Frederick the Great, who in common with many historical figures failed to anticipate modern sensibilities, believed an army marched on its stomach.
That proves yet again the irredeemable crassness of every prominent member of any generation before our own. Frederick must have laboured under the misapprehension that a successful army must be well-fed, well-armed and well-drilled.
While admitting that such things are still marginally important, we today know that the most essential aspect of battle-worthiness is heightened sensitivity to… well, everything we must be sensitive to.
Such as personal pronouns. Never mind that a soldier may be short of food, ordnance and training. Just arm him/her/it/them/zie/hir with sensitivity to personal pronouns, and the army will vanquish in any cultural battlefield, if no other.
Such is an inference from another instalment in the saga of Joe and Kamala, showing it’s not just great minds who think alike. Since Joe Biden is the Commander-in-Chief of the US armed forces and VP Kamala Harris is effectively his deputy, it’s good to see they are in agreement.
Kamala spearheaded the attack by publicly specifying that her own pronouns are she/her. The cosmic significance of that announcement at first escaped me. In my naivety, I’d address a woman by those pronouns without being encouraged to do so.
I forgot that, the way language works nowadays, it’s not denotation but connotation that matters. And in this case the connotation signals sensitivity to institutionalised and ideologised transsexuality.
It stands to reason that, if people can choose their sex from a menu currently including 74 offerings, they should also be entitled to choose the pronouns that reflect their new sex.
Here the menu is somewhat limited, but it’s growing. Thus a transsexual may prefer to be addressed in the plural, as ‘they’ and ‘their’ (“John is weird. They wear their sex on their sleeve.”)
Actually, following a singular antecedent with a gender-neutral plural pronoun is now par for the course – even when the person’s sex is in no doubt. Thus, “This striker needs to work with their coach” is now the norm in sports reportage, even though one can confidently expect any Premiership player to be a man.
What’s still less common is the growing use of impeccably neutral pronouns, such as ‘zie’ and ‘hir’. This proves the tremendous elasticity of English and its capacity for endless expansion.
Also constantly updated are the titles of address. The first step in the right direction was taken decades ago, when ‘Miss’ and ‘Mrs’ were ousted by ‘Ms’, laudably erasing the distinction between married and unmarried women.
Yet a step in the right direction still falls short of the ultimate destination. Progressive though ‘Ms’ is, it’s still distinct from ‘Mr’ and therefore does nothing for gender neutrality. That oversight is being widely corrected by the growing use of a gender-neutral title of ‘Mx’.
There’s only one progressive alternative to starting a letter with ‘Dear Mx Smith’: dropping the title altogether. ‘Dear Smith’ would have the additional benefit of looking as if the correspondents both went to a good public school, where addressing one another by the surname is common.
That was the signal Mx Harris sent and I initially missed. But Mx Biden, the Commander-in-Chief, heard it in every tonal detail and acted accordingly. Yesterday he overturned Trump’s ban on recruiting transsexuals in the army.
The ban didn’t cover the 8,980 transsexuals already on active duty; it only precluded adding to that number. That’s no longer good enough: “President Biden believes that gender identity should not be a bar to military service, and that America’s strength is found in its diversity,” said the White House statement.
Without disputing the source of America’s strength, one should still ponder whether it’s indeed diversity that makes an army strong. Even if it does, one would think this factor is rather low down on the list, below things like physical and tactical training, discipline, marksmanship, esprit de corps and other aspects traditionally seen as essential to martial glory.
Actually, armies thrive not on diversity but on uniformity, with each unit bringing together a number of men thinking, acting and fighting as one. Why, soldiers aren’t even allowed to express their individuality sartorially, with everyone clad in identical fatigues.
They go into battle with an understanding of one for all, all for one. That requires seamless cohesion in every unit, with the collective subsuming the individual. A good soldier still has to think for himself, but only within the uniform framework of regulations, manuals and orders.
Moreover, soldiers are by their nature aggressive types whose purpose in life is to kill anyone who wears a uniform of different design. This fosters a laddish atmosphere with a strong flavour of machismo, and all armies are similar in that respect.
Now, the US army doesn’t normally attract arty types hanging out in Greenwich Village or Rodeo Drive. Most recruits are simple (as distinct from simple-minded) lads from the backwater of Iowa, Alabama, Arkansas and other such places.
Sensitivity to those they describe as ‘preverts’ can’t possibly be high on their list of masculine virtues. Now imagine their reaction to him/her/it/them/zie/hir turning up in the barracks of their infantry platoon.
I’d venture a guess that him/her/it/them/zie/hir would have a life similar to the canvasses of Hieronymus Bosch, not those of François Boucher. Him/her/it/them/zie/hir would be certain to suffer an ordeal for which bullying will be an inadequate description.
That means the platoon would have to undergo an extensive programme of sensitivity training, supplementing and in due course possibly replacing the kind of training traditionally associated with infantry units.
Normally I’d bemoan the erasure of the line separating decadence from degeneracy. However, taking Mx Biden’s word, I’m willing to accept that America will become stronger as a result of his new law. But, dollars to doughnuts, as him/her/it/them/zie/hir might say, the army won’t.