When a US Army general made the decision recently to remove bayonet assaults from the array of skills soldiers must learn during basic training, it seemed like a no-brainer.
US troops hadn’t launched a bayonet charge since 1951 during the Korean War. And new soldiers preparing for an increasingly violent war in Afghanistan already need to learn far more skills than the 10 weeks of basic training allows, says Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, head of initial entry training and the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command.
So he made a change, substituting skills drill sergeants reported that they wanted to teach new recruits in favor of dropping the time-honored practice of the bayonet charge.
But in the weeks since that decision, Hertling has heard about it. “Bayonet training is pretty fascinating,” he says. “I’ve been slammed by retirees.”
Infantry soldiers still receive bayonet training. Pogues don’t. Of course infantry soldiers haven’t made a bayonet charge since 1951. Pogues haven’t made a bayonet charge since, well, ever. It is pretty easy to make the argument that bayonet training isn’t the highest and best use of basic training time for pogues.
On the other hand, there is a hell of a lot more to bayonet training than preparation for a bayonet charge. For those of you who don’t know, the spirit of the bayonet is “to KILL, KILL, KILL!!!”
Bayonet training is, in short, used to undo socialization – to “basically to try to mitigate or eradicate the reluctance of human beings to kill each other,” Mr. Kohn says. It is one of the challenges in US or Western society “where we have such reverence for the individual, where we socialize our people to believe in the rule of law, and all of that,” he adds. “What you’re doing with young people is trying to get them used to the highly emotional and irrational and adrenaline-filled situations in which they are liable to find themselves whether they are within sight of the enemy or not – and the reluctance to take a life.”
Never is military training so profoundly, terrifyingly, emotionally violent as during bayonet training. When 200 men scream “KILL, KILL, KILL!” and charge plywood targets it feels a bit insane. Rifles are broken as bayonets are pounded through plywood targets. Men literally froth at the mouth. It is ritualistic warrior blood lust. You chant, you charge, you kill. You feel the warrior in you explode. You are with the Scots at Bannockburn. You are with the 20th Maine at Little Round Top. No training so readies you for battle as bayonet training.
Also, there may not have been a formal bayonet charge since 1951, but I guarantee that American have used the bayonet in one on one action in just about every war fought. Including the use by the occasional pogue.
I hate to see it go. Train those troops.