Today’s military is a very different one from that of twenty or forty years ago. Where Bullying in the Army was often incorporated in training to maintain unit control as well as on the battlefield, today’s military indoctrinates all service members in understanding they have a role to catch, identify and stop bullying or hazing where and when it occurs. This policy has been issued repeatedly through the military branches as the U.S. military continues to migrate towards a professional, almost corporate-like fighting force versus the armies of the past.
A Dark Past
Bullying and intimidation in the military has been around for centuries. The Romans, for example, had a brutal policy where an army was not performing or morale was low. Each man would have to take a straw, and the tenth man to do so would draw a short one. The remainder would then be ordered on pain of death to kill by beating the 10th man randomly stuck with the short straw. This extreme form of bullying was very effective, but it contributed to the creation of an army that needed to have an output for its brutality on a regular basis. Ergo, the Romans were extremely horrific on any enemies they conquered in battle.
The same theme carried forward for years, using intimidation to ensure obedience, responsiveness and cohesion in armed forces. However, when the volunteer army finally came into being in the modern age after the Vietnam War, bullying began to lose its effectiveness dramatically. This was because the military, at least in the U.S., had to start worrying about marketing and perception to bring recruits in. Who in the world would want to join a group that will berate, yell, attack and demean you every day? Not many.
For a while, some attempts were made and still are to distinguish some units from the general military. This “toughness” factor has been marketed with frequent messaging, such as “the Few, the Proud, the Marines,” and “Army Tough.” However, this approach only works for some who subscribed to the theory that a Spartan approach produces a better soldier. Again, increasing education and changing times made this perception weak, and the military has had to adapt to keep recruits coming into a volunteer military system.
Trust is Now the Message
The official messaging from the highest military executives is now focused on developing and building trust within units, forming tight, cohesive teams through bonding versus threat. As a result, bullying in the army under official auspices is now over and unacceptable. This includes both bullying and hazing and even verbal intimidation under a zero-tolerance dictum to branches and units nationwide.
Does the New Paradigm Work?
Hazing is a particularly challenging form of bullying in the military that often manifested in unique, special or elite units. This type of bullying was considered a rite of passage, in addition to the official passage of testing to join the elite team in the first place. It was “justified” to help weed out weak players who could potential compromise the working function of an elite team, especially under extreme stress or challenge. However, that same goals has been frequently abused for the same of being cruel to newcomers or laughing at their expense or misery.
Adding to the problem is the fact that may military superiors have traditionally ignored the hazing, considering it part of a unit adjusting new members to think consistently with the fighting group. Now, the military expects those same superiors to intervene immediately when they find out about hazing, shutting down the practice on sight. At the least, the change has moved hazing underground versus being as overt as it was in the past.
Bullying is more of a subtle behavior that still creeps up from time to time in the military. Much of it starts with the singling out of an odd individual in a homogenous group. In many cases, today’s bullying in the military is more focused on gender, as more women enter the armed forces with more frequency, than male against male soldier instances. So two major groups tend to make up most of the bullies now in the military: the stronger character in a unit, and a superior over a subordinate. In both cases, however, much of the bullying has been converted to psychological bullying versus physical, and overt instances are being reported more often, with serious consequences for the bully involved.
An Additional Watchdog
Another aspect has entered the military world far more aggressively after the mid 1970s, and that is the offices of Inspector Generals. These agencies were created by Congress and federal law in 1973 and now exist in every major federal program. As a result, where a bully is seriously out of control, particularly in the case of a superior, an Inspector General investigator can become a key place for victims to go to without fear of ramification on their military career prospects.
Bullying and hazing still exist in the military, but the days of the Tailhook Scandal and widespread soldier-on-soldier abuse are not allowed to be overt and common anymore. With time, more and more hazing and bullying will be phased out, but it won’t likely be completely eliminated. Boot camps still have to get inside peoples’ heads to train them how to fight in war, and the alpha types will still considering bullying as an option to “motivate” groups under them. However, the olds days of expecting people and recruits to just “suck it up” and accept the bullying seem to be over. As part of the modern, professional military, army bullying and the same in other branches seem to be going by the wayside.