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. It is not due to a lack of courage; rather moral compunction. American drone pilots make up the highest percentage. Vietnam, Iraqi, and Afghanistan veterans suffer due to a lack of clear objectives.

Military people attempt to inculcate a “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 of 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.

“For Imperial rulers, as well as despots, war is about romance, gallantry and glory. They like nothing more than a carefully pressed uniform, a parade ground and a razor-sharp fighting line. Hitler and other tyrants love the goose step. Thousands of soldiers, in perfect alignment, followed by mechanised artillery and missiles are designed to impress, covering up the real brutal ugliness and chaos of the fog of war.

At most, British soldiers spent two months of the year actually training to fight. The other ten were devoted to parading, attending to their uniforms and waiting on their officers, for whom they were expected to serve as cook, valet, porter and gardener.

‘The actual conditions of warfare were studiously disregarded,’ Amery wrote. ‘Nowhere was there any definite preparation for war, nowhere any dear conception that war was the one end and object for which armies exist. In their place reigned a … hazy confidence that British good fortune and British courage would always come successfully out of any war that the inscrutable mysteries of foreign policy might bring about.’ Hero of the Empire: The Making of Winston Churchill - Candice Millard

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?”


“tit” - life affirming, nurturing

“magazine” - life destroying


eyeballs “click”

dandruff “pitter patter”

Short sharp syllables


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

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


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”