The Army: Then and Now

I was very entertained this week by Ferling’s description of life for soldiers in the Continental army.[1] Though life in today’s United States Army is not nearly as dreadful as it was for those soldiers, the parallels are striking in many ways, particularly in regard to the reactions of soldiers to army life. As Ferling noted, “For most, perhaps, the great discovery about the army was the dark reality that a soldier never controlled his own life.”[2] Though times and the army have changed, there are still many aspects of my life over which I have no control, and it can be frustrating.

I laughed out loud at the black humor displayed by soldiers about the crude medical care they received. I often joke about the recruiters’ promises of the free health care we receive, instead referring to the “free sub-standard health care” available to us. Ferling mentioned a list of strange treatments for various maladies; soldiers today joke about the Army doctor’s drug-of-choice, vitamin M—Motrin, which is prescribed for seemingly everything.[3] Joseph Martin believed he survived yellow fever only because his regiment’s doctor was on furlough.[4] While I cannot relate to the seriousness of his illness, I do scratch my head at the contradictory diagnoses I get from various doctors concerning my own health concerns.

Martin wondered at “his ‘imbecility in staying’ in the army,” and compared army service to a sentence in a state prison, both of which I have also done. [5] Ultimately, though, Martin understood what so many other soldiers have realized: a bond of brotherhood develops among comrades in the military, unlike anything civilians will ever experience.[6]


[1] John Ferling, Almost a Miracle: The American Victory in the War of Independence (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 331-38.

[2] Ibid., 336.

[3] Ibid., 332.

[4] Ibid., 333.

[5] Ibid., 338.

[6] Ibid.

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