stand down, drawdown

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stand down, drawdown

Post by Ken Greenwald » Fri Jun 16, 2006 5:24 am

Bush seems to revel in using what he thinks is the cool military lingo that he acquired in all those several months of duty in the National Guard (e.g. ‘mission accomplished”) and he seems to have infected his staff as well as the press. As I listened to my car radio while driving home this afternoon, I heard him provide us once again with his now famous, “As Iraqis Stand Up, We Will STAND DOWN.” And when I looked up the definition of STAND DOWN, I couldn’t help but wonder if that wasn’t how our fearless leader spent his entire military career.

When I arrived home I sat down to have a glass of iced tea and picked up the latest issue of Time Magazine and was presented with:
<2006 “But the country's slide toward an all-out civil war in recent months had begun to convince them that a DRAWDOWN anytime soon would not be feasible. . . . Aides say the White House still wants to preserve the option of eventually saying the Iraqis are prepared to assume greater responsibility, allowing the U.S. to ‘STAND DOWN,’ as Bush puts it in speeches. . . . For the moment, Bush advisers say, a DRAWDOWN of U.S. forces isn't imminent. . . . Evaluating when the U.S. might be able to DRAW DOWN its forces may hinge on the answer to another question: What will the absence of al-Zarqawi mean on the ground?”—‘Time Magazine,’ 19 June, pages 30-32>
Bush and his entourage must like these two phrases because they have been using them a lot lately. Perhaps they think they have the ring of in-the-military-know, no-nonsense-tough-person language.

In my two years in the Army, I never heard of either of these phrases and I suspect Bush probably saw them in a movie or comic book he read while avoiding active duty and immediately felt a kinship to them – not quite the bravado, the swagger factor, and the hubris of ‘wanted dead or alive’ and ‘bring it on’ (which unfortunately they did), but good ones nevertheless to make one sound ‘virile’ and militarily ‘with it.’ And I suppose in Bush’s (or his speechwriter's) mind, DRAWDOWN sounds sexier than simply what it means – ‘reduce’ for the verb and ‘reduction’ for the noun, and both DRAWDOWN and STAND DOWN sound a hell of a lot more powerful than “Let’s run off with our tail between our legs and get our asses out of this mess!”

STAND DOWN (1916 - see quote below) first appeared in the early 20th century British military and its origin probably involved all of the following: 1) the countermand of STAND TO (see below) from the older STAND, to take up an offensive or defensive position against an enemy; to present a firm front; to await an onset and keep one's ground without budging; to be drawn up in battle array. STAND was/is used in several expressions including ‘stand under arms’ (1876), to be ready for action, ‘stand upon one’s guard,’ ‘stand guard,’ ‘stand duty.’ 2) also said by some to have derived during WWI from the act of stepping down from the parapet of a trench.

STAND TO [WWI]: A special time in the morning and in the evening. The term is discussed by H. R. Peat in Private Peat (1917): “The name given to the sunrise hour, and again that hour at night when every man stands to the parapet in full equipment and with fixed bayonet. After morning STAND-TO bayonets are unfixed, for if the sun should glint upon the polished steel, our position would be disclosed to some sniper.” (War Slang by Paul Dickson)

STAND DOWN Military (now especially Air Force), the action or state of coming or remaining off duty or of relaxing from a period of vigilance; the end of a spell of duty. (Oxford English Dictionary)

STAND DOWN: 1) [British and then U.S. in WWI] To leave only a few men on watch by having most troops step down from the parapet of a trench; to take a brief rest from duty; to be at ease. 2) [U.S.A. (1960s)] A brief rest for troops on the march that left only a few men for security. (Swear Like a Trooper by William Priest)

STAND DOWN [Vietnam War era]: To rest. A military unit STANDS DOWN when it ceases all operations except security. (War Slang by Paul Dickson)
<1916 “Our last orders were as follows.—From Stand to 5.30. STAND DOWN, clean rifles . . . Stand to 5-5.30. STAND DOWN.”—“Letters,’ I. Gurney, 25 October, in PN Review, 29 (1982), page 32/1>

<1918 “s.v. Stand to. STAND DOWN is the order countermanding ‘stand-to.’”—‘Dictionary of Military Terms’ by E. S. Farrow>

<1919 “STAND-DOWN, the order by which the period of intense armed vigilance is ended at daybreak, nightfall, or after the alarm of a threatened enemy attack has passed over.”—‘Digger Dialects’ by W. H. Downing, page 47>

<1931 “They religiously stood~to and STOOD-DOWN every dawn and dusk.”—‘Other Ranks’ by F. Tilsley, page 108>

<1973 “Pres. Nixon ordered . . . troops in remain on the alert..but elsewhere round the world American forces were STOOD DOWN.”—‘Daily Telegraph,’ 29 October, page 30/3>

<1983 “Acas officials were fighting to keep alive the proposal for a third-party intervention to settle the water workers' strike. But a lull in the peace process is expected over the weekend after the Acas conciliation team was STOOD DOWN.”—‘Times,’ 12 February, page 1/1>

<1992 “If Bush and Clinton both satisfy him -- an unlikely prospect -- Perot would STAND DOWN. If only one does, he might endorse that candidate. If they both fail his test, he implied, he might heed the calls from remaining fans to compete.”—‘Time Magazine,’ 21 September>

<2005 “Our strategy can be summed up this way: As the Iraqis stand up, we will STAND DOWN."— in nationally televised speech at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, 28 June>
DRAWDOWN is a bit of a different story. It did not originally have a military sense and referred to finances and bodies of water. And even today it did not appear in any military lingo dictionaries that I checked. Also interesting is the fact that the word does not appear as a headword in the OED and the two sentences it does appear in refer to water levels. The word seems to have first appeared in the military sense during the Vietnam War and the earliest example I could find was from 1966 (could be why I hadn't seen it while in the serivce – I got out in 1966).

DRAWDOWN (noun) / DRAW DOWN (verb): 1) A lowering of water surface level, as in a well, reservoir, or other body of water. 2) A reduction or depletion. <“a drawdown of weapons in an arms-limitation plan”>, <“the drawdown of oil supplies:>, <“a drawdown of investment capital”>, <“decided to draw down their holdings in gold”>
<1894 “Many Connecticut savings banks have given notice to depositors having more than $10,000 to DRAW DOWN their deposits to relieve the banks from operation of the income tax law.”—‘Chicago Daily Tribune,’ 25 October, page 1>

<1912 “Steady depositors DRAW DOWN part of their savings and do not redeposit the interest paid to them.”—‘New York Times,’ 3 November, page XX7>

<1921 “A pump similar to the one anticipated was placed in the well and operated continuously until the water became clear: then the depth to water, the DRAWN-DOWN, the quantity of water, and the rate of recovery were obtained,”—‘Los Angeles Times,’ 10 July, page IX11>

<1940 “At the time the cutting occurred the plants were standing in water twelve inches deep. However, three days later the soil surface was exposed following a ‘DRAWDOWN,’ . . .”—‘American Midland Naturalist, Vol. 24, No. 1, July, page 259>

< 1943 “Ingenious new methods of temporary DRAWN-DOWN of water-level.”—‘TVA’ [[Tennessee Valley Authority]] by J. S. Huxley, ix. page 55>

<1966 “Under pressures from the Vietnam war, the Pentagon has already ordered a ‘DRAWDOWN’ of 30,000 officers and specialists from Europe', may yet have to withdraw whole combat contingents. ‘Time Magazine,’ 3 June.>

<1972 “Furthermore, he asserts that the Russians are as anxious s we to make savings by demobilizing a substantial part of their forces in Europe, and so a unilateral American DRAWDOWN should induce the Russians to reduce their troops committed to the Warsaw Pact.”—‘Polity,’ Vol. 4, No. 4. Summer, page 543>

<1974 “But shortages should ease quickly; the Federal Energy Office will permit an immediate 11 million bbl. DRAWDOWN from refiners' inventories, the fourth so far this year.”—‘Time Magazine, 1 April>

<1988 “The DRAWDOWNS of both sides' intermediate-range missiles will continue through May 1991. ‘Time Magazine,’ 20 June>

<2006 “Despite an assertion by the new Iraqi prime minister that Iraq may be able to manage its own security by the end of 2007, neither [Bush] nor [Tony Blair] gave any indication of a time frame for the DRAWDOWN of military forces.”—‘Chicago Tribune,’ 26 May, page 18

<2006 “With U.S. support for the war sinking, the Bush Administration is eager to show that sufficient progress is being made toward quelling the insurgency to justify a DRAWDOWN of the 133,000 troops in Iraq.”—‘Time Magazine,’ 12 June, page 39>
Ken G – June 15, 2006

stand down, drawdown

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Jun 16, 2006 8:25 am

I like the drollery of the remark in the 1983 citation that "a lull in the peace process is expected over the weekend".

But I suppose I should refrain from pointing the White House's new press spokesman towards any novel circumlocutions for the Hydra-headed debacle that is Dubya's Iraqi lark, so I won't mention "a snakewalk" or refer to its chief proponent as "a hawk in the dark".
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stand down, drawdown

Post by gdwdwrkr » Fri Jun 16, 2006 9:28 am ... 005713.asp

Fire-making, rather than circumlocution, would be a more worthy objective, it seems to me.
Maybe the fire would include properly-directed disdain.

stand down, drawdown

Post by Erik_Kowal » Fri Jun 16, 2006 9:40 am

So perhaps Dubya should tell the insurgents to "Bloody well bugger off home!"

In my mind's eye I can also picture Prince Philip saying the same thing.
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stand down, drawdown

Post by gdwdwrkr » Fri Jun 16, 2006 10:13 am

Insurgents vs. terrorists.
You read lips in your mind. Cool :)

stand down, drawdown

Post by RWalter » Sat Jun 17, 2006 5:16 pm

I've seen the phrase STAND DOWN used in a slightly different context concerning the military recently. When there was an unexpected number of crashes involving a certain type of aircraft, the Pentagon ordered the military to STAND DOWN (stop flying) so that they could review safety records for this particular craft. Likewise, I vaguely recall some past scandal in the military involving sexual harassment of female soldiers (don't recall the exact details), and once again the troops were ordered to STAND DOWN so that their superiors could give them additional training on the subject. In this context STANDING DOWN is not a time of off-duty relaxation, but is a period of "time out" used for remedial action.

stand down, drawdown

Post by Ken Greenwald » Sat Jun 17, 2006 8:02 pm

Walter, I believe the sexual harassment case you are thinking of is the infamous Navy Tailhook convention in the fall of 1991. However, my search of the news of the day produced no mention of a STAND DOWN in that incident (see quotes below) and I’m not exactly sure what they would be officially ‘standing down’ from (sexually harassing woman at parties?) in that instance. I think that the OED definition “the action or state of coming or remaining off duty” does not just refer to a time for relaxation and does cover those cases (both military and civilian - see 1992 quote above) that you might consider ‘time out’ or ‘back off and stop’ such as the Pentagon order to stop flying a particular aircraft due to the crashes. However, you are right in that the military slang books quoted did not include this aspect, the OED was lacking in detail, and for some reason most dictionaries don't even mention it.
<1992 “At least 26 women -- more than half of them officers -- were assaulted at the convention, but an initial inquiry into the incident turned up few culprits, because male pilots remained tight-lipped on the subject of after-hours "fun. . . The Navy says it is taking appropriate action against all those involved and started a service-wide program against sexual harassment.”— ‘Time Magazine,’ 15 June>

<1992 “The Navy is investigating more than 70 pilots on charges that last fall in Las Vegas they assaulted or molested at least 26 women, the majority of them naval officers, at a convention of the Tailhook Association, a private group of retired and active-duty naval aviators. . . At the school here [[Pensacola, Florida]] that trains elite ‘Top Gun’ pilots, the Navy has begun experimenting with a timely addition to its standard curriculum. Along with aviation and technical subjects, trainees are now being taught the same message about sexual harassment that is being posted on bulletin boards at bases all over the country: ‘Not in Our Navy.”—‘New York Times,' 22 June, page A1>
Ken G – June 17, 2006

stand down, drawdown

Post by Wizard of Oz » Sat Jun 17, 2006 9:47 pm

Bush said:

“As Iraqis Stand Up, We Will STAND DOWN.”
.. this more than anything shows his ignorance of the military meaning of the term by his (scriptwriters) lack of knowledge of the correct opposite .. and Ken .. standing army would fit in there as well ?? ..

WoZ of Aus 18/06/06
Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

stand down, drawdown

Post by RWalter » Sun Jun 18, 2006 2:29 am


I was able to find a couple of references on the web referring to STANDING DOWN as a period of re-training. I was a little surprised to realize that I was thinking of the imfamous "tailhook" incident in my original post (yes, I am old).

Re: Values Training [Kate O'Beirne]
........  I am reminded of the Navy's response to its Tailhook scandal following the '91 bacchanal in Las Vegas.  Owing to the actions of some drunken aviators, the kind of recklessly brave guys who don't think the laws of gravity apply to them, the entire Navy was ordered to stand down for a day in order to be subjected to sensitivity training on sexual harassment.  While some of us were arguing that Tailhook miscreants represented an aberration, the Navy itself tarnished its ranks by seeming to acknowledge a far broader problem.  I think this defensive response was unfair to sailors then and is unfair to soldiers now. 

US 8th Army Forces Ordered to "Stand Down" in South Korea (Sensitivity Training)

01-06-2003 19:56

The 8th U.S. Army in Korea has ordered a stand-down of all its personnel and equipment today to provide education for respect toward the Korean people, it said in a press release yesterday. The U.S. forces will conduct this ``stand down'' training day peninsula-wide to provide blocks of instruction to their soldiers and unit civilians, according to the release...

The training program comes at a time when a growing number of South Koreans are turning against the presence of the 37,000 U.S. troops in the aftermath of the acquittal of two U.S. soldiers charged with killing two teenage Korean girls in a road accident during a training.

The intent of ``New Horizons Day'' is to integrate, synchronize and focus the efforts and initiatives of 8th U.S. Army elements toward enhancing South Korea-U.S. understanding, bolstering the alliance and improving safety and risk management.

During the stand-down training, no military vehicles will operate unless they are performing emergency services, the release said.

stand down, drawdown

Post by Ken Greenwald » Sun Jun 18, 2006 5:27 pm

Walt, Your above Tailgate STAND DOWN quote is from a 2 June 2006 discussion group. But I was curious if the phrase was actually used at the time of the discovery of the incident in July 1992, and I found an example showing that it was:
<1992 Acting Navy Secretary Daniel Howard last week ordered a service-wide STAND-DOWN so that all personnel can devote a full day to sexual-harassment training.”—‘Time Magazine,’ 13 July>
The only quibble that I have with your “referring to STANDING DOWN as a period of re-training” is that I wouldn’t say that its definition need be modified to include ‘period of retraining’ – I think the definition is still basically what the OED said it was: “the action or state of coming or remaining off duty,” although this definition could certainly use some tweaking to provide more clarity (e.g. a suspension or cessation of usual or former, activities or duties, . . . ). However, “retraining’ might be listed as one of the ‘reasons for’ or ‘activities’ that may take place during such a period – among a list of many others.

Ken G – June 18, 2006

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