Discipline is most frequently and succinctly defined as “instant and willing obedience to orders.” In common usage discipline has a triple leaning: (1) the training which looks toward the “instant and willing obedience,” (2) the act of instant obedience, itself, which is the objective of the training, and (3) the means of enforcing that obedience when it is not wholly “willing.”
Based upon this fundamental concept, discipline in the Naval Reserve and in the Active service has the same objective, the instant and willing obedience. Discipline m the Reserve must, however, differ from that of the active service both in the method of training and in the means of enforcement. These differences arise from the very nature of Reserve service, and the personnel engaged in it.
Discipline is not the fixed attribute which some rigid disciplinarians believe it to be. In their many applications, the elements of good discipline vary with time, with nationality, and with circumstances. The cat-o’-nine-tails discipline of an eighteenth-century British ship of the line was quite different from the discipline of a modern British battleship. The discipline of the German Navy is as unlike that of the Russian or the Japanese as they are unlike the French or the Italian.
Discipline varies most widely of all in its adjustment to the type of individuals to be controlled. The high quality of intelligent discipline on a crack American destroyer would scarcely be recognized as such by a heel-clicking junior officer of a European navy of 30 or 40 years ago. Nearly every man in the complicated organization bill of a destroyer is a specialist, even though he is nonrated, and specialists cannot be rigidly regimented, if they are effectively to discharge their special duties. This means for them that discipline must be not only willing and instant but intelligent as well.
It is this necessity of adjusting the training and enforcement methods of good discipline to the type of naval personnel involved which is reflected in the present-day disciplinary standards of the Naval Reserve.
In the same sense in which crime is an indictment against society, so is a lack of discipline the fault of those in positions of command, as well as those whose obedience is slow and unwilling. In the Reserve at least, disciplinary impasses occasionally develop in which an otherwise conscientious junior officer or enlisted man has been made the victim of poor command technique. Through no major fault of his own, he finds himself in difficulty and the recipient of disciplinary criticism, which he quite naturally resents. In the interest of organization morale, therefore, it behooves the Reserve officer to give thought to the methods and attitudes which insure good discipline, in their specific applications to Reserve personnel.
The circumstances under which Naval Reserve discipline is to be enforced differ from those of the regular service in several outstanding particulars, and correspondingly, the means for that enforcement differ.
The junior officer or enlisted man, who has not seen a reasonable amount of active service, does not have ingrained in his being the necessity for instant and willing obedience. In the active service, discipline must be uniformly inculcated under the clear skies and in the calm seas of peacetime instruction, to the end that it shall be instinctive and unquestioned in the emergency of bad weather and the exigencies of war. It has been sarcastically observed that, when there are breakers ahead, the commanding officer cannot call a referendum of his crew to determine what shall be done.
The Reserve, in the security of its armories ashore, on a drill night, is not called upon to face the very real dangers which confront every ship that puts to sea. Except for the short 2-week summer cruise, these emergencies which test the quality of discipline exist, for the Reservist, only in make-believe. He goes through a collision drill in the best simulated manner. If, however, he should fail to obey an order instantly, the safety of neither the armory nor his fellows would be jeopardized, nor would he be exposed to a greater personal hazard than a reprimand from his commanding officer.
Discipline in the Naval Reserve thus lacks the necessity element which gives vitality to the discipline of the active service. The Reservist may be told that instant willing obedience is essential, but he does not feel it as does the regular who has seen it in action, and whose own personal safety was perhaps dependent upon it at a critical moment.
The enforcement of discipline in the Reserve is different also by reason of the absence of certain economic factors which enter into the discipline of the regular service.
The majority of the officers and practically all enlisted men of the regular establishment are dependent upon their Navy pay for a livelihood. In their selection for promotion or advancement in rating, weight is put upon their attitudes toward discipline and toward those who are in authority over them. They are therefore understandably more amenable to discipline than would be the case were their livelihood and advancement not at stake. They naturally feel toward their naval profession exactly as Reservists feel toward their civilian employments—they know that they must buckle down and make good, if they are to arrive at a desired goal.
On the other hand, the Reservist generally looks upon his Navy activities as a hobby. He is in the Reserve because he likes it, and because it gives him a release from his bread-winning job, and not for mercenary reasons. If a man is the right kind of a man for the Reserve, his retainer stipend alone is not enough to hold his interest and enthusiastic support.
A boatswain’s mate in the Reserve perhaps fills a position of responsibility in civilian life which carries a salary above that of a lieutenant in the Navy. Obviously the retainer pay of his rate in the Reserve is of no great force in the disciplinary control of his actions. In fact, were a summary court-martial to take away all of his retainer pay for a year, it would have no more effect upon him than his transfer from a Fleet to a Volunteer status.
There is still less economic control over the several thousands of officers and men in the various volunteer classifications, who drill, study, and instruct, week after week, without any pay compensation whatever. This is particularly true of the volunteer officer or radioman of the Communication Reserve who, in spite of receiving no pay, frequently takes from his own pocket the cost of radio devices which he builds into his private radio station with his own hands.
It is a great credit to the Reserve that men of this type are willing to serve under these circumstances, particularly in the enlisted ratings. Fortunately for the Reserve, however, there are not so many socialite-yachtsmen and millionaire-ensigns on its rolls as is popularly supposed, since they do complicate the disciplinary situation, try as they may to be typical of the ranks and rates which they hold. The fact remains, nevertheless, that the substitution of the avocation attitude of the Reserve for the vocation attitude of the Regular carries with it a different perspective on the discipline situation, to which consideration must be given.
The circumstances of rank and rate which draw social barriers between enlisted and commissioned personnel, and between junior and senior officers, are effective indirect aids to the maintenance of discipline. In any walk of life, a bit of social poise adds distinction to one’s position with reference to others. It is comparatively simple for the commanding officer of a battleship to hold himself apart from intimate contact with his junior officers or his men. It is more difficult for the engineer officer of a destroyer to do so. The angle of aloofness is even less helpful to the Reserve officer endeavoring to maintain disciplinary control.
Unlike the regular, an officer of the Reserve has frequent contact with his men, outside of their naval service, particularly if he is in command of a division or a battalion of the Fleet Reserve. His men come to him for financial or marital advice. They give his name in reference to prospective employers, and occasionally bestow it also upon a baby, in his honor. He is asked to support this or that undertaking of the lodges and labor unions of which his men are members. It is not unusual that he has business or employer relations with some of the men of his unit.
If he is an experienced Reserve officer, be welcomes rather than resents these personal approaches, because he well knows that is the stuff of which loyalty is built. However, these non-naval contacts between Reserve seniors and juniors make it just that much harder for the senior in imposing discipline, despite all the lines of rank which he can draw once a week when he is in uniform.
The intermittent character of the Reservist’s duty has considerable effect upon his reaction toward discipline and enforcement procedure. It is true that the oath has been taken to obey the lawful orders of the officers appointed over one. It is likewise true that the Reserve officer has had granted to him authority sufficient to enforce adequate discipline. Unlike the officer of the active service, however, who has complete control of his men every minute of every day throughout their enlistment, the Reserve officer finds his control limited to two hours each week. The personnel of the regular service live constantly in an atmosphere of discipline; the Reserve breathes that atmosphere only during his brief drill periods. With a lapse of seven days, disciplinary observances quite naturally have a tendency to wither and to be forgotten, unless they are painstakingly revived each time the Reservist dons his uniform.
The regular officer also has at his hand many inconsequential means of encouraging instant obedience, such as extra duties or deprivation of liberty, and finally he has the deck and summary courts. None of these means are normally at the disposal of the Reserve commander. His sole device for ready enforcement is the transfer of the offender from the Fleet to the Volunteer classes, or the discharge, with Bureau approval, of a manifest inaptitude case. Either of these channels succeeds in disciplining the man only by removing him from active participation in the Reserve service. This lack of formal disciplinary machinery introduces still another difference between Reserve enforcement methods and those of the regular establishment.
Nothing in what has gone before is, in any sense, to be construed as an excuse for laxity or for a softening of Reserve discipline. Differences of conditions between Reserve and active service admittedly exist, but these must not be permitted to color the objective toward which all enforcement methods must point.
Far and by, the disciplinary standards of the Reserve are sound. Officers and men alike know these standards and recognize their desirability. Discipline in the Reserve is not rigid; neither is it lax, in terms of the discipline of the regular service. It is more flexible, and needs to be so, to operate successfully under the varying conditions of Reserve service.
Too often discipline is judged by inessentials. An over-snappy salute is apt to cover a multitude of sins of omission. Less snap in the salute and more dogged effort toward carrying through compliance with an order when difficulties are encountered is a far better measure of discipline. A Reserve division which returns from a 2- week summer cruise without an A.W.O.L. or a critical infraction of ship’s regulations, as many do, has demonstrated in a most convincing way the quality of its discipline, even though an occasional “Sir” here and there may have been overlooked. And a little harmless skylarking about the armory, before and after drill, is as good an indicator of a well-disciplined “happy ship” as any disciplinarian need desire.
The principal deficiencies in Naval Reserve discipline are, perhaps, lack of snap and the unconscious tendency to place a personal interpretation upon compliance with an order. Such lapses arise from the head and not the heart—from lack of knowledge and training rather than from intent. Rare indeed is the Reservist who intends a breach of discipline. The effective Reserve disciplinarian must take the attitude toward first offenses, that the offender is ignorant of what is expected of him. The officer’s role then becomes one of instructor, indicating in what respect the culprit has failed. If the offender is sound Reserve material, a repetition is most improbable. A second offense must not be condoned, however, nor, much less, a first offense which is tinged with intention.
There is no reason why an acute disciplinary case should ever be permitted to develop in the organized Fleet Divisions. In the active service a man is a fixture for a term of years and, except in serious cases of inaptitude, the service must put up with him for the duration of his enlistment. To that end, the active service must try to “correct the incorrigible,” and rebuild him into a useful member of the organization of which he is a part.
In the Reserve, however, membership, particularly in a Fleet unit, should be construed as a privilege, to be enjoyed only through interested, trustworthy, and disciplined service. A man or officer who does not react to that privilege may readily be transferred to an inactive class, in consequence of which he commonly fades from the picture. This purging process is fully justified on the premise that the Reserve is too limited in numbers, in funds, and in training hours, to waste time and effort on one who refuses to adapt himself to the code to which the rest of the group subscribes. In fact, emphasis upon the privilege of membership, if exercised strongly at the time of first application for enrollment, accompanied by an examination of references furnished by the applicant, will go far toward obviating disciplinary difficulties later in the enlistment.
Having thus analyzed the factors rendering the enforcement of discipline in the Naval Reserve at least different, if not more difficult, than successful enforcement in the active service, it is encouraging to consider certain elements which assist the good Reserve disciplinarian in securing, prompt and willing obedience to his orders. Some of these helpful elements are inherent attributes of the officer himself; others are but tools in his kit of acquired techniques.
A start might be made with that almost indefinable characteristic of personality. Although perhaps the most important element of all, this is the one about which the least may be said with definiteness.
Some officers enjoy willing obedience from their men; others can only command d with firmness; yet both are good officers. Some officers take a high standard of excellence in discipline for granted, and find their men responding to it unconsciously. Others seem downright surprised if they do not meet with infractions, and by their very attitude, in effect dare their men to try to “get away with something.” These diverse expressions of personality are characteristic of all officers, regular and Reserve alike.
The personality which aids enforcement ls the personality which wins followers everywhere—the personality of leadership. Leadership plays a far greater part in Reserve discipline than does arbitrary command. It is a complex compound of fairness in man-to-man dealings, firmness in decisions, loyalty to both superiors and juniors, buoyancy in the face of adversity, definiteness in requirements, and an appreciation of sincerity of effort. The real leader who possesses these to any reasonable degree seldom need think of discipline as a problem, except in that abnormal individual who fails to respond to normal dealing.
Somewhat akin to personality and leadership, as aids in the enforcement of discipline, is the Reserve officer’s position in his community. In every walk of life, men give more willing obedience to a leader who has demonstrated successful leadership than to one who has been placed in a superior position by fortuitous circumstance. The Reserve officer must depend more upon his attained position than upon his conferred Reserve rank to give him the prestige in the eyes of his men which is essential to the maintenance of good discipline. Excepting the juniors in years of service, the successful Reserve officer is, commonly, a man who has found himself in his community, and who has secured some recognition, professional, financial, or otherwise, from his fellows. The young Reserve officers of the type now being commissioned are constantly gaining distance toward that same goal, and will undoubtedly have acquired the position in civil life “appropriate to their rank” as their successive advancements in grade arrive.
The factor which most differentiates the officer of the Regular service from the enlisted man is the education which has been bestowed upon him at the Naval Academy. An enlisted man recognizes and respects the superiority of a well-trained leader.
Naval Militia and Naval Reserve discipline of a generation ago suffered, not infrequently, from the lack of naval education possessed by the Reserve officer of that day. Despite general education and position in civil life, the Reserve officer who failed to master the professional requirements appropriate to his Reserve commission found his enforcement of discipline sorely handicapped. If an officer knows his duties, and knows that he knows them, his manners of command and bearing carry that knowledge to his men, in their compliance with his orders.
The standard of Naval Reserve education, with its favorable reaction upon discipline, has been steadily lifted during the past fifteen years through the stiffening of requirements for general service commissions and for advancement in rank, and in the higher all-round performance expected of the Reserve officer. In this field, the courses of instruction and the helpful encouragement extended through the Naval Reserve Educational Centers have been most salutary.
Since the establishment of the several Naval R.O.T.C. units, some eight years ago, the procurement policy for Reserve line officers has rested upon a very sound basis. These young officers have four years of naval training, under well-selected regular officers, woven into their college courses, together with two summer practice cruises on vessels of the active fleet. By commissioning time, they are not only well-informed professionally, but they have acquired an appreciation of the traditions of the naval service and the meaning of effective discipline, and an enthusiasm to carry them over into the Reserve. These juniors, closest in contact with the men, are in a strategic position to instill sound disciplinary doctrines. The respect which they command and the discipline which they secure, largely by reason of their educational background, are an advance indication of what is to be expected in Reserve discipline at no very distant time.
Ten years from now, the Reserve will be almost completely officered and disciplined by this very excellent personnel. It is fitting that every effort be made to advance them in responsibility as rapidly as they prove themselves ready to carry it, for these responsibilities will be thrust upon them, a decade hence, whether they have been given an opportunity to gain that experience or not. They must also be given seagoing training to the greatest extent possible—the practical complement of their book-learning, without which they can, of course, never be able seamen in the professional sense. It is greatly to be regretted that the absorption of these N.R.O.T.C. officers into Fleet Divisions, in some quarters, has been discouragingly slow.
Consistency has been belittled by some politician-philosophers as an attribute which cramps the individual’s scope of attainment. They would undoubtedly reverse this philosophy were they to be confronted with the disciplinary problems of a keenly critical group of young men enrolled in a Naval Reserve unit. The erratic disciplinarian succeeds only in promoting confusion as to his objectives, and distrust of his sincerity.
The unit commander’s enforcement must be consistent, first of all, as to persons. It is patent that he must never grant a privilege to one which he would not grant to every man in his command under like circumstances. Any flavor of favoritism toward one of the group is instantly recognized and advantage taken of it.
His enforcement must be consistent also as to occasion. He may not be oversevere at one drill in the matter of uniforms or tardiness, and at a subsequent drill be lenient. Surprise may have its place in strategy, but it is disastrous as a disciplinary practice in a Reserve unit. Far better results are secured throughout by announcing a policy in advance of its effective date, and consistently observing that policy thereafter, until it is formally rescinded.
The Reserve officer must be consistent in his recognition of services well performed. John Paul Jones defined his own technique in this regard in classic words which have come down to the present for the guidance of all who are entrusted with command.
No meritorious act of a subordinate should escape his attention or be left to pass without its reward, if even the reward be only one word of approval. Conversely he should not be blind to a single fault in any subordinate, though at the same time he should be quick and unfailing to distinguish error from malice, thoughtlessness from incompetency, and well-meant shortcoming from heedless or stupid blunder. ... As he should be universal and impartial in his rewards and approval of merit, so should he be judicial and unbending in his punishment or reproof of misconduct.
Simple recognition is all that many a Reservist may hope to gain for meritorious performance of duty. When that recognition is generously bestowed, morale is built, and with morale comes the highest forms of loyalty and discipline.
Above all, the successful Reserve disciplinarian must be considered in his own performance of duty and his observance of discipline. Although trite from repetition, heavy emphasis must still be placed upon the do-as-I-do slogan, rather than upon the ancient, but discredited, do-as- I-say basis. The example of diligent, punctilious performance of duty, required of officers by the regulations, is doubly pertinent to the Reserve officer. To be successful, he must impose a more rigid discipline upon himself than he imposes upon others.
Fundamentally the Reserve is recruited by voluntary commissioning or enlistment, from those who are personally interested in its activities. The Reservist’s value to the Reserve ceases abruptly with the loss of that personal interest. No known means exists by which a Reservist’s voluntary interest in attendance and advancement, and in duty and obedience, can be sustained, save by effective leadership.
Men know instinctively when their leaders are capable, consistent, and straightforward. They feel sincerity of purpose on the part of their leaders toward a higher training efficiency and a higher disciplinary standard. To such leaders they invariably respond with a wholehearted loyalty which makes all further discussion of discipline redundant.
Naval Reserve service, when explored below its responsibilities, its missions, and its service to country, is only an exacting sort of game. It is a game in which leadership, training in team work, loyalty, and stamina are constantly exercised and highly essential to success. Both officers and men must play the game with that fine regard for the rules which good sportsmanship everywhere demands. Each must make his own unstinted contribution to the strength of the team, and fight to win, as behooves good sportsmen who have conscientiously maintained, and are proud of, their amateur standing.
If Men are at odds with the general spirit or management of things; if they chafe under their rules or hate their rulers—whether the fault is in the rules or in the commanders or in themselves, the regime may bring out the worst in them rather than the best. External discipline, held in place by a vista of punishment, develops chiefly the powers of deception and evasion; makes adepts at beating the rules, and turns the times of freedom and furlough into times of kicking over the traces. And this will be to some extent the tendency of every system which pretends to a greater measure of infallibility than it actually possesses, or which assumes a “military” finality of form which it cannot make good in substance.
The beginner will at times be too severe for fear of being too lenient, and at others too lenient for fear of being too severe. It is in human nature I will not say to stand, but to prefer, being held to rigorous standards,—but only on one condition; that beneath the iron will there is known to be a complete knowledge and consideration of the limits of the human organism. As long as obedience is an act of confidence which commits vital interests into the hands of officers, command must be an act of thorough responsibility; and a large, though unscheduled, part of the life of an army consists in the gradual education of the officers by the privates, through their spontaneous reactions. Hence there is not, and there ought not to be, prestige apart from experience, none like that of the man who has been tested and has made good, who knows his instrument, and is fortified against miscalculation.—Hocking, Morale and Its Enemies.