Three Meter Zone: Common Sense Leadership for NCOs. Welcome to the world of the noncommissioned officer, the ultimate in hands-on, front-line leadership: the three meter zone where the work of the soldier occurs. ... a full fledged study of leadership for NCOs, by an NCO.
Three Meter Zone Reviews | Order --> Hardback | Paperback
Bunker Main | Bunker Talk | Bunker Poetry | Bunker Chapel | Bunker Humor
History Tips & Lessons | Bunker Books | Retirement Woes


Soldier – Politician - Correctness?


J. D. Pendry


A specious and fantastic arrangement of words by which a man can prove a horse chestnut to be a chestnut horse. – Abraham Lincoln



politician  - a: a person primarily interested in political office for selfish or other narrow usually short-sighted reasons b: a person experienced in the art or science of government; especially one actively engaged in conducting the business of a government  c: a person engaged in party politics as a profession


soldier – a: one engaged in military service and especially in the army b: an enlisted man or woman c: a skilled warrior  d: one who shirks work

political -  a: of or relating to government, a government, or the conduct of government b: of, relating to, or concerned with the making as distinguished from the administration of governmental policy  c: of, relating to, involving, or involved in politics and especially party politics

correct - correctness
a: conforming to an approved or conventional standard b: conforming to or agreeing with fact, logic, or known truth
c: conforming to a set figure <enclosed the correct return postage>

political correctness  - conformity to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities should be eliminated



Thought I’d share with you some definitions from the Merriam-Webster Online Collegiate Dictionary.  They’re interesting words when taken in at the same time, aren’t they?  In Army circles, we use them often.  With use, they take on different meanings depending on the gist of the conversation or the particular mood of the person using them.  What’s interesting about this particular group of words is that they make a great lesson in communications.  When we use them, the meaning we hope to transmit may not be the meaning that’s received.  I was participating in a leadership seminar when this topic came up.  The seminar leader, trying to illustrate that everyone in an organization does not always receive the message the leadership intended to communicate, [I’ll bet the Army Chief of Staff is painfully aware of this phenomena right now] told us to close our eyes and get a mental image of the word he was going to say.  Then he said the word dog.  After we got our image, he began asking us what we saw.  As he went around the room, he heard collie, bulldog, poodle… one woman tossing her head back, said “the father of my child.”  The words listed above have a similar affect when they come up in a discussion.


Have you ever, with derogatory connotations attached, labeled someone as a politician?  Most of us admittedly have.  Have you ever done anything that may fit one of the definitions of a politician?  Maybe you haven’t ran any part of the government recently, but have you ever volunteered for a difficult job knowing that being successful at it might lead to awards or advancement for you?  Did you volunteer for the job because you really wanted to do it, or because you wanted the advancement or awards it might net?  What motivated you?  Before you answer, review the definitions for a politician – pay particular attention to definition a.  I encountered such politicians when I was a drill sergeant, first sergeant and command sergeant major.  They were NCOs who sought those difficult jobs solely for personal gain and their performance reflected that.


If most of us are honest with ourselves, we must admit that there is a degree of self interest in all the choices we make, therefore, a little bit of the politician in all of us.  Looking to be successful and advancing in ones career does not necessarily make him or her a politician by this definition, unless self-interest is his prime motivator. 


Are you a soldier?  Like the definitions for politician, not all of those for soldier are complimentary.  One who shirks work is not a commonly known definition for a soldier, but we’ve all known our share that live up to it.  Keep that definition in mind whenever you’re trying to convince a person who engages in party politics for a living what it means to soldier.  Remember, many of them – politicians that is - have never worn the uniforms of our military services.  While we believe that we are fulfilling our roles as skilled warriors, they may believe that we are shirking.  Then again, most of us have never been professional politicians either.  While we may view them as too self-absorbed and self-serving, they are probably thinking of themselves as being one actively engaged in conducting the business of a government.


See, it’s like that Venus and Mars thing for men and women.  Politicians and soldiers exist in different worlds on the same planet.  Most soldiers will agree that politicians are just a cut above slug slime while many politicians think soldiers are soldiers because they can’t succeed at anything else.  In our country, and for the best, the soldier ultimately reports to the politician.  That makes it important for soldiers to understand politicians.  In the Army, problems start when soldiers forget their roles and begin to function as politicians while still in uniform.  What happens is that those trying to be politicians lose track of their values and use selfish or other narrow usually shortsighted reasons and not desire to do the best job possible as their motivator.


Issues also become political in the Army.  If you believe that isn’t true, you need only reflect on the beret ordeal.  Our reaction as a group is a perfect illustration of party politics.  The people on the conservative side of the issue believe the beret is sacred and that giving one to every soldier will destroy the heart of our fighting elite.  People on the liberal side of the issue think it represents a symbol of excellence and serves to start the Army toward its transformation into a force more suited for the new millennium.  Each side trades barbs and insults with the other.  We also have our fence sitters.  Mostly they remained silent on the issue while biding their time until the winner emerged before actually picking a side.  Now, if that doesn’t resemble a political squabble to you, I suggest that maybe you should trade some of your HBO time for a little C-span.


Conservatives clash with liberals daily in the Army.  If you’ve ever held an Army leadership position, you know this well.  Our political lines are every bit as rigid as those you’d find in Congress are.  Just as our country’s political system functions, the group that holds leadership sets the tone and establishes direction for the rest. Bottom line – we can be and often are just as political as they.  It’s an odd conservative who selects a liberal leader to be part of his or her team; this also works the other way around.  Coming up as a combat supporter, I often found myself a conservative amidst liberals.  Do you know what happens to a conservative amongst liberals in the Army?  He is investigated a lot and ends up with the crap details.  Do you know what happens to a liberal amongst Army conservatives?  He is ignored a lot and ends up with the crap details.  Yes, I’m afraid we do have our political party lines in the Army.


Since our modern lingo has tied the word correct to political, I thought it might be worth an investigation too.  Conforming to an approved or conventional standard, or being correct, is how we survive as an Army.  Everyone and everything must meet standards.  That doesn’t require a lot of discussion – or shouldn’t.  When we combine the two words to describe an act – political correctness -, confusion follows.  The definition states that we avoid saying or doing things that might offend the sensibilities of a particular group of people.  We all do this to some extent.  If you don’t accept that, when you next see your wife be sure to tell her she looks like she’s gained a little weight, or that you’d rather have a bag of MRE’s than the new recipe she just cooked for dinner.


Many of us, self included, use the phrase politically correct to describe just about anything we dislike or don’t agree with.  There are commanders who make decisions while trying hard not to offend any of the many different groups they lead.  Are those politically correct decisions, as we often call them, or are they leadership decisions that try to meet the needs of most of the people affected by them?  The politically correct decision, I think, is the one that benefits only one group and usually at the expense of others.  You can find examples of political correctness in the Army and most other professions, but what equals political correctness to one group does not to another group.  For example, do you believe that gender-integrated basic training is a politically correct process or one borne of military necessity?  Well, let’s look at it.  It’s politically motivated, hard to argue with that.  Is it a decision whose purpose is to improve the whole or cater to the sensibilities of one group?  That is certainly debatable and at the end of the day, one side will say it’s politically correct and the other will insist that it’s just correct.


If there’s a point to all this, it’s that before we slap labels onto something or someone because we don’t like it or them, we need to examine them to ensure they meet the definition and then take a closer look – at ourselves.  We also need to work hard, as individuals and as an Army, at making sure that when we transmit pit-bull that it’s not received as poodle.


Lastly, if we study the definitions listed above we must conclude that a politically correct soldier is an enlisted man or woman engaged in party politics conforming to beliefs that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities should be eliminated, or maybe it’s…