Saturday, June 15, 2019

Military Humor – Spit and Polish

An Apocryphal Story
Re-told by

Sometime ago – I decided to clean my bookcase – and while delving through my collection of books  I saw a delightful book called  “The Psychology of Military Humour”  by Brigadier J. Nazareth which I had acquired long back.

While browsing through this book  I came across an anecdote about the celebrated Russian Second World War General Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov (Marshal of the Soviet Union) (01 December 1896 – 18 June 1974).

Since the book mentioned the anecdote very briefly  I did a bit of searching on the internet  in order to enable me to narrate the story in a more elaborate manner.

Whether this “shoe-shining story” is true  or a part of folklore  we do not know.

What is important is the lesson to be learnt from the story.


When he was handpicked to command the newly created mechanized regiment – the training principle that Zhukov introduced was:

If you dont know how to do it – we will teach you how to do it

If you dont want to do it – we will make you do it

Once – when he was the Regimental Commander – Zhukov decided to carry out a surprise inspection of the soldiers who were on duty.

He was accompanied by the Adjutant (a Major)

Zhukov was satisfied with the appearance and ‘turn-out’ of the soldiers – except one soldier – whose boots were poorly polished.

Zhukov asked the Adjutant what he thought of the soldier’s boots.

The Adjutant asked the soldier to explain why his boots were not polished properly.

The Soldier remained silent.

The Adjutant warned the soldier that he would be punished for improper turnout in uniform.

Zhukov raised his finger and interrupted the Adjutant. 

Then – Zhukov said angrily to the Adjutant: 

“I am asking you – not him. 

The important thing is not that the soldier’s boots are not polished properly.

What is more important is why you did not pay attention to the matter

There is apparently no one else in this regiment except the Commander to help him clean his boots…”

Zhukov ordered the Adjutant to bring a stool and boot polishing equipment.

A Stool and Boot Polishing Material was promptly brought.

Zhukov told the soldier to put one foot on the stool and watch attentively.

Then – Zhukov began polishing the soldier’s boot – showing the soldier exactly how to polish boots.

After a few minutes  the boot was shining.

Zhukov then gave the brush to the soldier and told him to polish the other boot to the same level of shine. 

When the soldier had done so – Zhukov nodded and walked away.


In the Military – there is no substitute for professionalism.

An officer is supposed to know how to do a task – before he orders his subordinates to do it.

That is why military training is so elaborate with a “hands on” approach.

However – this is not so in the civil services – where “generalists” rule the roost.

And sometimes – these clueless “administrators” pass vague and impracticable orders to specialists.

With the advent of “high-tech” weapons and state-of-the-art modern military technology – this “civil services” attitude seems to be creeping into the Defence Services too.

I have seen occasions  when a “generalist” senior officer tries to “bullshit” a technical specialist – and ends up embarrassed when his ignorance is exposed.

Of course – “Bullshit” does not work any longer.

If an officer does not know how to do a task – how can he teach or supervise his subordinates to do that task...?

In today’s world – the earlier Carry on Chief Style Navy Officership does not work nowadays. 

An Officer must be able to demonstrate to his juniors how to do a task.

That is why an Officer cannot stop learning even if he achieves high rank  because – there is no substitute for continual learning and professionalism.

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1. This article is a spoof, satire, just for fun and humor, no offence is meant to anyone, so take it with a pinch of salt and have a laugh.
2. All stories in this blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the stories are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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