Most veterans know exactly what the word “chickenshit” refers too. I’d go so far as to say that even civilians deal with chickenshit on some levels, but anyone that has ever served in the military knows that the armed forces takes chickenshit and turns it into an art form.
Paul Fussell, the noted American historian and former 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army during World War II defined chickenshit perfectly: “Chickenshit refers to behavior that makes military life worse than it need be: petty harassment of the weak by the strong; open scrimmage for power and authority and prestige… insistence on the letter rather than the spirit of ordinances. Chickenshit is so called — instead of horse — or bull — or elephant shit — because it is small-minded and ignoble and takes the trivial seriously. Chickenshit can be recognized instantly because it never has anything to do with winning the war.”
I think Fussell nails it. For me personally, I experienced chickenshit both before and during wartime while in the Navy. It served no real purpose other than to make me extremely disgruntled and dislike most of those that were of higher-rank than me, which seemed to be just about everyone. The higher-ups had other ways besides chickenshit to really mess with our morale, including “being set up for failure.” This involved being assigned a difficult to downright impossible task that either was or wasn’t really expected to be completed, but was given out mostly just to keep us busy. Normally this involved not being given the proper tools or instructions needed to carry out the task. And of course you were expected to have the task completed by a certain deadline, which always meant “ASAP!”
BOHICA was closely linked with “being set up for failure,” and stands for Bend Over Here It Comes Again. Now granted, I wasn’t drafted, which probably makes it even worse because I VOLUNTEERED to put myself in plenty of situations where chickenshit, “being set up for failure,” and BOHICA were the orders of any given day. All three are designed to make life that much harder until you are seething with rage about the entire military establishment and all the civilians at home that don’t have to experience such degradations on a daily basis. All of these forms of chickenshit during wartime will make a soldier wonder who their real enemy is. In many cases all of these forms of chickenshit can be downright dangerous if they weren’t also perversely so damn ridiculous and funny.
General George S. Patton was well-known for his spit-and-polish and strict adherence to Army code of conduct, and to many of his troops was the ultimate chickenshit artiste. He went so far as to order his own frontline troops to wear ties and to shave-even if in battle! As ridiculous as Patton could be, chickenshit had been around long before him, and continues on even today. I recently read an article in the Washington Post from November 22nd about the US Army being at a “crossroads,” and uncertain about its “future roll.” In it, a sergeant at Fort Bragg said that he watched several enlisted men get chewed out and yelled at for wearing Army-issued fleece hats on a cold morning in which the soldiers were running. Apparently, they were supposed to be wearing “baseball-style patrol caps,” and not their warmer fleece covers. The sergeant was quoted as saying, “It’s cold. They are cold. Let them wear what they want…but it is not the published standard, so everybody gets a butt-chewing.” I don’t believe the sergeant had a problem with the published standard, just with the ridiculousness that there was no bending of the established rules to let the soldiers wear their fleece hats on cold mornings during PT. Most of those soldiers were probably veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan and have displayed devotion to duty and good conduct in their time of service.
I would agree with the sergeant that the strict adherence to the hat-of-the-day should be a non-issue, and these soldiers should be allowed to wear their fleece hats, knit caps, or whatever they have been issued to help stay warm on cold winter mornings. They’ve earned it. It may take some time to re-write or re-word these idiotic standards, but some flexibility should be allowed and common sense automatically built-in. But of course, common sense is not the military way. Americans are individualists at heart, but understand to some extent that in wartime, standards have to be adhered too. However, American intuitiveness and ingenuity have helped to win many a battle and the vast majority of the wars we have been involved in. The armed forces has to adapt, overcome, and display a higher degree of common sense and cut out the chickenshit.