When I was young, we only had two TV channels. On one of those channels, they were running a repeat of an old TV show from the Seventies, called “The Good Soldier Švejk”. It’s the story about a Czech soldier going through various adventures in the Austro-Hungarian army during World War I. Soldier Švejk distinguishes himself by being almost absolutely useless. He always seems well intentioned and eager to please his superiors, but somehow always fails, because of his dumbness and clumsiness. By acting that way, nothing can be held against him, but he avoids being tasked with any difficult, taxing or dangerous missions or jobs. All the while, you never know if Švejk really is dumb, or is only playing dumb.

While we were watching, our father said to us: “I want you to pay good attention to this, my sons. That’s how you behave in the army! If you’re too eager, not only will your superiors dump more work on you, but also your comrades will hate you for raising the bar for everyone. Keep your head down, don’t mouth back, and don’t show how intelligent you really are. The only thing to do differently than Švejk is to make no waves, positive or negative. Basically, make it your mission that on the day you leave the army, your superiors aren’t even sure who you are.”

That was great advice! I sailed through the army like a breeze (more or less). It probably depends on the type of army you are entering, but here in Austria, we have a general draft, so there’s a widespread culture of “let’s get this over with” among the recruits. If you voluntarily sign up for the US Marine Corps, for example, and want to make a career in the military, I would assume that a totally different strategy would be advisable.