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.

15 comments on “Chickenshit!

  1. Great post Guy! I was never in the military, so I wonder why military leaders would put their subordinates in positions that would purposely disgruntle them? If their main objective is winning a war or successfully completing a mission, then why would they jeopardize morale? Is it all an ego trip?

    • navyphoto22 says:

      I’m sure in some cases it is an ego trip. Being put in a position of power can always corrupt to some extent. The military has so many of its own rules and regulations which play a part that it’s really no surprise even the smallest things are nitpicked on. Plus, other than the weather, crappy food, and being away from home for long periods of time, what else would soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines have to bitch about?!

      • In Generation Kill, Sgt Major Sixta does a great job of providing something for the Marines to complain about, going on and on about the “grooming standard”. Near the end of the movie version, they show him conferring with one of his sergeants to make sure his “crazy” is keeping the men from complaining about the conditions by providing them with something ridiculous to focus their frustration on. So, I imagine there are sometimes when things that annoy the men are designed to do so in order to achieve another purpose. To stick with movies, think about “Miracle” in which Herb Brooks consistently does things in order to provoke certain responses from the players – at one point telling team captain Mike Eruzione that he might be cut in order to let every player know that no one’s position on the team is secure.

        One could even argue that, to some extent, Patton’s insistence on proper appearance was a way of ensuring discipline and attention to detail, as well as hygiene. I would agree he took it too far, but until it reaches an extreme, there are benefits to some of the things that end up being chickenshit. Chickenshit, of course, rises beyond the annoying things that have a purpose to annoying things that have no purpose whatsoever except to make the chickentshitter feel important.

      • navyphoto22 says:

        David, I really like both ‘Generation Kill’ and ‘Miracle,’ so really appreciate the take that chickenshit could, at certain times, just be those in charge trying to get their peoples’ minds off of things. I guess there is some truth to that. Just wish the people over me hadn’t always stressed about the small stuff.

  2. Sam Kier says:

    While doing the research for my book, Two Centuries of Valor: The Story of the 5th Infantry Regiment, I found a great story in an online archived copy of the New York Times, 14 Jan 1896. The title of the article is “Odd bills and reports by congressional committees.” It is the story of a request for replacement clothing by PVT Patrick Noonan, Company G, 5th Inf Regt,who lost his gear in a stable fire. I’m not going to screw it up by trying to summarize it. You need to read the whole thing to really enjoy a great story of U.S. Army CS at Ft. Leavenworth.

    Sam Kier
    Historian, 5th Inf Regt Assn

  3. Jayeson Vance says:

    I happen to love this article, I do not mean to say necessarily that I have or currently do espouse that I may be experiencing same.

  4. Jack says:

    1st off, ever heard the term cuss like a sailor? Second I believe the author failed to understand the benefits of what he referred to as chickenshit. Just because he didn’t grasp the necessity of an order or particular military discipline doesn’t mean it had no purpose. Patton being a good example, sometimes in stressful combat situations you have to give troops something mundane to complain about which bonds them commonly and takes their mind off of the life threatening situation. Patton was a heinous at this and did it with intent. I say, you’ll understand more when you grow up!

    • navyphoto22 says:

      Thanks Jack, and yes, I have heard the term cuss like a sailor. I was one at one time and did it with the best of them. Are there benefits to chickenshit? Sure there are. Someone has to take out that machine gun nest or attack that hill. Espirt de corps and morale must be upheld. But chickenshit for chickenshit’s sake is ridiculous, and no amount of growing up can convince me otherwise.

  5. Skivvywaiver says:

    Some things never change – there always has been and always will be chickenshit (with or without pupose), as well as sailors who bitch about it. “A bitchin’ sailor is a happy sailor.” I KNOW you’ve heard that one.

  6. tpartridge1 says:

    I know the art form used in the military, Army to be exact. I understood it to mean don’t be a baby and face your fears. Not used much today, though. At least it wasn’t in the end of my tour of duty. On post during PT, soldiers wear the fleece instead of the patrol cap because that’s the uniform for that type of PT. It is not because it is cold, but because of safety and that it will stay on and not fly off in the face of another soldier. Ft. Bragg does things differently and there are haters that do not approve, but hey so what, its cool. Soldiers like it, they are happy and motivated so what is the big tiff? Great post, great discussion!

  7. Brent Dickinson says:

    Hi All. Yep, I never played into that leadership style, tried to shelter my guys from it, that’s what an NCO does, look after the men. When it was not avoidable, I flat out told them it was crap, but do it anyway, do it now. The sooner it gets done, the faster liberty will go down. But I made sure I was there doing it with them, so when I needed them to shit something now, they would do it. I was Navy also, and peace time armed forces suck. The rules usually get bent during real action, but revert back afterward. I really buy into the “good order and discipline” thing, it has bound the service for decades. The same games my old man had to play as a Marine in the early 60’s were still there in the 90’s. Sounds like your NCO’s failed you.

  8. polarbear59 says:

    The people that shovel the most chickenshit are people that never did a days soldiering outside of the office. People that were promoted to get rid of them or because someone felt sorry for them invariably end up as middle ranking NCO’s and officers. Anybody that is worth a damn is their mortal enemy and anybody that kisses their asses is soldier of the quarter. The most difficult obstacle course in the military is the “Deadwood” course.

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