The U.S. Army’s New, Retro, MAGA Uniform

UNIFORMS-1-jumbo
The Army’s new uniforms are a throwback to World War II.  Making the Army Great Again?

W.J. Astore

News that the Army is moving to a new, retro, uniform modeled on World War II-era designs got my military friends buzzing.  Not so much about the “new” (old) uniform, but all the badges, ribbons, tabs, and related baubles and doodads that adorn U.S. military uniforms today, a topic I’ve written about before at TomDispatch.com and here at BV.

First, the new uniform.  World War II was the last “great” war America truly won, so it’s hardly surprising the Army is reaching back to the era of the “greatest generation” and the “band of brothers.”  Why not tap nostalgia for that “good” war, when Americans banded together against the Nazis and the Japanese?  It’s also consistent with Trump’s message about “Making America Great Again”; we can even substitute “the Army” for “America” and keep MAGA.

For Trump, this mythical “great” America seems to center on the 1950s, whereas for the Army it’s WWII and the 1940s.  Still, these MAGA uniforms and hats seem to say the Army and America are currently not great, and that the path to greatness is a retrograde one, a return to the past.  (That return apparently does not include a revival of the draft and America’s citizen-soldier tradition.)

But it was an image of Dwight D. Eisenhower that got my military friends buzzing.  Ike led the invasion of D-Day and was the architect of victory in Europe as supreme allied commander, yet you’d never know it from his simple, almost unadorned, uniform.  Consider the image below of Ike that accompanied the story in the New York Times:

Ike
A victorious Ike returns a salute

As one of my military correspondents, a retired command sergeant major who fought in the infantry in Vietnam, wrote to me:

[Ike was] A man from a cow town in Kansas, Abilene, who was a lower rung grad at West Point and came back from WW I as a Major.  Twenty years later as a LTC enters WW II and comes back a Five Star General, one of only about five ever made and he has two, count them, two  tiny rows of ribbons, no hero badges, not even a bolo badge to show what a great marksman he is, no para wings, no ranger tab, no CIB/EIB and FIVE, COUNT THEM, FIVE STARS on his shoulders.  He also ran for, won, and was a pretty damned good [Republican president] for eight years.  The Generals we have had since, starting with Westy [William Westmoreland] were all losers although they all had badges, ribbons, medals, patches all over their sorry asses BUT no VK medals, no VVN medals, no Victory Medals from any damned place I can think of.  Well, maybe Grenada or Panama, or a bar fight in Columbus, GA.  Home of Ft Benning… Something to think about, eh?

All those “bells and whistles” on military uniforms today “are like Vanity License Plates for one’s car,” this same command sergeant major noted.  Speaking of vanity, a retired colonel told me there’s a company “that’ll miniaturize your ‘rack’ so you can wear your ribbons on your lapel—all of them—when you separate [from the military].  LOOK AT ME: I’M A HERO!”

One thing is certain: We have a ribbon- and badge-chasing military.  (General David Petraeus was the worst.)  People literally want to wear their “achievements” on their sleeve — or blouse — or jacket, even after they leave the military.  Military members chase these baubles.  They “achieve.”  But what about quieter achievements that you can’t wear?  How about integrity, honesty, commitment, fairness?  What about intelligence?  Dedication to the craft of arms that doesn’t involve getting a fancy badge like jump wings from France?

The Army’s retro-chic uniforms won’t be of any value if we keep valuing the wrong things.  A Boy Scout military that keeps chasing merit badges for the sake of promotion of self is a very bad thing, irrespective of uniform design.

Yet there’s another side to all this.  As my colonel-friend put it:

Here’s the real cost of this ribbon chasing.  There’s an enormous number of man-hours expended on writing and chasing the paperwork to award these doodads…  At a time when the military is allegedly overtaxed and burned out, why are they wasting so much effort on this nonsense?  Why are some units hiring editors to keep the decorations moving?  In survey after survey, AF pilots cited decorations and other administrative nonsense, not deployments, as the reason they don’t want to stay in.  But since generals groom and promote only those who think like them (having selected them when they were captains), nothing changes.  “You have to take care of your people,” they say, and if you listen to E-9s [the senior enlisted] people are happiest when they get doodads.

As another close military friend put it: “And don’t even get me started on the ridiculous number of ribbons and badges today.  A captain today will have as many ribbons as a circa-1944 two-star [general]. [In their new retro uniforms,] they’ll just look like extras in a war movie.”

In sum, a jury of my peers has come back with a verdict on the Army’s new retro uniform: Love the look, but can you please bring back as well the humble citizen-soldiers of Ike’s era, the ones who won wars without all the gratuitous self-promotion?

16 thoughts on “The U.S. Army’s New, Retro, MAGA Uniform

  1. I knew my time in the USAF was ending when the big news was that the Air Force Chief of Staff, General McPeak (I think it was) was making a big push to redesign the Air Force class A uniform. It was going to be more like the officers’ uniform of the Naval service right down to insignia or rank being on the sleeve.

    It was clear to me then that it was time for me to go. If the biggest priority of the Chief of Staff was designing uniforms then there was no mission for me to support and I like many another old soldier should just fade away.

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  2. The Air Force I think used to redesign Uniforms the most. I miss the Old Khaki 1505’s Summer Khakis. the Air Force had when I was in 73-77 Active, and I barely had like “Ike”there 2 Rows of Ribbons we used to call them when I punched out in 77 as a Buck Sgt. Air Policeman. As I said previously when performing M.P. Customs Inspector duties overseas mid 70’s. U.S. Army personnel from lowly Pvt. to Gen. Officer– I had to have them remove their Class A Dress Jacket due to the amount of Brass, and Badges on them. Invariably setting off all of our Metal Detector Devices from Wands to Walk Thru Machine no matter how we set them…! Navy, Marines, A.F. all flying thru the Machines N.P. In closing I wonder if they’ve (Army) gone full Retro. Even “Brown Boots”…? Anyone. It could be worse ever see North Korea a large Magnet would Defeat their entire Officer Corp.! :/ :o)

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    1. There should be a rule: If your uniform sets off a metal detector, you’ve gone way too far in burnishing your own record!

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  3. Another U.S. general known for his simplicity of dress, to the point where he was described as shabby: Ulysses S. Grant. The uniform does not make the soldier.

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  4. You sure those are copies of WWII uniforms WJA? They look so sloppy and ill fitted. Now Ike’s is wrinkle-less, albeit dangerous. On both the battlefield and Mess Hall. You’d get a paper cut brushing against those razor sharp pleats in his pants!
    Did a little military fashion history. Yes, Hugo Boss was the designer for Nazi uniforms. An early Nazi, he offered his services free of charge for the Brownshirts. Der Fureher was impressed, and gave him the Wehrmacht & Luftwaffe* as a bonus….including manufacturing. (* I suspect decadent & vain Goering stuck his nose in!) Ultimately with no results!
    Though history tells us the real Coco Chanel’s* of the day were those lonely & cold Russian Babushkas, sewing up simple uniforms for their fighting boys in their Great Patriotic War.
    *Her country fell in a mere 6 weeks! USSR never surrendered an inch of territory. Makes one think how important uniforms are – unless you’re a dying army.
    Take that as you like it….

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  5. It strikes me that soldiers kind of likes dressing up in drag. Maybe that’s why they are (were?) so hostile to homosexuals in the military … gays can carry off outrageous outfits much better.

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    1. On a minor point, the USA didn’t win WW2, did it? Many of the most significant battles took place on the Eastern Front where some of the fiercest fighting took place. I think the Red Army’s contribution should also be recognised.

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      1. Yes, the Soviet military played the largest role in defeating the Nazis in WWII. But it truly was an allied victory, and the U.S. military made a strong contribution as well, as did others. And of course the U.S. arguably played the biggest role in defeating Japan.

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        1. My comment was directed at the European theatre (does this make me Eurocentric?), rather than the Asian one. I don’t think anyone would argue with you on that.

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          1. I would!

            Well, less argue, than point out that Japan in WWII was really two separate States – the one run by the Army and the one run by the Navy.

            The Japanese Army spent a decade mired in an endless struggle mostly against China. And millions of Chinese soldiers and civilians died.

            China and the Soviet Union played the greatest part in defeating the Axis Powers. The Anglosphere’s contributions were massive and there were terrible sacrifices to be sure, but nowhere near the same magnitude.

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          2. Yes. Much of the Japanese Army was mired in China. Also, as a fan of Field Marshal Sir William Slim, I never forget the role of his XIVth Army in Burma. In WW2, the U.S. military didn’t win it alone, but it made major contributions and was on the winning side.

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  6. “But since generals groom and promote only those who think like them (having selected them when they were captains), nothing changes.”

    Probably the most important concept.

    Why I now advocate eliminating the officer corps entirely. When the Pacific States are free, the Pacific States Self-Defence Force will make “officer” just a job you qualify for. An assignment like any other, performing a function for your combat team.

    NCOs with PHDs is the future!

    Also, I feel it obligatory to point out the ancient law that the side with the blingiest uniforms loses on the battlefield.

    You can have combat proficiency, or pretty uniforms. Never both.

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  7. You honestly believe anyone outside of Amarka or its satellite slave states gives a shit about how your comprador elites festoon their cannon-fodder?

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  8. Of interest to nobody probably but Republicans hate Ike. They always did. He was not really a Conservative in any sense, except the common sense variety. The John Birch Society whose decedents are now the center of the GOP called Ike a commie or at least a com-symp.

    Ike was conservative in that he held a view of the presidency which saw presidential power in extremely limited terms. Well except in fomenting coups. This view of the presidency was out of touch with the reality that the president held the power to essentially end life on earth. Besides which modern communications made the president a star or center of attention.

    I offer a challenge, Can anyone point to a Republican who has ever mentioned Ike?

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  9. You need to think Marketing here, not achievements. At some point it became necessary to outfit our Warriors to look like a NASCAR Drivers. Even if they have never won a race they have caps, badges and logos to display.

    They need these displays of badges, medals, and ribbons to convince the American people we are winning (well at least in the battle of medals, truth be told). I suppose it can be an intimidation factor when called to testify in front of Congress. I have all these medals, ribbons and badges and you do not – Hence do not question my authority, tactics or strategies, oh and by the way we need more – fill in the blanks.

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