This was in a forgotten anthology I read maybe thirty years ago.

A new recruit on day one of his compulsory military service, he writes home telling his parents (mom) about some of the things such as a barber's tent with an actual striped pole outside where they all get their heads shaved, I think he then describes a greasy meal (not sure about that) but then he says he has to go on parade.

He is a bit confused about when he left home at the train station because his mother was sobbing hysterically and his trembling father was muttering something like "When I was a youngster a war was a real war, goddamn government"

They line up and 'Sergeant Grizzled Veteran' comes out and snarls at them about the four things a good soldier should be. He lists these as disciplined and ### and ### and dead.

He then outlines what he means by disciplined and the next two items, while he does this some trucks pull up beside the ranks.

Suddenly machine guns protrude from the trucks and a hail of bullets slaughter all the rookies.

Sergeant smiles sadistically and says "And that's what I mean by being dead"

  • I'm confused. Was there any indication why they did this to their new recruits?
    – Valorum
    Apr 11, 2019 at 6:37
  • 1
    No, not that I remember , maybe just population control?. There might be a reason if we find the story
    – Danny Mc G
    Apr 11, 2019 at 6:41
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    Other than your general impression that it was "dystopian", is there anything you can remember about it that was actually on-topic for the site?
    – Valorum
    Apr 11, 2019 at 7:01
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    Well it was set in a society where the government (USA because his letter said 'dear mom" has just been remembered) had an established procedure for machine gunning loads of young men . Also I remember more info now about his father that I'll add to the question.
    – Danny Mc G
    Apr 11, 2019 at 7:45
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    Also it was deffo a science fiction anthology I read this in...the only short story anthologies I ever get
    – Danny Mc G
    Apr 11, 2019 at 7:50

1 Answer 1


Yes, it's "1-A" by Thomas M. Disch, 1968, originally published in New Worlds #181. I read it in the Disch collection Fun With Your New Head; it's also in another Disch anthology, Under Compulsion.

The four things are "loyal, courageous, self-controlled, and dead."

(Edited: here are the final pages of the story - abridged because the Captain does go on for a while. This happens after the main character has gone through various induction experiences, including the barber that the question mentioned, and read a bunch of inspirational stuff from the Field Manual.)

"Now, some of you may be asking yourselves--what makes a good soldier? Well, I don't pretend to be any philosopher, ha, ha, but just offhand I'd say that a good soldier is loyal, courageous, self-controlled, and dead.

"What do I mean by loyal?

"By loyal I mean that a good soldier loves his country. ....

"What do I mean by courageous?

"By courageous I mean that a good soldier is brave. He does his duty no matter what hazards arise. ....

"What do I mean by self-controlled?

"By self-controlled I mean that a good soldier knows discipline. ....

"Lastly, what do I mean by dead?

"In just a minute I'll show you what I mean by dead ... but first let me say, off the cuff, that I think this company is going to be the best goddamn company in Fort Candler ...."

After Captain Best's speech, and after the cheer for "A" company, a curious and very large vehicle, which moved on treads, lumbered up the gravel parade grounds .... at regular intervals around the shell there were apertures from which the nozzles of small-caliber guns projected.

The captain raised his right arm, then brought it down sharply.

The guns ... commenced to fire upon the men of "A" Company. They continued firing until all the men had been lying on the ground, either prostrate or supine, for some time. ....

"Now that," Captain Best said with satisfaction, "that is what I mean by dead."

  • It's a very difficult tale to track online (says the man with the worst ever Google Fu) but the correct quote about the 4 words confirms it for me. Thank you, I'm ticking your answer
    – Danny Mc G
    Apr 14, 2019 at 19:20
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    Thanks for asking a question I could easily answer! That doesn't happen here often.
    – E. Bishop
    Apr 14, 2019 at 19:47

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