Anxiety & the Army
To the Editor:
“Life in the U.S. Army” (Harris Dienstfrey, September), in its beginnings, when first the recruit reports, and through basic training, is an experience marked by apprehension a great deal of which is caused by ignorance. The recruit does not know the significance of the pre-training tests. The trainee doesn’t know the training schedule. He has ideas of basic training gotten from misinformation and movies. Should he or should he not go on sick call? Does anyone die in the gas indoctrination chamber? Will he survive the infiltration course? The most grueling part of training is not the march, or harassment, but anxiety due to the fear of the unknown. What happens next to him?
The interesting thing is that all this information is available. What reserve outfit he might choose before he is sworn in; what the training schedule is and what he might expect in each of the eight weeks; what he can get and do with a minimum of harassment and what is better not to touch; how he can dress in Class A’s, go to Friday services, and still retain the respect and friendship of the sergeant and, as important, his peers who are up to their ankles in soap suds at a GI party (Passover-type cleaning).
To mitigate anxiety by getting lowdown information in advance is not the central purpose of other orientations, nor that of pre-induction orientation. But in this case it is an enormously valuable side product. The Jewish Welfare Board does some work along this line. There is some literature. A prospective inductee who does not know where to turn to locally should write to JWB, 145 East 32nd Street, New York 16, New York.
Mr. Dienstfrey’s observation that soldiers feel ideologically separated from the civilians outside is not to be denied. Busy as they are collecting information about the great unknown inside, they have no interest left to communicate with outside. They are obsessed with problems of personal safety and possible preferment. But this is not unusual in an atomized society under authoritarianism.
I find an analogous situation—somewhat strained—in my memory of college classrooms. Here, too, the frame of reference to which the realm of ideas was adapted was of its own kind—its terms, its definitions, its descriptions, however scholarly, artificial; where questions put in language commonly used “outside” had no relevance. Even in the social studies where it might be expected there would be the easiest sort of relationship between newspapers and classroom discussions, the disciplines had their neat categories and specialized idiom. As we learned to handle them with expertness, we found it less comfortable to slip into the jargon of “outside.” Directors and counselors of summer camps who are sometimes overwhelmed by the flood of work contained between opening and closing will know what I mean. Korean war prisoners and concentration camp prisoners report the same abteilung at another degree.
Area Director USO
Jewish Welfare Board
To the Editor:
Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead is about soldiers and not, as I wrote in my article (September) about marines. In a recent letter to the New York Post recounting another incident in which someone mistook his soldiers for marines, Mailer said that he “loved the book very much,” and I surely meant no insult to the novel or to Mailer.
I made a more important error, however, when I suggested that The Naked and the Dead had nothing to say about the peacetime army. It’s true that good men are not crushed as Mailer argues they are in wartime. But the last scene of the novel—a Major is happy that the campaign is over because he can start having inspections again—is the most profound expression I’ve ever read of the fantasy that pervades army life.
Fort Lee, Virginia