The Dance of the Acetate Commandos
A Modern Fable in Regulation Army Green
by Jim Morris [at Buon Beng RVN (c1964)]
The big room was abuzz with motion, noise, and bustle. Clerks in
baggy pants and wrinkled poplin shirts, ties down between the
third and fourth buttons of their shirts, scuttled along the
aisles between desks, with tall stacks of papers in their hands.
The only noise above the clatter of typewriters, the schlurp of
coffee, the ceaseless shirr of the WACs' nail files, was a radio
on which a musical rendition of meaningless mumbo-jumbo, with a
monotonous wubba-wubba refrain and a one key backup.
The walls were covered with a selection of gloriously patterned
charts showing the current status of pet adoptions, intermural
sports recruitment, Red Cross donations, blood-bank deposits,
Savings Bond sales, Airborne Association memberships ... the
myriad things an army needs to function. The music was suddenly
interrupted by a smooth voice which said, in a soothing manner,
"We interrupt this program to bring you a special news bulletin.
The Army has just announced another glorious victory in the
retreat from Washington, without the loss of a single man, except
for a couple of divisions on rear security ....".
"Mildred, see if youse can get some music," said one of the WACs.
So the dial was turned, but the significance of the announcement
had not been lost on all. In the far left hand corner of the
room, a Sergeant First Class with lank hair and GI spectacles was
wondering about the effect of the news on the bond drive. After
all, when the slogan was "as sound as the United States" ...
guess the Old Man will make it mandatory again, he thought. A
Staff Sergeant suspected that the mail would be delayed, the
sundry packs would go astray, and the beer will be warm again.
In the office of the Commanding General, a cluster of colonels,
light-colonels, and majors were quietly jiggling. They were
gnawing their lower lips as if they wanted to go to the bathroom,
but didn't feel it quite polite to leave. "Sir", said the Chief
of Staff, "the retreat from Washington will call for fast
decisive action on your part."
"Right!" said the General. "Issue a directive ...".
"Directive!" repeated the staff dutifully.
"I want a report from all subordinate commanders, not later than
next week, in reference to the number of handball courts at their
respective installations." The General's jaw jutted and his eyes
flashed. He glared decisively around the room.
"Terrific!" an LtC remarked to a Major in the back of the room.
"Didn't bat an eye."
"In triplicate," the General roared.
"Triplicate!" the staff thundered, and began to circle in a slow
shuffling dance around the General's desk, chanting the ancient
formula to ward off the enemy. "Acetate," the General intoned.
"Acetate!" the staff chanted after.
The dance was growing more frantic now, as they caught the
sweat-lubricated rhythm, and a few of the senior members were
out, faint on the shining linoleum squares of the floor. The
General was jerking and thrashing about on the top of his desk,
and yelling, "Graphs!"
"Graphs!" echoed the staff, while executing a neat leap into the
"Report!" the General commanded.
"Report!" the staff echoed.
"Mandatory!" he prompted.
"Mandatory!" they responded.
"Quintuplicate!" he frantically exhorted.
"Quintuplicate!" they doggedly complied.
All but the most stalwart had now dropped out, and suddenly the
Chief of Staff broke ranks, and raced to the huge map on the
TOC's wall. "Overlay," he screamed. "Christ, I've got to make a
new overlay." He grabbed a handful of grease pencils, and began
sorting them; throwing the ones he found wanting onto the floor,
and grinding them under his immaculate paratrooper boots into the
shiny linoleum. Green, blue, yellow, fuchsia ... "Where is my
mauve grease pencil?" demanded the Chief.
"Mauve grease pencils are on order, and are expected
momentarily," said the G-4.
"Don't you people know there is a war on?" muttered the Chief of
At that moment, the door was flung dramatically open and an NCO
in fatigues, bleeding from a dozen wounds, staggered into their
midst. "Sir," he said, "I have news from the front."
"Who authorized this breech of protocol?" asked one officer.
"Doesn't he know the chain of command?" inquired another.
"He needs a haircut!" observed one.
"He's out of uniform!" observed another.
"Kill him!" cried one, and they fell upon him and began pelting
him with salt-tablets and map-pins. The G-3 finally beat him to
death with a plaque depicting 100% participation in the United
Fund. "Now, where were we?" asked the General's aide, while
gasping for breath.
"I was about to issue another directive," said the General.
"That won't be necessary", said a dirty and barefoot savage, who
was wearing a loincloth, and leaning in the doorway. He had a
crossbow slung over his shoulder and was casually cleaning his
fingernails with a punji stake. His gourd canteen and bamboo
quiver were slung saltire, and a tribal bracelet encircled one
wrist. "We won the war two weeks ago," he confirmed.
"Why wasn't I notified?" demanded the General. The staff looked
at each other sheepishly. "After all, sir," said the Chief of
Staff, "the purpose of a staff is to prevent the commander from
being bothered with alot of trivia, distracted by insignificant
minutia, or diverted with unimportant details."
The General brushed this explanation aside, and confronted his
enemy. "Where did we go wrong?" he demanded. "We had more of
everything; more acetate, more overlay paper, longer reports in
more copies, more press releases and publicity junkets. Where did
we go wrong?"
"We fought," said the savage.
The Adjutant General began thumbing through the regulations to
see if this was authorized.