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weapons training

I Subject Matter

 This poem is an example of a sergeant (martinet) dressing down a squad of recently enlisted recruits, likely for the air force of an Asian Campaign (references to “mob of little yellows”, “a pack of Charlies” and “their rotten fish-sauce breath” suggest Vietnam War a distinctive brand of in-built war propaganda.

In order to prepare young men to kill another human being you need to desensitise them.  You need to brutalise them by destroying their self-esteem and then mould them into ruthless killers.  Voltaire famously said: "Killing another human being is always murder; unless it is accompanied by trumpets".  Many soldiers suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Military people know it as "warrior culture", a macho attitude that permeates throughout the Australian Defence Force. It breeds tough soldiers, sailors and airmen, who are trained to not complain and just get on with the job, despite the constant threat of life and death situations.

Dawe dramatises a drill sergeant in the following monologue:

And when I say eyes right I want to hear

those eyeballs click and the gentle pitter-patter

of falling dandruff you there what's the matter

why are you looking at me are you a queer?

look to your front if you had one more brain

it'd be lonely what are you laughing at

you in the back row with the unsightly fat

between your elephant ears open that drain

you call a mind and listen remember first

the cockpit drill when you go down be sure

the old crown-jewels are safely tucked away what could be more

distressing than to hold off with a burst

from your trusty weapon a mob of the little yellows

only to find back home because of your position

your chances of turning the key in the ignition

considerably reduced? allright now suppose

for the sake of argument you've got

a number-one blockage and a brand-new pack

of Charlies are coming at you you can smell their rotten

fish-sauce breath hot on the back

of your stupid neck allright now what

are you going to do about it? that's right grab and check

the magazine man it's not a woman's tit

worse luck or you'd be set too late you nit

they're on you and your tripes are round your neck

you've copped the bloody lot just like I said

and you know what you are? You're dead, dead, dead

 

 Analysis:

 weapons training

II Sound Effects

 

Read the poem aloud. Comment on the Sound Effects,

verbal music, its rhyme, rhythm and melody. Assonance, alliteration, onomatopoeia, etc. (Blending repetition patterns, slow/ movement, Melody, tone, mood, atmosphere, voice.

As a dramatic monologue, this diatribe, tirade or harangue would likely be delivered in a shrill, strident monotone with few pauses. The tenor of the persona (a N.C.O. squad instructor) is extremely bullying condescending, derisive and at times even contemptuous and abusive to his audience as he exhorts them to learn their trade of killing the enemy. This is one of the few of Dawe’s poems that actually has a rhyme pattern imposing a discipline and sense of poetic purpose on the poem.

III. Themes

 The poet through the persona of a drill Sargeant (martinet) is inculcating the philosophy that it pays to learn to kill the enemy before he gets a chance to kill you.

Dawe is also suggesting that the all aspects of War are degrading, brutalising and dehumanising. While the language of the sergeant may be acceptable on the parade ground, it would be rejected by civilised society hearing it in their home surroundings or in respectable school classrooms.

Some critics claim that the persona is voicing his own fears of the men, his sexual inadequacy and his own vulnerability and mortality.

The poem illustrates the futility of most of the parade ground exercises which are not relevant to actual fighting especially to the airforce pilots.

Propaganda:  The army’s first  task is to turn normal civilised empathetic youth into hardened ruthless killing machines.  This can be achieved by a cold heartless and contemptuous drill sergeant’s belittling, degrading and brutalising young recruits and dehumanising or depersonalising the enemy, depicting them as sub human savages.  Examples of this are Full Metal Jacket, Bruce Dawe’s Weapons Training or Henry V’s speech to his troops before the Battle of Agincourt. In 1914, WWI, German soldiers, Huns, were portrayed bayoneting Belgian babies.

 IV. Poetic Technique

 Structure, images. (visual, auditory, olfactory tactile ,gustatory) figures of speech. contrast antithesis,  unity irony etc

 

Dramatic Monologue that begins in mid sentence with a conjunction - And

Images are base, crude and generally appeal to the visceral (gut) rather than the heart and never anywhere near the cerebral (mind).

Humour of the smutty kind is meant to keep us amused but is merely degrades and alienates by turning grim facts into a joke to make life (death) bearable.

Address is glazed - the ‘you’ is not individualised, it could any dehumanised recipient of racism, militarism or sexism.

Rhetorical Questions:  

 

1.    “what are you looking at? Are you queer?”  

2.    “what are you laughing at?”  

3.    “what could be more distressing than….”  

4.    “what are you going to do about it?”

Antithesis:

 

          “tit” - life affirming, nurturing

"magazine" - life destroying

onomatopoeia:

          eyeballs “click” 

dandruff “pitter patter”

 

Short sharp syllables

  V. LANGUAGE

 

diction, tenor, level, euphemism, punctuation ambiguity, connotation evocative, emotive/demotive, omission, etc.

 

The drill Sargeant uses Language as a weapon of invective and insult.

 

Punctuation

 Lack of most – except for question marks. 

Dawe preferred the lower case even in his titles – though later publishers changed this.

 Aggressive & Bullying – Abusive, Brainwashing, conditioning, fear and hate

Eye-balling talk. Derisive and demeaning:  “tripes around your neck”, dead, dead

 Prejudicial Pejoratives - labels

 are you a queer?

little yellows,

 pack of Charlies,

rotten fish sauce..

Blather and Drivel

eyeballs click,  pitter patter of dandruff,  copped the bloody lot (Australian idiom)

 Smutty and Crude

 Life and love are precious even to the drill instructors. They are “the key” (double meaning) "Cockpit drill” and “the old crown jewels

No rifle has the life-affirming qualities of a woman’s tit.

Put-downs question the recruits’ manhood

1.    “are you queer?”  

2.    “crown jewels”  

3.    “turning the key 

4.    “you’d be set” 

Clichés and Australian Idioms

1.    “If you had one more brain”  

2.    “unsightly fat”  

3.    “you’d be set” 

4.    “copped the bloody lot”  

5.    “worse luck”  
6.  “tripes” is slang for "guts"

 


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