Carl Clauswitz, in his military classic “On War,”describes and experience that is all too familiar to soldiers, but hard to even imagine for civilians. For some reason, everything, even the simplest little task, is excruciatingly difficult, and takes massive amounts of effort to accomplish. Clauswitz, in an effort to make things clear to the newly scientifically minded 19th century, called it “friction.” Soldiers today just call it “Murphy.” Murphy happens. It has to do with the fact that, separated far from home, in the face of enemy opposition, spread thin, and with an array of unusual tasks to accomplish, the number of factors in the situation grows exponentially. There are simply too many variables to control, and each one pulls and slows you down.
Clauswitz’ solution is simple to the point that it seems obvious: to counter Murphy, you need to reduce the number of variables. You can do this by by making as many things as possible as routine as possible. Hence the need for Army discipline; custom and courtesy; drill and ceremony.
But sometimes it seems like there’s something more than friction at work. Sometimes it seems like deliberate malfeasance, or at least poor planning. Why is it that my office is a full half-mile from my barracks? How is it that the dining facility is somewhere between the two, but still a half-mile in another direction? Both the DiFac and the PX (the company store) do not allow bags of any kind. They could have any number of reasons for this, but the effect is that I’m not allowed to load up a bunch of supplies from one place and carry them to the other by way of a meal. Why is it a two minute walk in any direction from my room to any one of three latrines?
Which brings me to this morning. There are three different kinds of latrine in my camp. Some are filled with just toilets and sinks. Some have only showers and sinks. And some have all three. The ones that have all three have less of each in the same amount of space, but at the same time, they’re more popular. Because most people tend toward the combination latrine in the morning, those are always a little more crowded, a little messier, and a little more… run down. On the other hand, if you find that, having already walked a good 200 yards, it’s not much more effort to hit one latrine for your morning toilette, and then switch buildings somewhere between teeth brushing and a shave, so that you can take your shower, you’ll find that you have access to much nicer, cleaner, clearer facilities. So that’s what I’ve been doing.
The last few days, it’s actually been quite chilly. Somewhere in the 40s, with nice gusts of wind. It gets cold like that here in the desert, especially after a hard night’s rain. So this morning, I got up, put a jacket on and shivered my way to latrine #1. After taking care of business, I pushed the button to flush and nothing happened. This made me suspicious. So I turned on a faucet or two. Nothing but dribbles. The water was out.
I’d already heard a platoon sergeant talking about how, with the draw down, there was a reduction in services, so we had better learn to be more conservative with our water use. I had ignored him. I still have a hard time believing that the army would move all the people out of Iraq into Kuwait, and then turn the water off in Kuwait. But there the water was, off. So I developed on the spot some alternative theories: More people means more water consumption, even through the trucks come to fill the tanks on the same schedule. Maybe the water hadn’t been turned off, but it we were still out of it. The other option was that the pump was broken.
No problem (other than an unflushed toilet). I was leaving anyway. So I go to latrine number #2, only to discover that it’s on the same water line as latrine #1. Maybe even on the same pump. So no shower. No teeth. No shave. Fortunately, 50 yards away in two different directions were other lines of latrines. I met a guy in the middle somewhere who was in the same predicament as me, and we agreed to march in different directions. Whichever one of us didn’t find water would come back looking for the other. If we didn’t find each other in the middle, we would know there was water somewhere.
So I crossed the great divide and visited the strange latrines. None of them were as nice as the one I left, where I had my own favorite shower, with one of the nice shower heads. The first one I visited had running water, but it was muggy. Then, when I turned the water on, it was positively tepid. So I thought I’d try again. The second shower had hot water, but there was no heater. In fact there was an air conditioner. Did I mention that it was already chilly outside? I brushed, shaved, and shivered in the shower, and headed back to my room. My morning routine had just taken an hour.
Since I was now running late, and since the DiFac was so not on the way to work, I skipped breakfast.