Again, I find I am posted the question following a random “Rango Rant” on the subject, and in a vain attempt to discover the answer, I made the wrong decision to ask a former Coldstream Guardsman the question. I did learn, in between sudden unexpected bouts of narcolepsy, that foot drill is part of a training regime that reaches back into antiquity where troops would move around the battle and fight in formation. These troops would have to learn to react in an instant to words of command from their superiors. The Line Infantry’s rigidity won battles in terms of their foot drill.
Now, move into the twenty-first century and drill is there as a teaching tool to install discipline into recruits and as part of ceremonial or pubic functions. So what is the point I hear you ask? We now live in a world where the most efficient way to move a body of men (and the odd woman) is not by Foot, but by helicopter, boat, train, plane, mini-bus or Danny Lower Case’s famous “big white gore-tex.” Why do we persist in doing drills?
Let’s look at our Guardsman’s history lesson. Here comes the narcolepsy again. We don’t fight information and haven’t done it for some time. The Prussian Guard, some of the best ceremonial troops in the world, decided to march into battle at a place called Nonne Boschen near Ypres in 1914, only to be massacred by the Ox & Bucks Light Infantry at 20% of the Prussian’s strength. They didn’t heed the advice of the 24th Foot who decided to fight in lines at Isandlwana forty years earlier only to be massacred by thousands of Zulus or Bonaparte’s Imperial Guard who were shot to ribbons by Wellington’s “scum of the earth” at Waterloo when they tried a last-ditch attack on the British lines. None of these leaned the lesson of Varus’s Roman Legions, who were clubbed and hacked to death in their thousands by Germanic tribes in the Teutoburg Forest two millennia ago. Those stories go to show, fight rigidly, and you get beaten. Getting beaten is not an ally!
So there must be another reason why it is forced upon us? Our Guardsman’s second point was teaching troops to react in an instant to words of command from their superior. Battles are loud. Explosions are going off, smoke, and lots of screaming and yelling. Richard Sharpe knew that in Sharpe’s Eagle, so being able to hear any commander’s voice over the noise of a modern battle is almost impossible. Acting independently and not waiting to be told what to do: grabbing the bull by the horns and throat fucking it into submission is the ally thing to do. However, the emphasis of the Guardsman’s point is not lost. Commanders (the more senior, the more detached from reality) want their minions to react immediately to whatever they say regardless if it has no point. So is drill a form of subjugation by those in power?
Take a moment to consider the last time you correctly did drill. Were there senior officers stood on or near a plinth reviewing your smartness and ability to look the same as everyone else? It certainly was for me. A senior officer and a non-military so-called VIP lording it over me and then making random recycled small talk revolving around “What do you do?”, “What are those medals for?” and “Have you been doing this for long?”. The answers were along the lines of “Stand here in uniform talking to crusty old farts for no reason,” “Doing my job in a third world country,” and “Probably three years too long.” So, what relevance does drill indeed have? Are you installing discipline? This is a two-way street, with the carrot as the prize for doing well and the stick for being punished when doing it wrong. Where is the carrot in the drill? You either do well, in which case you have to do more because you’re trusted to put on a good show for visiting dignitaries, or you do poorly, in which case you get forced to do more drill to get good at it. There is no carrot, therefore, no relevance! All you learn to do is hate it and do anything to avoid it: feign injury, transfer, step on a landmine.
So what Regiments or Armies still do drill? In the British Army, the Household Division is known all over the world for the expertise at being able to walk in step in irrelevant/stupid bearskin hats and red tunics before standing around outside the Queen’s house. The Scots Guard’s performance in the Falklands War went to show the quick transition from ceremonial soldier to warfighting soldier is not an easy one. The US Army mount a guard over their Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery. A very noble cause this is too, but having seen it in person, I couldn’t help but compare it to having a super hot 18-year-old model girlfriend with a phobia of baby gravy. Looks nice but doesn’t serve any real purpose. Even the Chinese do drill. Surely everyone has seen thousands of these immaculately presented Orientals goose-stepping behind their latest intercontinental missiles before their grand leader on parade. And there we have it, subjugation once again.
You won’t find the SAS or other special forces doing the drill. Why? They don’t allow themselves to be subjugated by senior officers; they’re too busy being an ally as fuck blowing holes in walls before slotting all the terrorists inside. So in a world where we have information at our fingertips, the most advanced technology known to man and the most intelligent minds curing cancer, Foot Drill is the establishment’s way of keeping us all in line. Taking all of that into consideration, Foot Drill is, therefore, the most un-ally thing you can do.
* Written for Allyness Magazine