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Basic Training

Originally published in the Humanist, vol. 17, no. 1, 1957

Well, my infant son

such bubbling sounds are softly fit

to the comfort of the cradle nest

but I see you are ill-prepared

for adult reality in our society

during this modestly-named Scienific Age.


I’ll tell you a story of once-upon-a-time,

a future time when you will face

both life and your contemporaries

with precise social grace.


First, learn the voice of command;

                        Ready on the right.

Ready on the left.

            Ready on the firing line.


Also, the standards of a serviceman:

Military Code of Justice;

Discipline and Teamwork on the Skirmish Line.


Put aside those crayon books

with shy giraffes and rolly bears

for forty-two minutes of

Piecing Together Information

from documents, paper scraps, love letters,

and notes found on still bodies and other

Sources of Military Information.


And then, oboy, oboy,

we get to the meat of the matter in

FS 8-36, Care and Treatment of Face and Jaw Wounds.


Pay particular attention to

TF 7-1263 The Bayonet Fighter;

twenty-one minutes screened in a stifling tent

will teach you to use the bayonet,

in-drilled and assimilated with TF 30-1943

all twenty-seven minutes of graphic action:

a) Proper Questioning and Clever Interrogation,

b) Reasons for Taking Prisoners in Combat.


But don’t tell mother, son—

it’s a once-upon-a-time story for men, except

The Effects of Atomic Radiation or

Reconstitution and Use of Standard Package Dried Plasma.


You’ll look back at that red wagon


thinking it vastly amusing to have preferred it to

Cross Country Ambulance, ¾ Ton, 4x4.


Now, learn the game

or risk the dishonor of social failure

when your playmates assemble for the sport of

Combat in Deep Snow and Extreme Cold.


Losing interest?

Too much of the same thing?

You wouldn’t want to be kept off the team

would you;

while other boys chucked blocks and trains for

Infantry Hasty Field Fortifications,

or miss out on slit trench and prone shelter

because cuddled in a cradle nest

you ignored your future

Spider Hole and Foxhole Preparation?


Getting sleepy, little boo?

Plump in your new body

triangularly bandaged (cf. FS 8-101)

you may drift off to sleep.


The poignant story of

Mine Fields: Laying, Marking and Recording

the Six-Row Mind Belt

will give you steel sheep to count

not one of which must be overlooked—

material for an endless dream.


I’ll repeat it again, boy,

while you and I work out a future—

you’ll learn to wipe your nose

and wear civilization on your back with

Field Jacket, M-43.


No, don’t tell mother, lad—

this once-upon-a-time story is

a game mommies never play

except, of course,



—Lachlan MacDonald


Poet’s note: My basic training was in Alaska during the winter of 1950 and the training manual titles are mostly authentic. The final line reference to nerve gas originated in a command post exercise in Alaska when I was assigned to do a press release from Territorial Governor Ernest Gruening, warning the populace of impending attacks from the Soviet Union, written to caution people without triggering a panic, about a weapon of mass destruction that was silent, undetectable and lethal, and at the time unknown to the civilian population. A war game exercise, the release was never issued.



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