• U.S.

Nation: Humanizing the U.S. Military

28 minute read
TIME

IT was not exactly an intimate rap session, as nearly 600 seamen, submariners and officers jammed a base theater at Pearl Harbor last week. But the pert WAVE spoke up boldly on behalf of two of her service friends with an unusual problem: “She works a day shift while her husband is on the night shift. Can’t something be done?” The officer directed her to leave their names, and since that officer was none other than Admiral Elmo (“Bud”) Zumwalt, Chief of Naval Operations and the U.S. Navy’s uniformed boss, the pair will soon be on more compatible assignments.

Similar scenes could be observed elsewhere in the U.S. armed services:

≫ At Fort Benning, Ga., it was 0600−reveille hour−but no bugle sounded. So SP/4C Terry Reed dozed blissfully until 7 a.m. Reveille has gone out of style at Fort Benning; all a soldier need do is get to his first duty post on time.

≫ Wearing dungarees and a flag-striped crash helmet, a sailor reported for his day’s duties at the Charleston Naval Station, S.C., by gunning his motorcycle up to the main gate.

≫ On the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy in the Mediterranean, Captain Ferdinand B. Koch conducted an electronic forum via the ship’s closed-circuit TV, answering questions phoned to him from sailors below decks.

Those episodes are all part of a radical drive now under way in the U.S. armed forces to humanize military life. It was launched most effectively by the Navy, whose ships’ horns still bark, “Now hear this! Now hear this!” but whose officers more and more seem to be saying to men of all ranks: “We hear you! We hear you!” The movement was given further impetus last week by new directives from the Army and Air Force that seek to make life in the service more bearable and attractive. It aims to meet at least in part the demands of a brighter, more restive generation of young Americans who reject the artificiality of make-work chores and spit-and-polish regimen, who want to know the why of orders and the wherefore of authority. Each officer has his own definition of the new mood, and not all approve of the change. For one who does, Major General Bernard W. Rogers, commander of the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, it is simply to make everyone in his service “give a damn for the soldier.”

A Matter of Survival

The reform of military life is not a luxury or even merely an idea whose time has come, mirroring the changes in the rest of U.S. society. It is a necessity. Largely because of the Viet Nam War, the prestige of the military is plummeting. Many servicemen, including cadets and midshipmen from West Point and Annapolis, try to hide their military connections when on leave among their peers. There is even a wig market in Annapolis where middies can acquire hirsute camouflage. Re-enlistment rates have dropped to their lowest levels since 1955. Barely 31% of servicemen of all ranks and branches now volunteer for a second term.

The mounting antimilitarism in the U.S. threatens even the extension of the draft, which Congress must debate next year. Top Pentagon officials expect the vote to be extremely close. Until they have time to effect all the reforms that might make service more appealing, they consider Selective Service the only weapon they have to maintain adequate manpower. Declares Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird: “Manpower is the most serious problem that we have. We are going to concentrate on people. They’re going to be No. 1.”

President Nixon is fully aware of the problem, and to dramatize his concern, he personally presided last week over the re-enlistment ceremonies for five men of all services who had signed for another term. He re-emphasized his conviction that the long-term solution to the manpower dilemma is to make military life so appealing that an all-volunteer service becomes feasible. Optimistically, he has set 1973 as the target date for ending the draft, except as a stand-by mechanism to meet new emergencies. There are grave doubts among many military commanders that the draft can be ended that soon. But the possibility makes the revitalization of service life that much more important.

The challenge has been taken up by the three major services in a new kind of rivalry in which each seems to be striving to show that it is the most fun−or at least the most concerned, fair and compassionate.

At the moment, the Navy is ahead. This is largely due to its new (and youngest ever) C.N.O. Bud Zumwalt, 50, has thrown his energy into what he calls “people programs” throughout the service. Insisting that his men rate far higher than hardware, he even made a private deal with the Pentagon to take $20 million−enough to keep four or five destroyers functioning for a year−out of his budget if the Defense Department would match it and use the combined $40 million to build new housing units for Navy families. An admiral who would rather give his men new homes than sustain some ships is a novelty in the Navy.

Already tagged throughout the service as “The Big Z,” Zumwalt is carrying out his revolution through “Z-grams.” These are orders in crisp, unstilted language that show his determination to scuttle those customs and traditions that no longer seem to have a point−if indeed they ever did. There have been 65 such orders so far, received variously and eagerly at sea and ashore as “Zulu-grams” or “Zumie-grams” or just “Zoomies.” In a service more encrusted with class protocol than most, they have especially endeared Zumwalt to enlisted men. Zumwalt, declares a chief on the destroyer U.S.S. Halsey, is “the first C.N.O. who has ever rattled this bird cage down to the level where I can feel it.”

Typical of Zumwalt’s approach but carrying more zing than most was Z-gram No. 57, issued last month. It said bluntly that “Mickey Mouse” and “chicken regs” (for regulations), which he labeled “demeaning or abrasive,” must go. It orders Navy commanders to keep abreast of “changing fashions,” and Zumwalt explained separately that “neatly trimmed” beards and “neatly tapered” hair up to three inches long must be allowed. The new order threw out the nagging rule that men who live off base or off ship must change from work to dress uniforms for the short trip to and from their quarters; they can now travel in dungarees. Motorcycles must be allowed at all naval stations, and a cyclist cannot be harassed about the color of his helmet. Nor should men be forced to hastily paint the rust spots on a ship just because a senior officer−even Zumwalt himself−is making a visit.

Beer in the Barracks

Earlier Z-grams had knocked out restrictions against men wearing civilian clothes on a base when off duty, opened a pilot program to allow first-class petty officers to carry any kind of clothes they wish aboard certain ships and to wear them when on liberty. The rule requiring dress uniforms when a ship arrives in port (when greasy gear and dirty lines must be handled) was eliminated. At least half the crew of a returning ship must be granted 30 days leave, and even when at sea, at least 5% of. a ship’s crew must be allowed to remain ashore on leave.

Convinced that many men fail to re-enlist primarily because their wives are unhappy, Zumwalt ordered all shore-base commanders to set up channels for hearing complaints not only from the men but from their spouses. Zumwalt also said make-work projects must cease, Saturday duty must be minimized and those irksome barracks and personnel inspections, if held at all, should not interfere with weekend liberty. Beer may be dispensed in barracks, and liquor can be kept in those barracks that are divided into rooms. Optimistically, he set 15 minutes as the maximum time any sailor should be ordered to wait in line for anything.

Local commanders are free to apply the Z-grams in their own fashion, and wherever the Navy writ runs, the fresh breezes of innovation and experimentation in listening, in correcting, in treating sailors like adults, are blowing.

The telephone rang at the desk of Captain A.W. (“Hap”) Chandler Jr., commander of the Miramar Naval Air Station in San Diego. “Hey, Hap, what are you doing about flight jackets down there?” asked the skipper of another Navy facility. “You letting them wear them around the base?” Replied Chandler: “Sure. I’ve got to, since I do it my self.” A former colleague of Zumwalt’s in Saigon, Chandler is so enthusiastic about the freer atmosphere under The Big Z that he tries to keep a step ahead. He relaxed the rules on hair and beards before any Z-gram mentioned them, wears his own hair in a long wavy pompadour with modest sideburns. Moreover, he is sending his base barbers to hair-styling school so his airmen can get something better in their $1 cuts than sheer sidewalls. “We’re putting in female shampooists too,” says Chandler. “You might think we’re going a little gay around here.”

Chandler also opened a “Captain’s Hotline” through which any sailor can dial C-A-P-T (2-2-7-8) at any hour to record a beef. Chandler answers each one in the base newspaper. The line has averaged 80 calls a week, ranging from complaints about cockroaches in the barracks to poorly cooked hamburgers at mess. When one caller suggested that men be able to check in from leave by telephone, Chandler’s answer was one word: “Approved.” The line has worked so well that Chandler talked his wife Marjorie into answering calls from women on a line reached by dialing AHOY.

Chandler, who wears a Spiro Agnew watch, does not think he is unduly coddling his men: “The guys today are a lot more sophisticated than when I came in to the Navy. These old farts, the admirals, just don’t see this. The old way of doing things not only perpetuated bureaucracy but also mediocrity. That old saying, ‘If it moves, salute it; if it stands still, paint it,’ has got to go.”

Wooing Wives in the Fleet

As the Z-grams generate waves throughout the Navy, the main impact among the some 40 ships of the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean has been to push all commanders into a new concern for the dependents of their seagoing officers and men. When the U.S.S. Springfield recently put into Malta, more than 20 petty officers’ wives from the ship’s home port of Gaeta awaited the ship’s arrival, because for the first time their husbands were permitted to spend nights ashore at a transient stop. Some 450 men from the carrier John F. Kennedy are flying home for Christmas thanks to the new regulations.

The concern also shows up in the new dialogue that has developed among skippers, the men they command and Navy wives. Aboard the Springfield, Fleet Commander Vice Admiral Isaac Kidd holds forth in ombudsmen meetings at the same polished table where he and his senior commanders conferred in September with President Nixon. At a recent session, one wife complained that U.S. naval families based in Italy knew too little Italian. Kidd ordered a three-month trial of voluntary lessons. On another complaint, Kidd said he would order Navy doctors and dentists in Naples to visit Gaeta more regularly to treat dependents’ ills.

The same kind of chatter, ranging from the highly practical to the merely cathartic, is occurring regularly at Stateside naval bases. At South Carolina’s Charleston Naval Station, Captain Edward P. Flynn Jr. guides such meetings sympathetically but briskly. “My group doesn’t like the way Playboy is displayed at the base exchange,” complained Mary Vaughn of the Marine Wives’ Club. “You can see as much in a women’s magazine,” countered Flynn. “I bought three T shirts last month at the Navy Exchange and there were holes in the seams of the shoulders,” groused a submariner’s wife. “Bring them back and we’ll return them to the supplier,” said Flynn. Are such nigglings a waste of a captain’s time? Navy Wife Gwen Lanoux does not think so. “We feel like somebody is listening,” she says.

Rear Admiral Herman J. Kossler, commandant of the Sixth Naval District headquartered in Charleston, has ordered Seabee units, whose training often consists of building bridges and docks only to knock them down again, to undertake permanent projects. In line with Z-grams, he had them build a shed so that men with motorcycles could park their vehicles, construct a marina, outfit an automobile hobby shop and panel the walls of living quarters.

Now the base enlisted men’s club, which used to be an edgy center of booze-and boredom-bred friction, is a joyful and jumping place, with dim lights, rock music and girls. Every Wednesday night is “soul night,” on which some 500 sailors, 80% of them black, dance to the music of the Exquisite Diatonics and treat their dates to 40¢ drinks. Bachelor officers don psychedelic sports shirts and casual sweaters to meet local girls at their own club and shake to such groups as the Swingers or the Sounds of Time.

Somewhat envious of all the excitement Zumwalt’s Navy has created, the Army is marching double time to catch up. Last week General William Westmoreland, the Army’s more restrained and traditional Chief of Staff, moved to make life in the Army a bit more like home. Clarifying earlier directives, he ruled that unnecessary troop formations are detrimental to morale, and ”except for special occasions,” troops need not assemble for reveille. To make sure that not many such occasions would be found, he ordered that any base commander who calls for such a formation must show up too.

Westmoreland also eliminated nighttime bed checks, except in disciplinary cases, as well as the need to sign in and out overnight. He abolished restrictions on how far from his camp a soldier may travel when off duty and ordered that 3.2 beer may be served routinely at evening mess and that barracks may have beer-vending machines. Any officer or soldier who raises a personnel question should get an answer from an authority on his base within 24 hours. Implicitly recognizing that longtime noncommissioned officers are most resistant to change, Westmoreland told commanders to make sure that their NCOs “stay ahead of changes in the country and society” and act “in keeping with the modern army philosophy.”

Removing Burrs at Carson

Nowhere is that philosophy already more evident than at Fort Carson, which services the 25,000 men of the 4th Infantry Division on its vast post west of Colorado Springs. There, Major General Rogers is urging all of his subordinates to help heal “our self-inflicted wounds” and remove “the harassing burrs under the saddles of our soldiers.” Today’s youth, contends Rogers, “want to participate in decisions; they are curious. They want to know why, and they are not satisfied with answers based on faith or ‘because we’ve always done it that way’−and I respect them for it.”

There are no Saturday morning inspections at Carson, no reveille or retreat formations. At the Inscape Coffee House, black light illuminates slogans proclaiming that “Life is a Big Happening,” and a peace symbol adorns a beam. Here officers drop in to rap with the troops. “At coffeehouses off base they scream about the Establishment,” notes one colonel. “Here they can scream at the Establishment.” Five enlisted men’s clubs serve up beer, whisky and go-go girls. In an experiment, the G.I.s have fashioned their quarters into semiprivate cubicles, brightening them with colorful rugs, curtains, posters and pinups.

Carson has shifted from what Colonel David R. Hughes, the division’s chief of staff, describes as “an authoritarian to a participatory approach−because then a man feels that he has a stake in what he is doing.” A 19-man group of enlisted men meets regularly with Rogers and has had 70% of its suggestions accepted by him.

Does Rogers’ approach work? It is too early to tell, but there are positive signs. Re-enlistments have increased 45% at Carson, the retention rate of junior officers has doubled, and two-thirds of the noncareer G.I.s rate their own morale as fair to excellent. AWOLs have declined, and incidents requiring investigation by the provost marshal have dropped 25%.

At North Carolina’s Fort Bragg, Lieut. General John J. Tolson III commands the XVIII Airborne Corps with a similar desire to “cut out the crap,” contending: “The soldier today is smarter than 25 years ago. What worked in the Army then won’t work now, and the older guys are going to have to accept that.” His men do not train on weekends, and they wear their hair longer than at almost any other Army post. “I’ve observed since World War II,” says Tolson, “that there is no connection between the length of a man’s hair and his bravery.”

The most innovative idea at Bragg is its enlightened approach to a particularly contemporary problem of the modern army: drug addiction. It has been standard practice in the Army to simply get rid of addicts by booting them out on a dishonorable discharge. That shifted the problem to the larger society. But Tolson decided that the Army was as prepared to help them as anyone else. Any junkie can now walk into special wards at Bragg’s medical facility, announce that “I’m hooked−help me,” and no disciplinary action is taken.

The emphasis in the rehabilitation program is on a lot of rapping with psychiatrists and fellow addicts. As in some civilian programs, methadone is used to help heroin addicts through the withdrawal period and satisfy their chemical needs. But the most dramatic technique is the “shoot-up” where the more serious addicts inject themselves or each other with a nausea-producing liquid. The shooting-up takes place in a crash pad of pulsating lights, acid-rock stereo, Day-Glo and even antiwar posters. The patients first smoke joints that taste like marijuana but are not, then inject themselves with needles. After the pleasant rush, they vomit into plastic bags for up to four hours. “It ain’t worth it, goddam, it ain’t worth it,” one paratrooper repeated over and over after one recent injection.

Time Off for Overtime

The Air Force takes a more relaxed attitude toward all of the talk about humanizing military life, claiming, with some justification, that the interdependence of officer-pilots, enlisted crews and mechanics has long promoted an informal closeness. “There’s no saluting in the flight line,” observes a mechanic at Randolph Air Force Base. Indeed, enlisted personnel have normally lived in two-or three-man rooms since the 1950s, and their technical expertise has earned them better treatment than in other services. Major General Frank M. Madsen Jr., commander of Keesler Air Force Base, discloses that he has three enlisted men who report any ill treatment of airmen directly to him. “Their identity,” he says, “is known only to me, themselves and to God.”

Nevertheless, Lieut. General Robert J. Dixon, the Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, found it necessary last week to jump on the bandwagon. At a Pentagon press conference he summed up some of the new policies being pushed by his boss, Chief of Staff General John Ryan. They include reducing inspections, granting men time off in exchange for overtime work, giving airmen more time to get their families settled when they change stations.

Even as they modernize, demilitarize and humanize, the services find some imposing statistics mining the paths toward a truly all-volunteer military. The Army’s situation is the most acute, since it bears the burden of the most dangerous duty in combat and the most boring chores when it is not fighting. The Army figures that it can get along with an all-volunteer force of 900,000 men (it now has 1,200,000). This will require about 26,000 enlistees each month. Half of these should be re-enlistments and half new volunteers.

That would require roughly doubling the current re-enlistment and true volunteer rates. The Army now gets about 13,000 volunteers a month, but it estimates that 7,000 of these would not be enlisting if there were no draft to pressure them. Turning those figures about will be difficult.

To do so, all the services are seeking higher pay for their men, even though the pressures on the Defense Department budget already are extreme. But it is also true, as the Army’s Colonel Robert Montague notes, that “you just can’t go out in the street and buy people.” Thus the services are also trying to upgrade their training programs to make more of their vocations interesting to career men and more readily transferable to civilian jobs for those who leave. Partly because it is less costly, the current emphasis is simply on making military life more comfortable.

The Making of a C.N.O.

Does all of this new concern for their men mean that the services are going soft and that the discipline necessary for effectiveness in combat is breaking down? The Navy’s Bud Zumwalt does not think so. “The role of tradition in the Navy is to contribute to good order and discipline and pride in the organization,” he says. “But I have yet to be shown how neatly trimmed beards and sideburns or neatly shaped Afro haircuts contribute to military delinquency or detract from a ship’s ability to carry out its combat function.”

Zumwalt found firsthand in Viet Nam that some relaxation of trivia can help, not hinder, a fighting force. He commanded a “brown-water” Navy, assigned to check Communist infiltration and shipping, and his men frequently worked hatless, bare-chested and bearded. Navy regs banned beer on all vessels, so Zumwalt brought six-packs to the crews himself. He got around the ban by inviting the men to step off the ships, generally onto a barge, to consume the brew. His tour as Commander of U.S. Naval Forces in Viet Nam was a big success, a factor in his elevation over 35 senior admirals to C.N.O.

Although he speaks softly and comes on in a deceptively low key, Zumwalt is a sharp logician whose mind seems to race many knots faster than those of most of his fellow officers. Yet he is “the only senior officer I know who always apologizes when he interrupts anyone, no matter how low their rank,” notes one colleague. A combination of compassion and extreme competence has made Zumwalt the Navy’s most popular leader since World War II; as long ago as 15 years, friends were predicting that he would wind up in the big C.N.O.’s house in Washington. At a recent annual meeting of the Navy’s “tailhookers,” pilots who have made at least one carrier landing, no one was sure how the black-shoe, surface Admiral would be received. But they stood on chairs and screamed: “We want The Big Z, Big Z, Big Z.”

The Navy almost missed him. As war approached in 1939, Zumwalt was determined to attend West Point and later become a doctor. His father had served as an Army physician in World War I and would do so again in World War II. But an Irish friend of his father’s came to their home in Tulare, Calif., raved about the sea, and “told a lot of wonderful stories about life on whaling ships−and that did it.” Zumwalt decided on Annapolis, where he starred in debate but finished 275th in conduct in his class of 615. Petty regs did not appeal to him then, either.

At the Battle of Leyte Gulf, young Lieut. Zumwalt won a Bronze Star for his work in the combat information center of the destroyer U.S.S. Robinson as she attacked Japanese battleships. He had a narrow escape as officer of the deck on the destroyer U.S.S. Phelps when he maneuvered the vessel to avoid a submarine attack and one torpedo passed just underneath her keel. “He may be a good officer,” reported a superior on the Phelps. “But it was difficult to tell because he was seasick for the first three months.” His most memorable experience in the war came when his task force captured several Japanese ships and he was installed on one of them, the Ataka, as skipper of an 18-man U.S. prize crew. His orders were to sail the Ataka up the Yangtze and Whangpoo rivers to Shanghai, still occupied by 175,000 Japanese troops.

Fulbright Said No

Zumwalt and his crew scared off two Japanese PT boats, blasted a signal light that was trying to order the Ataka to stop, and steamed brazenly into Shanghai. Zumwalt’s bluff convinced the Japanese that a “vast horde, of American ships” was following and that they should not bother his captured vessel. When one Japanese army captain later approached the Ataka, Zumwalt grabbed the officer’s pistol, spun him about and hauled him off the ship by the seat of his pants. The captain’s driver surprised Zumwalt with a pistol at pointblank range, but before he could fire, Zumwalt lifted the captain as a shield. A Texas sailor then knocked the driver down from behind.

The high point of Zumwalt’s “invasion” of Shanghai came at a dinner he attended in the home of a Russian family. There he met Mouza Coutelasi-du-Roche, whose French father and Russian mother had earlier settled in Manchuria. In a letter Zumwalt later wrote to his father, he described meeting Mouza: “Tall and well-poised, she was smiling a smile of such radiance that the very room seemed suddenly transformed, as though a fairy waving a brilliant wand had just entered the room. For a long moment there was utter silence. Then we sat down to the most memorable meal of my life.” Mouza agreed to teach Zumwalt Russian, and the lessons drew them closer. After five weeks, he asked her to marry him. They went through two ceremonies, one by a Presbyterian minister at the American Embassy, one in a Russian church.

Zumwalt never did leave the Navy, although he toyed with the idea several times. He applied for a Rhodes scholarship in 1947 and got to the finals, but was knocked out, ironically, by a future foe of almost everything military who was on the Rhodes Selection committee: J. William Fulbright. Recalls Zumwalt: “Fulbright simply could not understand why anybody military had anything to learn at Oxford.”

Now physically shipshape at 175 Ibs. (just five pounds over his weight as a football tackle at Tulare High) and nearly 6 ft., Zumwalt runs−not jogs−for two miles each morning around the Naval Observatory Grounds outside his house. He also brings home briefcases of work, marking papers in a hand so illegible that only a half dozen Pentagon aides, known as “the interpreters,” can decipher it. When he began working at breakfast, however, his wife mutinied. She kissed him and announced: “See you in four years, Daddy.”* That is when his term expires. Zumwalt no longer reads at breakfast.

Despite Zumwalt’s persuasiveness, not all military men agree that making life easier for troops and sailors is a good thing. The Marine Corps is determined to be as tough and rigid as ever, perhaps more so in order to claim greater eliteness. “We will continue to take the hard line,” says one Marine general. “We think we can get 200,000 volunteers, cut their hair and shave their faces. It will be a challenge, but maybe it’s the only one left.”

The service academies claim they have gone about as far as they can to liberalize rules, and they see merit in retaining stern discipline. A West Point cadet was dismissed last month because he had claimed to have shined his shoes, then voluntarily admitted that he had lied. But cadets can wear blazers on weekends, the high, stiff uniform collars are gone and, notes one colonel in a swipe at Zumwalt and Westmoreland, “We removed reveille two years ago, but we didn’t call a press conference to announce it.”

The superintendent at Annapolis, Admiral James F. Calvert, believes that Zumwalt is “the best thing that’s happened to the Navy in a long time,” but he does not want his academy to adapt too completely to the world outside its walls. Calvert praises “team spirit, the battle cry, camaraderie, heroism, the desperate fight against impossible odds,” and deplores the fact that higher education in the U.S. tends to reject “authority, tradition, moral values−anything that smacks of absolutes. Annapolis cannot go along with that.” And if a midshipman does not believe “in the essential goodness of the country and has no desire to defend it against all its enemies,” Calvert wants him to leave.

There are, indeed, dangers in too much leniency, as Zumwalt and his aides are well aware. Many top admirals wonder if the Navy has not already gone too far. As he retired from his post as Commander of the Pacific Fleet this month, Admiral John J. Hyland hinted as much in Zumwalt’s presence, asking in his farewell speech: “How far can we permit absolute freedom of speech, deportment and dress−and still hang onto the indispensable element of discipline?” He warned against being weakened by “bleeding hearts.”

Many commanders of ships and bases feel that Zumwalt is delving into personnel matters that have long been their rightful prerogative. Many Navy chiefs, the indispensable career men who run much of the service, contend that lowly swabs are getting perks that it had taken them years to earn. Besides, there is the issue of authority, the subversion of the chain of command. Grouses one commander at Norfolk: “Since these Z-grams came out, some men in the lower grades seem to feel that they are working directly for the C.N.O.and to hell with everybody in between.”

More serious is the argument that discipline and rigor are essential to the primary business of the military: preparing men to kill and to endure the personal danger of death. Nearly all the legendary armies of history have been harshly trained and regimented. The model is ancient Sparta, whose youths spent 23 years, including their wedding nights, in soldiers’ barracks and could be fined merely for showing no appetite at mess. Says the superintendent of West Point, Major General William A. Knowlton: “It has always been our experience that disciplined units suffer fewer casualties than slovenly ones. ‘Dirty Dozen’ outfits exist only in the movies.”

Freedom and Responsibility

Indeed, Military Historian and Columnist S.L.A. Marshall contends that the U.S. Army is taking the same relaxed route as did the French Army of Marshal Petain that he visited in 1937−and that proved so ineffective in World War II. “Once you deviate from the sanctity of an order, you’re in trouble,” he warns. “And we are right on the ragged edge of reducing discipline to the point of danger.”

But Knowlton is the first to admit that there has always been something unique in the attitudes of Americans in arms. It was noticed, he says, by the Prussian Baron Friedrich von Steuben, a military adviser to Washington’s army: “When he was at Valley Forge, Von Steuben observed that you cannot just tell an American soldier what to do, you always have to tell him why.”

Whether Zumwalt and his like-minded colleagues in the other services can indeed create a military force that is happy behind the lines and fully effective in combat remains to be seen. Given the current low esteem of the military in much of the nation, they have very little choice but to move in the directions they have chosen. Like so many parts of the American historical experience, this movement, too, is an experiment−risky, unprecedented, but rich with promise. If the U.S. military can significantly reform itself, there is no reason why other less rigid and authoritarian American institutions in Government, education and business cannot succeed as well.

Military men are fond of observing that their institutions only mirror those of the society at large. That is another way of saying that nations tend to get the armies and navies that they want or deserve. Zumwalt’s bet is that in the armed forces or out, freedom and responsibility are not incompatible−that men treated less like children in the service of their country will, if called upon, prove the equal of their predecessors as fighting men.

-They have four children: Elmo, 24, who resigned his naval commission when his father became C.N.O. and is now studying law at the University of North Carolina; James, 22, a Navy ensign; Ann, 16; and Mouza, 12.

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