What Right Looks Like: Treatment of Soldiers - Hazing as "Harsh and Tyranical Treatment"

Feb. 13, 2012

Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, U.S. Army Europe Commanding General


Recent media reporting of hazing incidents within our Army (and the knowledge that a few in our USAREUR team have been alleged to have hazed or conducted "initiation rights") requires me to be clear in stating the following: hazing or disrespectful treatment of subordinates is nothing more than an act of abuse; independent of whether or not it is voluntary makes it contrary to what we believe in as Soldiers.

Our Army had these issues after the Civil War, and it caused MG James Schofield to write some specific guidance for emerging leaders at West Point.  For those who have not seen "Schofield's Definition of Discipline," it goes something like this:

"The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is NOT to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than to build an army. It is possible to impart instruction [training] and to give commands [instructions] in such a manner and such a tone of voice as to inspire in the Soldier no feeling but an intense desire to obey, while the opposite manner and tone of voice cannot fail to excite strong resentment and a desire to disobey. The one mode or the other of dealing with subordinates springs from a corresponding spirit in the breast of the commander. The leader who feels the respect which is due to others cannot fail to inspire in them regard, while the leader who feels, and hence manifests, disrespect toward others, especially inferiors, cannot fail to inspire hatred."

For information, AR 600-20 distinctly describes hazing as any cruel, abusive, oppressive, or harmful act associated with initiation "rites of passage" or congratulatory acts.  Hazing is prohibited in all cases, to include off-duty or "unofficial" celebrations or unit functions.

The misguided excuses that "this is how it was always done" or it "helps build teamwork in the unit" is unacceptable.  Quite frankly, anyone who believes these things indicate they have a gross misunderstanding of the concept of professionalism and our obligations as leaders and as teammates. 

Army traditions and unit camaraderie are important to me.  But make no mistake: we must NEVER compromise professionalism, values or the dignity we owe our Soldiers...especially those young Soldiers who are entering our force today, as they are making history by volunteering to enter an Army at war, when they know they may be asked to sacrifice their lives in combat.

The very foundation of what we do depends on trust, and trust depends on PROPER training and the PROPER treatment of all Soldiers...with dignity and respect.

Soldiers and leaders at every level have an obligation to prevent hazing and insure that we treat every Soldier and Civilian with dignity and respect.  Individuals who participate in, allow or condone hazing or improper acts associated with promotions or rights of passage can be assured that swift disciplinary action, including non-judicial punishment or court-martial, will be taken.

Together, help me ensure USAREUR and our Army remain a values-based profession to be proud of, and a great place to serve...where instructions and training are conducted with a view toward professional and personal growth and development.

Strong Soldiers, Strong Teams!