I do enjoy watching the film, Full Metal Jacket, as it is a magnificent piece of film-making. It is of course a film of two halves. The training and drilling of the new recruits on “the island” and then their experience in Viet Nam. The opening, where Gunnery Sergeant Hartman “greets” the recruits is fantastic. Here is a man who has control and knows how to use it. The actor, R. Lee Ermey was an honorary Gunnery Sergeant and a drill instructor who was initially used as a consultant but his demonstration of how a drill instructor would speak to the recruits was so impressive, he was given the part. During the opening he barks at one unfortunate,
“What’s your excuse?”
“Sir, excuse for what, sir?” comes the confused reply.
“I’m asking the fucking questions here private, do you understand?”
“Sir, yes sir.”
“Well thank you very much, can I be in charge for a while?”
“Sir, yes sir.”
This exchange is demonstrative of how we approach our relationship with you. We regularly ask you questions which you do not understand or you do not have answer for. We know that to be the case. That is why we ask them. We immediately put you on the back foot and we will then follow it up with a further question or an accusation which has you floundering. We know that you are trying to ascertain what the most appropriate response is, the one which will stop us from raining down insults on you or that will mean we will leave you alone (at least for a while). You are not allowed time to think or consider. The way we treat you has you exhausted and surrounded by a fog of confusion. Your ability to cope and respond has been eroded so that when we start to bark these perplexing questions at you, you are unable to muster anything appropriate in reply.
Much like the relationship between Gunnery Sergeant Hartman and the recruits, ours is an unequal one. The power rests with us and we are the ones in charge. Something we like to reinforce to you on a daily basis. We like Gunnery Sergeant Hartman’s opening question to this particular recruit because we know that you are built from excuses. We expect you to come out with them and they keep on flowing. You do this because you are not able to achieve what is expected from us. It does not matter than nobody can, that is irrelevant. What matters to us is that you cannot fulfil what we want and therefore you are left making excuses. Excuses are the tools of incompetence. You are incompetent and you are inferior. All you ever do is come out with excuses so that is why our first words of the day to you, may as well be,
“What’s your excuse?”
because that is what coming. A torrent of apologetic and pathetic explanations for your failures and disappointments.
“Why did you not wake me?”
“I’m sorry I thought you wanted to rest, I must have got confused.”
“Why is this coffee cold?”
“Sorry, I made it too soon for you whilst you were busy outside.”
“Why haven’t you made dinner yet?”
“I am sorry but I have been busy looking after the children, working, cleaning the house and doing the laundry.”
“Why are you crying again?”
“I am sorry but you are upsetting me.”
“No I am not. I am just pointing out what you have done wrong, so you don’t do it again.”
“Sorry, thank you, I guess I must be tired and that is why I am upset.”
Excuses, excuses and more excuses. You infuriate us with this repeated failure to deliver. Don’t give us excuses, do what we want, when we want it and how we want it. You should know what the right thing is. You do this on purpose because you want to make us angry. You deliberately fail and then trot out these useless explanations in order to irritate and annoy us. You want to make us erupt into a rage and make you cry. We know full well that you do this in order to try and make us feel guilty, but that is not going to work. We are on to you and we are not going to let you get away with this sub-standard performance. You can come up with a multitude of excuses but they do not wash with us. Do not ever turn to us and say,
“They are not excuses, they are reasons.”
If you do that we are likely to explode with fury. Learn, think, anticipate, act quicker and do it right. We do not want your excuses as they remind us of how we must be stupid to be with someone as useless as you. That means we start to feel bad about ourselves and that is all down to you. In order to remove that feeling we need to reassert our natural superiority and attack you in whatever way we deem appropriate, even though we know this just causes you to mumble some futile apology and come up with another excuse.
Is this standpoint horrendous? Is our treatment of you awful, abusive and aggressive? Is our expectation too great? Is our intolerance beyond a joke? Yes. But then we have a host of excuses as to why that is, haven’t we?