Special Warfare Command operators were eager to sign up for the mission.
This is the first time that special operations forces have operated at Sea Breeze, said US Navy Capt. Michael Villegas, the exercise’s director. “[Their] capabilities are extremely valued by the Ukrainians and extremely valuable to the US.”
Naval Special Warfare Command operators were completely integrated into the various air, land, and sea missions that required their unique warfighting skill set. Exercise Sea Breeze is a perfect fit for special operations forces to train and exercise their capabilities, the exercise’s lead special operations forces planner said. “With the support of the [Air Force’s] 352nd Special Operations Wing, we saw a prime opportunity to support [special operations] mission-essential training with our Ukrainian allies,” he said.
He added that naval special warfare units bring a host of unique capabilities into the exercise scenario, such as rigid-hull inflatable boats; visit, board, search, and seizure expertise; and the strongest direct action capabilities available. However, Villegas noted, capability is only one piece of the puzzle when training alongside a partner nation with shared objectives to assure, deter, and defend in an increasingly complex environment.
“In the spirit of Sea Breeze, we come not to impose what we know or how we operate,” he said. “Here, we come to exchange ideas, train towards interoperability and learn to operate side by side should a conflict arise that would require that.”
Achieving interoperability with partner nations and interservice partners is a common objective at exercises like Sea Breeze. But here, the US special operations forces capitalized on it. “Interoperability is our ability to conduct combined planning, problem solving, and mission execution efficiently to achieve a mutually-defined end state,” Villegas said.
Achieving this end state, he added, hinged on US-Ukrainian integration at the tactical level within the special operations platoons, and at the special operations maritime task group level.
“We have combined with our Ukrainian colleagues to integrate their experience and capabilities within our key positions,” he said. “Starting in the command team and further within our operations, communications, logistics, and intelligence departments, we were fully partnered.”
Down at the platoon level, operators fast-roped from hovering US Air Force CV-22 Osprey aircraft assigned to US Special Operations Command Europe, conducted personnel recovery training and boarded vessels at sea.
“Whether it was on the range, in the field, or on the water, these men were a pleasure to work with,” said a US special operations forces platoon commander. “The Ukrainians’ attitudes made this exercise a great opportunity to exchange training and create a strong relationship.”
As with any exercise of this size and scope, there were challenges to overcome to make the exercise a success while identifying tactical and technical gaps in partner capabilities. “The first major obstacle we had, but were prepared for, was the language barrier,” the platoon commander said. “Another was that our mission sets differed slightly from our counterparts’.” To remedy this, he said, he found ways to incorporate the skill sets of each unit in ways to accomplish the mission while building relationships to forge a stronger partnership. As the operators returned from a long day, mutual trust emerged through combined hard work, long hours, and mutual respect for each unit’s professionalism.
“You always want to work with a partner force who is motivated, wants to train, and wants to get better, and the Ukrainian [special operations forces] are all of these,” the platoon commander said.
On the pier here, overlooking the Black Sea, Villegas expressed the Navy’s gratitude to Ukraine for inviting US special operations forces to participate in this year’s exercise.
“[Special operations] participation at Sea Breeze is so important for Ukraine and the US Navy and all the other units participating,” he said. “Our hosts have been incredibly friendly, committed, and dedicated. Their hard work has ensured Sea Breeze 17 was a success, and we are truly very thankful for that.”
Current servicemembers and veterans are some of the most remarkable individuals representing the best of our country.
The beauty of the people who serve in the military is that they hail from all across the nation, have diverse backgrounds and interesting stories about their time in service. Many of these individuals are not just warriors, but they are also storytellers.
For many military members, writing is a powerful tool. This generation’s men and women in uniform have a lot to share and writing about their service gives them the ability to discuss many subjects, display their knowledge and express ideas on current military affairs and strategies that can spark a dialogue.
Writing allows a space for people to illustrate unique perspectives and opinions on topics such as leadership, military books and history, movies and of course personal “war stories.”
Whether you are a young service member who just enlisted or a retired veteran, here are seven websites or blogs that you should definitely bookmark and follow on social media.
1. Angry Staff Officer
Writing under the persona “Angry Staff Officer,” the site’s author focuses on several topics in his blog. From historical events and foreign policy to personal experiences and an examination of current Army doctrine, Angry Staff Officer’s writing is both fun and snarky — but ultimately insightful. Along with running his own site, Angry Staff Officer serves as a contributor to several other outlets, sharing his unique view on several themes. Visit his site and you’ll get a good look at what he’s all about, but his sense of humor really shines on Twitter, so make sure to follow him @pptsapper.
2. Bourbon and Battles
If you are looking for a site that offers lessons on life, current military affairs, history and of course reviews on great bourbon, then Bourbon and Battles is for you. Hosted by U.S. Army officer Johnathon Parker, Bourbon and Battles offers readers firsthand advice on writing, his life as a graduate student, military leadership, and offers new writers a platform to have their work featured. This site is perfect for new military writers to build their prosaic chops. You can also follow Bourbon Battles on Twitter @BourbonBattles and on Facebook.
3. From the Green Notebook
The ubiquitous military green notebook has become the stuff of legend. For Army Maj. Joe Byerly, it is also a source of inspiration for his personal blog called From the Green Notebook. The site serves as a means for the combat arms officer to share his perspective about his time in service and as a way to help develop young military leaders in the digital age. The author dives into a variety of topics such as history, military leadership, and professional development that gives military personnel sound advice on how to to make it in the service. You can also follow him on Twitter @jbyerly81.
4. The Military Leader
Hosted by an Army Infantry officer, The Military Leader is a website that offers resources for both military and civilians to guide their development as leaders and help grow their organizations. From simple articles about helpful tips to help start conversations with subordinates to complex topics such as toxic leadership, the page offers great insight for people of all levels. Be sure to also follow the Military Leader on Twitter @mil_LEADER and on Facebook.
5. Military Writers Guild
A collective of writers lend their years of experience and expertise as a means to share ideas and start a dialogue. The purpose of the Military Writers Guild is to “advocate, collaborate and promote” the current crop of military thinkers. The site features writing and podcasts from brilliant military minds. The individuals who are a part of the Military Writers Guild are so smart, in high school they probably sat at the nerd table in the cafeteria. All kidding aside, this is a fantastic group of people writing about the national security space. You can also follow them on Twitter @MilWritersGuild.
6. War on the Rocks
War on the Rocks is medium for in-depth analysis, commentary, and content on geo-politics and national security. The page features articles and podcasts from a number of collaborators with years of expertise in warfare. If you want to put your thinking cap on and see where U.S. military strategy and organization should go in the next 10 or 20 years, sit back and get smarter.
7. Your Stories, Your Wall
Serving as the official blog if the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, this site features personal stories of those who served in the Vietnam conflict. The blog has great aspects of storytelling and compelling imagery that really conveys the hardships of the men and women who served as well as the family members who were affected by the death of a loved one in that war. Many of these stories on the blog are also centered on the Vietnam memorial itself. This site reminds all of us about the sacrifices of our Vietnam era servicememebrs. Check it out here: https://vvmf.wordpress.com/
The military has its own language of insider phrases and slang terms, and if you use these unique phrases when you are out, civilians around you are probably not going to know what you are talking about.
It can be challenging to transition from the military to civilian life, but you should probably leave these phrases behind when you leave the military. Otherwise, you’re going to get some crazy looks and eye rolls.
1. “Drug Deal” — You can acquire a new piece of gear from a buddy at supply through a “drug deal,” but if you get an awesome new red Swingline stapler like this, Milton may look at you funny.
2. “Make a hole!” — When people are in your way, it’s no longer acceptable to yell out “make a hole,” “gangway!” or “look out.” Just try “excuse me” from now on.
3. “High speed, low drag” — This term sums up a really great piece of equipment that you use while in uniform, but civilians are going to be like:
4. “No impact, No idea” — You may not have any clue how to answer a question, but no one outside of the military is going to have any clue what you mean with this phrase.
5. “Nut to butt” — Let’s just not use this one, mmkay?
6. “Pop smoke” — Now that you are no longer a ninja, you gotta drop this one.
7. “Roger that” — This one is sort of on the fence, and you may be able to say it and not confuse people. But then again, you’re probably not talking on a radio anymore.
8. “Oohrah/Hooah/Hooyah” — Just don’t.
9. “Kill” — Troops can use “kill” for its literal meaning or just as a way of saying “got it,” or “hello.” But if you say this in civilian life, they are only going to hear the literal version and you are going to scare the crap out of people.
The first time I watched Full Metal Jacket, I was in a tent in Kuwait on my computer, waiting for a plane to take me to Iraq for the next seven months. As a Marine, I felt like it was one of those movies I was supposed to have seen by this point, and the lull directly before going off to war seemed like a good time to do it. It left me very confused, in part, because the movie is famous for its actual depiction of war and warriors, but also because it was so very, very incorrect with my own experiences of being a Marine. It was only years later that I began to realize exactly why so much of the movie seemed off to me. It wasn’t a movie about warriors or even about a war; it was a movie trying to make a point, which stuck with the film’s target audience.
Full Metal Jacket was a movie for people who would never see war. It’s an anti-war movie about Vietnam where absolutely every element of war, warriors, the whole military experience, is shown as being something terrible, dehumanizing, and a pointless endeavor to the detriment of all mankind. In 1987 at the film’s debut, such a message was exactly what people wanted to see from a war movie, because that narrative held true for millions of people.
FMJ does many things differently than most other war movies, namely because of the time period it was filmed in. If we look at different eras of the genre we see very different themes. Look at the John Wayne “Sands of Iwo Jima” or anything staring Audie Murphy, especially the one where he played himself, and you will probably be left with a very different feeling than if you were to watch something like Platoon, or even American Sniper. The early era focused on the heroism and unfortunate necessity of war due to the incontrovertible existence of evil in this world. The Nazis’ and Japanese murderous attempts at world left much of the world knowing very well the existence of such evils. For that reason, their movies depicted warriors as heroes and the world as black and white where there were definite evils needing definite heroes to rid the world of them.
Following this, the second major era attempts to break that trend in a sort of genre revolt. War movies began showcases war as a pointless affair, having no meaning than to make people suffer, both the participants and the victims. They go further into personifying the warriors, namely our own, as being universally deeply flawed to the point of being the villains themselves. I’ve heard this was in efforts to make the genre more “realistic” and gritty. It’s noteworthy to also point out that this was the point when war movies were no longer being made by military veterans, and veterans were consulted less and less often in ensuring accurate tellings of their stories. They simply became a medium for artists to tell stories and share their views. Many stories from this period don’t even depict actual events, but only place them within actual time periods, such as the Battle of Hue City. Perhaps this was due to peace activists not involved in the war taking up degrees in liberal arts and film and entertainment. I can only really guess as to why the dramatic shift in war movies, around this time.
The third (the modern era) which I will say started around Saving Private Ryan, is the war epic. Your Black Hawk Downs, American Snipers, even the detestable Hurt Lockers, fall into this category. During that era, all war movies center around 1) Paying at least token respect to the individual troops, while 2) ironically showcasing each as deeply flawed because of the war, be they physically or psychologically broken and 3) never giving credibility to how war may benefit anyone , for example the Jewish people in Germany, the liberated France, or the empowered Kurds of Iraq. Modern war movies are themselves inheriting a stance of only being allowed to say something along the lines of “war is bad” and never veering from that rhetoric, while not socially being allowed to showcase the warriors as the deranged, murderous, barbarians depicted in Kubrick’s film. I guess that’s an improvement. This may be because in the modern era people felt more vulnerable after 9/11 and no longer accepted this view of veterans. It may be that more veterans have more social power to influence the way they are viewed via Social Media, as I am doing now. All that I can say for sure, is that something happened that broke from the way that second era war movies showcased us, from the way modern era movies do, which I am honestly thankful for in spite of many failures still existing in modern movies where veterans issues are concerned.
Having said that, no era is perfectly honest in their depiction of the military or of war. Take for example Black Hawk Down. I liked the movie, but it is filled with much of the spectral of the era while itself being the cinematic telling of one of the greatest modern military research projects in history. To make my point, my favorite line was when one soldier is given an order by a commanding officer, and replies, “But Sir, I’m wounded.” and the Officer replies back nonchalantly, “Everybody’s wounded.” I loved that line, but nothing like it happened in the book, which like I said, is one of the most factual retellings of events in modern history there is, so much so that the Army and Marine Corps have adopted it as part of their reading programs for all non-commissioned and commissioned officers. All that to say, dramatic license for some is embellishment; for others, outright fiction and rarely is it priority to get the story right for history’s sake or to show respect towards the participants.
The honest truth is that all three, the military, war, and the individual warriors are extremely complex, but that complexity is too much for the average movie goer to be entertained in only a two hour sitting. It is far easier to think of the average warrior as either a faceless bad guy, or a broken human because war is so bad, or keep overall ideas simple “War=bad, peace=good” and all things relating to one or the other falling into only one of those two categories. We’ve been made to think that war is some unsurvivable event, either physically or psychologically and that no normal person would be able to endure it, much less that some may see war as necessary and gain satisfaction from being part of one because they know their efforts provided some measure of good to others. (This sentiment in films correlates with the start of the Vietnam War and the end of the first era of war movies). Now, it is very hard for moviegoers to accept a purely heroic, purely rational, purely normal war hero figure because to do that, they have to think of him as an average person, like us who goes for a little while to do something important, unpleasant or not, and then going home to be normal again. Movies like that first present a false view of war and warriors based on stereotypes and tropes, one filled only with suffering and atrocities and with no good reason motivating thousands of rational people at all, then disturbs viewers a second way by making them uncomfortable with the thought, “Could I do those terrible things?” People don’t like that. They don’t want to identify with the common warrior that most of these movies depict. Part of them feels like the bad guy. This was the era in which Full Metal Jacket made its debut.
Having said all this, we can start to get into our conversation on Full Metal Jacket itself.
Full Metal Jacket is the perfect film to showcase second era war movies and the values they were meant to communicate. I am not saying that Kubrick told the truth in the least with the film, nor am I saying his goal was to try to lie to viewers. I think he is just trying to sell movies. He has to make a movie that doesn’t lead viewers into his way of thinking, whatever that may have been, but plays into their already existing biases and beliefs. That is how they identify with characters they know so little about and how they become emotionally involved. Movies don’t make money by correcting people’s notion of how the world really is. They make money by amplifying their beliefs to the point that viewers will tell their friends, “This is the truest thing in history of things and if you don’t watch it, you’re an idiot.” In 1987, no one was viewed anything that happened in the Vietnam War as anything similar to WWII and the general consensus was that there was no point to it at all. With a legacy such as My Lai and the many thousands for a war more than 13 times more than were lost in Iraq, people wanted nothing to do with a “Sands of Iwo Jima” film depicting anything favorable about Vietnam, a heroic film depicting the period well wasn’t the type of movie that would have reached audiences. They were tired of the Cold War (which hadn’t yet ended) and had no sense that anything since 1945 having had any real value. Boil it all down, and FMJ depicts that belief. Note that it might not tell the truth that well, but it perfectly captures the mentality of the people of the time.
Take a look at the film’s hero/victim/protagonist, Pvt. J.T. ‘Joker’ Davis. He is symbolic on many levels which are meaningful to the time in which FMJ debuted. From before he is physically even seen on the screen, he is shown as a rebel, during the iconic introduction of the Drill Instructor played to near perfection by an actual Marine Corps Drill Instructor, R. Lee Ermey, where he outright mocks the Drill Instructor to devastating results. From that moment on, we sympathize with the character who obviously doesn’t belong here. Throughout the movie he is portrayed as not fitting in. He stands out from the brutish, womanizing, cruel or ignorant Marines, as most of them are depicted in the film. Davis instead is an intellectual, symbolized by the non-military regulation eyeglasses and the fact that his Military Occupational Specialty wasn’t infantry, but as a writer. He both stands for intelligence as well as truth, morally setting him above and opposed to the rest of the other “lower” infantrymen. Once he actually does deploy, he stands out as a continued rebel (remember he is morally and intellectually superior to all the other troops) by brandishing proudly the “Born to Kill” label sarcastically graffitied on his helmet and a peace sign on his flak jacket. Given that during the 70’s the symbol had more to do an anti-military sentiments than actual peace, Joker was Stanley Kubrick’s very deliberate attempt to make viewers see the character as being little more than the only rational, non-barbarian militant in the show, who is more a victim of circumstance than someone who wants to be a part of the war at all. All this combines to help viewers of a certain ilk, Kubrick’s target audience, identify with what the protagonist’s presumed views of what the war should be, when really, the truth is that the protagonist was written to personify the average viewer’s perception: “This is barbaric, this is senseless, this is wrong.”
Looking at the rest of the movie and you see a series of messages tailored for a moment in time, and that subgroup of Americans in 1987.
“War will utterly destroy the minds of good and innocent people.”Private Pyle was, to me, the worst part of the best part of the movie. He was over the top in personal treatment in how troops are treated in training, and major elements of his plot could not possibly have happened exactly because of the fate he met in the most acclaimed scene of the movie. Regardless, while the depiction of boot camp was novel for all war movies before or since, Pyle’s presence detracted from the film in a way that, for me, was little more than over the top sensationalism.
“War creates barbarism in American Warfighters where murdering innocent people is acceptable.” I’ve honestly never been able to deal with this scene, given what I have known and experienced in countless hours on the law of war, code of conduct, rules of engagement, and escalation of force training during my own time in the Marines. Honestly try to watch this scene and imagine your nephew or neighbor down the street being this evil, and also try to imagine everyone in the military just looking the other way as it happened.
Then there is the theme that “incoming warriors can only degrade the population of a region through their corruption and immorality.”
And finally, that the enemy that has been causing us so much harm is a much more impotent, underwhelming force than we had ever imagined, personified by nothing less than a little girl, making the American military machine appear, in retrospect to be the bullies and the aggressors.
Rob Ager, a Youtuber who has made a side profession of analyzing films, has even made a very potent argument for the numerous ways in Kubrick used metaphor to convey how military indoctrination forces young men into becoming rapists and killers through psychological rewiring of mind’s inner workings.
“Kubrick is acknowledging the universal truth about military brainwashing, soldiers who can’t be turned into brutal psychopaths by their Drill Instructors, can certainly be persuaded in the battlefields by the overbearing peer pressure of their lesser minded friends.”
If you’re curious, I must add at this point before watching, that the training that the Ager’s analysis and Kubrick’s film depict taking place in the first half of the FMJ, which is necessary for the following analysis and FMJ’s second half narrative to make sense, was nothing like what I experienced in Marine Corps boot camp. We never named our rifles girl’s names, we never slept with our rifles, there were no sexual connotations with them and the “This is my rifle, this is my gun” thing was never uttered in my tenure either. As a Marine Corps rifle instructor, I never even met anyone could explain to me what that meant. One can’t know if boot camp has changed and my experience is just because of reforms, or simply that Kubrick took a great deal more dramatic license than seems in hindsight unjustifiable.
In the end, Kubrick’s film does one thing exceptionally well, it tells the story many people wanted to believe to be the way it was. Was Vietnam hard? Yes, it was. Was it traumatic for many? Yes, it was. Was boot camp filled with mind altering psychopath building brainwashing? Umm… No. What Kubrick’s piece on Vietnam was can simply be called propaganda. It wasn’t the type of propaganda that encourages youth to join up or to make people support a war of one kind or another. It was quite the opposite, but still propaganda. It was a war film that used just as many inaccuracies to promote all the values of the anti-war movement prominent in the late sixties and early seventies and into the eighties, as the Nazi half truth films depicting the virtues of the German Third Reich. That said, it was filled with all the spectacle that makes a war movie entertaining, right down to the incredibly odd and ill fitting Mickey Mouse Club ending to the film.
So, to answer the big question, why did so many people like it? If I really had to guess, I would say it is because the movie boils down into under two hours everything they already believed about war. It supports their stereotypes, reenforces their biases, and conveys a message they have already accepted in their hearts and which society has generally accepted to be true, whether it actually is or not. When you stumble on something that so many people agree with, though few have experienced first hand, and which you yourself find inline with your own beliefs, you tend to declare it as the greatest thing ever made. I don’t know a lot of veterans who think that the Full Metal Jacket is the greatest movie ever made. Everyone laughs at the first half because, frankly, we all had scary drill instructors. Beyond that, I don’t agree that this is a very good film. It’s great propaganda for a certain viewpoint, or at best, a very good story about one very fictitious man’s journey, which unfortunately ended up misrepresenting the factual experiences of a whole generation of war-fighters. That being the case, it really doesn’t surprise me that a democratic ranking forum would skew the results of an OK movie, when it has many moral and political undertones not obvious to many viewers.
In early 1918, American troops were reaching France and beginning to make an impact on the ebb and flow of the war. While the previous combatants had been largely deadlocked for years, fresh American troops could turn the tide of otherwise evenly matched fights.
Germany was on the losing side of this power shift and needed to win the war before more American troops and equipment could arrive. A grand offensive was planned that would come to be known as the Fourth Battle of Ypres or the Battle of Lys.
If successful, it would have forced the British back to the channel ports and possibly caused an evacuation like that in nearby Dunkirk 22 years later.
A British artillery crew maneuvers its 18-pounder field gun at Saint Floris during the Battle of the Lys, also known as the Fourth Battle of Ypres. (Photo: Imperial War Museum)
A two-day artillery bombardment preceded an attack on April 9, 1918, that drove the Portuguese defenders in the Ypres Salient back five miles and cost 7,000 Portuguese lives.
British troops in the area were forced to pull back and cover the gaps of the withdrawing Portuguese soldiers and nightfall on April 9 found them in a precarious position. They held the high ground that the Germans desperately needed and they were outnumbered. The British 19th Division was attempting to hold off a concerted attack by the entire German Fourth Army.
In this brickfilm, a stop-animation movie made almost entirely with Legos, YouTube user Snooperking recreates that disastrous morning for the allies in April 1918 as the British attempt to hold the line and prevent the Germans taking the high ground.
Snooperking, YouTubeSnooperking does a pretty impressive job with the Legos, representing dead bodies from previous fighting with small skeletons and using different Lego heads to capture the fear of the attackers, the resolve of the defenders, and the utter panic when any soldier finds himself on the wrong end of the bayonet.
Luckily, while the middle weeks of April 1918 were disastrous for the British in terms of lost territory, they did bleed the Germans heavily for every yard of territory lost. The German offensive stalled and was called off at the end of April. German losses during the attack allowed for their stunning defeats a few months later as Allied forces, bolstered by American reinforcements, went on the offensive.
Just as cannabis is gaining traction as a legitimate treatment option for military veterans, the US Food and Drug Administration has given the “breakthrough therapy” designation to MDMA, the main chemical in the club drug Ecstasy, for treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.
The move appears to pave the way for a Santa Cruz, California-based advocacy group to conduct two trials of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for patients with severe PTSD.
The nonprofit group Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies plans to test out the strategy on 200 to 300 participants in clinical trials this spring.
“For the first time ever, psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy will be evaluated in [advanced] trials for possible prescription use, with MDMA-assisted psychotherapy for PTSD leading the way,” said Rick Doblin, the group’s founder and executive director.
The FDA says it doesn’t disclose the names of drugs that receive “breakthrough therapy” designation. But if a researcher or drug company chooses to release that information, they are allowed to. In this case, the Psychedelic Studies group is the researcher.
Veterans have pushed for new treatments for PTSD, which some consider the “signature” injury of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Symptoms include depression, isolation, inability to concentrate and, in the extreme, suicidal thoughts.
At present, the US Drug Enforcement Administration lists the drug as a Schedule I drug, which means there are no currently accepted medical uses and there’s a high potential for abuse.
The drug affects serotonin use in the brain.
It can cause euphoria, increased sensitivity to touch, sensual and sexual arousal, the need to be touched, and the need for stimulation.
Some unwanted psychological effects can include confusion, anxiety, depression, paranoia, sleep problems, and drug craving, according to the DEA.
Clinical studies suggest that MDMA may increase the risk of long-term problems with memory and learning.