In works by Stephen King where the United States Military makes an appearance, it is often portrayed in a negative light. Additionally, the U.S. Army is focused on heavily when the American military is mentioned; the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard are rarely (if ever) mentioned in any of Stephen King's work.
In The Stand the United States Military is portrayed as being the main culprit behind the creation of Captain Trips. The outbreak began in June 1980/1985/1990 (or 1994 in the television miniseries) at an unnamed Army base located in the California desert was where the superflu virus was created, and an MP guarding the front gate, Charles Campion, fled when the virus escaped containment, taking Captain Trips with him. After Campion died in Arnette, Texas, the Army swiftly quarantined the town under the pretext of containing an anthrax outbreak. Far to the northeast in Vermont, Colonel Richard Deitz assumed command of an attempt to analyze the Arnette residents who had direct or secondand exposure to the superflu through Campion, in an ultimately futile effort to defeat the bio-engineered virus by creating a cure.
At the direction of General William Starkey and later his aide and friend, Major Len Creighton, the U.S. Military engaged in a brutal suppression campaign as it attempted to both contain the spread of the superflu virus and keep the American public and the world from knowing what has happened. Containment efforts took such forms as:
- Plan "Troy", a secret order created by General Starkey, ordering the execution of "uncooperative" members of the press.
- Operation Carnival- A wide-reaching effort at locking down areas affected by the superflu, preventing movement by the populace into or out of restricted areas, and suppressing media content "not in the national interest". The following were enacted under Carnival:
- Setting up roadblocks to block and otherwise control the flow of traffic, shooting to kill if anyone tries to get past. The New Jersey side of the Lincoln Tunnel was one location where roadblocks are set up, as part of the overall quarantine of New York City by the military.
- Imposing martial law on areas affected by the superflu, and shutting down telephone communications to prevent those inside quarantined zones from contacting the outside world.
- Setting up perimeter guards around universities, such as Kent State, where a brutal massacre occured as heavily-armed troops under Colonel Albert Philips are confronted by student protestors trying to break out of the perimeter. The soldiers then turn on each other, with an unknown end result.
- Imposing silence on the press, going so far as to station soldiers in radio and television news stations and preparing texts for media personnel to read.
- Boston, Massachusetts- WC-TV was the site of a violent uprising planned by its reporters and custodians, who seized control of the station and broadcast the truth for two hours before more soldiers stormed the station and executed the entire staff.
- Los Angeles, California- The LA Times prints 26,000 newspaper copies revealing that the government is lying about the superflu and releasing information the government has forbidden them to release. The printings were discovered and the FBI executed the staff responsible for treason, but 10,000 copies made it out to the public nonetheless.
- Springfield, Missouri- Ray Flowers, host of "Speak Your Piece", began taking uncensored calls and broadcasting the truth about the superflu. In response, a 20-man unit was dispatched from Carthage, MO to "take care" of Flowers. Two men refused the order and were immediately shot. The men who complied barge into Flowers' studio and killed her on the air. Sergeant T.L. Peters, leader of the detail, was immediately shot and killed by his own men afterwards.
- Burial details, which included:
- Commandeering barges to carry enormous numbers of superflu victims out to sea, where they are to be dumped.
- Burning bodies of superflu victims
- Burying flu victims in mass graves, including large trenches and unfinished house foundations
Ultimately, the United States Military completely failed to either contain the spread of the superflu or to keep the truth from getting out. It simply became even harsher and more repressive as General Starkey, and then Major Creighton after Starkey is fired by the President, held on to the bitter end and tries to do what he sees as his duty. The effect of the spreading chaos and sickness was felt throughout the military. Desertion and mutiny became significant, then massive problems for military leadership, and the ability of entire units to function vanished as thousands of military personnel became ill with the superflu.
Operation Carnival steadily disintegrated as the units charged with carrying it out ceased to be effective or even exist. With increasing speed, military personnel died from the superflu, join civilian rioters and looters, staged mutinies against their commanders, committed suicide, died from any number of forms of violence or accidents, or deserted into the growing chaos of a collapsing United States. Some stayed at their posts until the very end, holding fast to their oaths of service, even as it is obvious that all is lost. When the dust settled in July, the United States Military had ceased to exist and virtually none of its personnel were left alive.
One notable instance of surviving military personnel is Doc, Virge, Garvey and Ronnie, four deserters who became raiders and rapists after the Army unit sent to Akron, Ohio disintegrated around them. Using a wrecker truck, the four men developed a routine of ambushing groups of survivors traveling on foot on the roads, either creating fake wrecks or simply setting up behind real ones. Either way, they would execute the men and take the women captive. Their activities ended when they were killed in a brutal failed ambush against Stuart Redman, Glen Bateman, Harold Lauder and Francis Goldsmith, where the four men lost a gunfight against the four survivors plus their own eight captives.
No one else formerly on active or reserve duty with the American military is ever mentioned again in the story, though Randall Flagg's authoritarian state appears to have attracted more technical professionals and more people who value order and authority first (such as Barry Dorgan, a long-serving veteran of the Santa Monica Police Department). Ralph Brentner and Stu Redman are two veterans who went to the Zone. Carl Hough, a former Marine helicopter pilot and Vietnam War veteran, went to Las Vegas and became Randall Flagg's chief flight instructor.
Creech Air Force Base and Edwards Air Force base both fell into the hands of Randall Flagg's authoritarian state. Multirole fighter jets and helicopters located at Creech- which is referred to almost exclusively as "Indian Springs" in the novel- were found to be still operable and a handful of trained pilots begin a flight school for additional future pilots. During his meeting with her, Randall Flagg told Dayna Jurgens that he had people out at Edwards Air Force Base, but gave no further details. Flagg and his personnel seem to have ignored Nellis AFB, despite it being only a short drive from Las Vegas.
Five M67 Flame Thrower Tanks, nicknamed "flametracks" and "Zippos" during the Vietnam War, were recovered by the Trashcan Man and brought to Creech AFB, along with scores of explosives devices, timers, wiring, automatic rifles and machine guns, and laser sights and scopes for those weapons. In time, Flagg's survivors at Vegas had operating armored trucks, standard and flamethrower tanks, and numerous small arms and explosives.
Eventually, however, the genius of the Trashcan Man at finding military hardware out in the wastes turned to madness. Never a psychologically stable man, Trashcan Man was thrown back into the merciless taunts and mockery of his childhood by the good-natured teasing of some of the men at Creech AFB. He responded by rigging first fuel trucks to explode, then helicopters and more trucks. Two helicopters, ordered to fly a recon mission east of Vegas to hunt down Tom Cullen, exploded in midair, killing all aboard. With only six trainees left who were nowhere close to solo flight and no instructors, Flagg's aviation program was finished. In response, Flagg ordered that when he was found, Trashcan Man was to be put to death.
In a desperate attempt to make amends, Trashcan Man went into a once-highly-restricted underground section of Nellis AFB and retrieves a nuclear warhead, which he brought to Las Vegas just as Ralph Brentner and Larry Underwood were about to be executed by dismemberment at Flagg's order. The Hand of God appeared, the gathered crowd panicked and ran, and the former U.S. Air Force warhead detonated, obliterating Las Vegas and everyone in it.
Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption
The U.S. Military does not appear in the story, but it is referenced. Andy Dufresne served in the American military during World War II, and in conversation with Red, he mentions that he and a friend went through France, Germany, and the post-war occupation together. The bond these two men forged during the war served to keep Andy's friend on his side even after he was charged with murder; by the time Andy was convicted and imprisoned, his finances had been secured and hidden away in the hopes that, one day, Andy would be able to reclaim them.
It is not explicitly stated that Andy Dufresne served in the U.S. Army, but no other service would have given him the tour of duty that he references. The U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, and Marine Corps had no involvement with the land war in Europe, and had Andy served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, he would have seen Europe overwhelmingly from the air and would not have had much involvement with direct occupation duty.
Colonel Abraham Kurtz of the U.S. Army serves as one of the principal antagonists of the novel, and the U.S. Army in general makes an appearance.
Colonel Abraham Curtis, as he is known in the 2003 film, leads an elite unit that responds to incidents involving extraterrestrial incursions. He replies to higher-ranking General Mathieson who his second-in-command calls in for help in relieving Curtis of command after realizing that his boss has gone insane.
The Long Walk
The United States Military is implied to have staged some form of takeover prior to the events of The Long Walk, turning the United States of America into a military dictatorship. The totalitarian United States is (presumably, given his prominence in public life and events) headed by a mysterious figure known only as "The Major." In this dystopian future, the United States Military brutalizes the American populace instead of protecting them, and routinely sends squads of soldiers to arrest known troublemakers. These people are typically executed or otherwise disappear and are never heard from again, a process that is referred to as getting "squaded."
Every year, the American military runs the story's eponymous event, in which 100 teenage boys are chosen from among the numerous volunteer applicants. Every year, the military eventually kills 99 of them, either by forcing them to walk until they literally drop dead, or until they are shot and killed for violating any of The Long Walk's extensive and strict list of rules. Apart from a tiny amount of food and water, the boys receive no aid, and even the most severe medical problems or emergencies go untreated, as the point of the event is to kill 99 of the 100 walkers. The soldiers supervising the event do not have to suffer as the boys do; they ride in military halftracks or stand on the sidelines, ready to shoot the boys if they seek help from watching civilians (who are not allowed to offer any aid and can be arrested or shot for doing so) or drop below the mandatory four miles per hour. "Tickets" are verbally issued for violations, and repeated violations in a short period of time results in swift death. The systematic executions the soldiers carry out are extremely well-known among the walkers each year; getting shot by them is referred to as "Buying a ticket."
The soldiers supervising The Long Walk do not restrict their ruthlessness just to the walkers. During the specific Long Walk depicted in the story, one mother desperately tried to rescue her son, making repeated attempts to get him to leave the event or to go in and bring him out herself. Local police intervened, preventing the soldiers from killing the woman, but her son died eventually.
The story's narrator reflects on the possibility of United States Military vehicles becoming sentient and hostile to humans just as trucks have. Specifically, he thinks at first that humanity could flee to the mountains and swamps, where the buses and 18-wheelers would be unable to follow, but then realizes that the trucks will be aided by bulldozers, paving machines, tanks, armored personnel carriers, and all-terrain military trucks and light utility vehicles.
An M274 Mule, a small work truck used by the U.S. Army until the 1980's, drives up to the truck stop diner on its own and opens fire with an M60 machine gun, causing considerable damage and killing several occupants.
The Mist: Novella
The U.S. Army makes an appearance in The Mist, in the form of a handful of soldiers who are stationed at the unnamed military base near Bridgton, Maine. That base houses the Arrowhead Project, a mysterious government and/or military program that no one from the base has ever shared any information on with locals. Nonetheless, word gets out in a small town, and people in Bridgton speculate about the Arrowhead Project and what it involves. Theories include "messing around" with "different" atoms, and attempting to open a portal into another dimension.
Sometime during or after a massive lightning storm that hit the Bridgton area during a scorching hot summer, the base was overrun by the mist, and none of its personnel were ever seen or heard from again. The only exception to this were the two soldiers who were caught in the Federal Market at the time the mist enveloped it. They kept a low profile at first, avoiding all contact with the civilians, then hanged themselves together in the store's stock room. David Drayton and Ollie Weeks, the latter a Vietnam War veteran, debated how much the "Army kids" knew, and why they hanged themselves, but came to no decisive conclusions.
It is unknown whether the United States Military overall succeeded or failed in responding to the mist as it continued to spread.
The Mist: Film
The U.S. Army appears in the film adaptation of The Mist, with a handful of soldiers stationed at the nearby unnamed military base visiting Bridgton, Maine on leave. A few military police arrive to cancel all passes into town, but the mist rolls in before they or the other soldiers can depart to return to base. One of the MP's is captured and filled with eggs by a spider-creature, and two of the three soldiers in the Federal Market commit suicide. The third, Private Jessup, is a local and remorsefully confesses what the military was doing at the nearby base that caused the mist to appear. Mrs. Carmody deliberately whips her followers up into a religious frenzy, and has Jessup thrown out of the store to be killed by the creatures in the mist.
Just after shooting everyone else in his Scout, David Drayton gets out to face the creatures and be killed himself, but by then the U.S. Army has arrived, routing the mist and the creatures in it with automatic weapons, flamethrowers, Humvees, and M1 Abrams tanks. Additionally, the Army column brings with it tracked personnel transports, carrying civilians they have rescued back to Bridgton. Two soldiers find Drayton outside the Scout, distraught as he realizes he killed the others with him, including his son, for nothing when help was only moments away.
The United States Military does not appear, but is mentioned in, King's 2006 novel about a world-wide "Pulse" sent through the cellular phone network causing an apocalyptic collapse of civilization as the affected "Phoners" descend into savagery. After escaping Boston as the city burns down overnight, Clayton Riddell and Tom McCourt discuss what the military- specifically the National Guard- will be doing in response to the mass violence and chaos. McCourt points out that the military has come to depend on the modern cellular network to even mobilize, and so it has essentially been eliminated from the equation. Neither Riddell nor any of the other survivors he meets ever see or hear from the United States Military, and their ultimate fate following the Pulse is unknown. The same goes for the many thousands of American military personnel and their dependents stationed outside the continental United States in 2006.
However, common sense makes clear that if the military was intact and able to respond following the Pulse, it would unquestionably have moved to restore law and order in the United States and would not have allowed the Phoners to roam freely, nor tolerated such sinister figures as the Raggedy Man. Based on its absence, then, the United States Military was in all likelihood badly crippled or destroyed by the events begun by the Pulse.
The United States Military does not appear, but is mentioned in, King's 1983 novel Christine. Roland D. LeBay, first and (at the beginning of the story) only owner of a 1958 Plymouth Fury named Christine, joined the U.S. Army in 1923 to escape his family's insurmountable poverty. He carried his unending supply of anger with him into the Army, allowing him to survive the Great Depression, World War II, and the Korean War. Always gifted when it came to working on machines, LeBay became a valuable member of the Army's motor transport operations, maintaining everything from 2.5-ton trucks and jeeps to officers' staff cars and personal vehicles.
LeBay's deep hatred and resentment of nearly everyone and everything in the entire world caused him to get into many fights and speak with extreme disrespect toward those of higher rank on many occasions, meaning that despite his ability as a mechanic LeBay never managed to get promoted past master sergeant (E-8) at any point in his military career. He was reprimanded, demoted, and thrown in the stockade numerous times. After 34 years in the service, LeBay finally left the Army in 1957, married, and bought his Plymouth. He joined the American Legion, a veterans' organization, but quit after a group of his fellow World War II veterans asked him to leave. Nonetheless, to the end of his days, LeBay would think and speak of his service often, addressing Arnie Cunningham as "soldier" when Cunningham and Dennis Guilder stop by LeBay's yard to look at Christine. LeBay hated the Army, but hated it less than most everything else in his life, hence the degree of nostalgia he had for his days in the service once he was retired.
One of LeBay's two younger brothers, Drew, was also a career U.S. Army soldier. Drew also fought in World War II, but did not live to see the end of it: he was killed in France in 1944. LeBay himself never mentions this; given his cold indifference toward his siblings, this is not surprising. Dennis Guilder learns about it from George LeBay, another of Roland LeBay's brothers, during the course of the novel.
Under the Dome (novel)
Under the Dome is notable as being one of the first-ever works by Stephen King wherein the United States Military portrayed in anything other than a negative light. Dale "Barbie" Barbara, a former U.S. Army captain, Green Beret, and an Iraq War veteran, is one of the novel's primary protagonists. After a mysterious "dome" abruptly descends and cuts off the town of Chester's Mill, Maine from the rest of the world, the United States Military quickly gets involved in responding to the crisis.
One thing that remained uninterrupted was ground telephone lines; Colonel James Cox, U.S. Army, took advantage of this and called newspaper editor Julia Shumway, asking her to contact Dale Barbara and pass on the U.S. government's request that Barbara act as their liaison inside the affected area while the government attempts to bring down the Dome. By order of the President of the United States, Barbara is re-commissioned into the U.S. Army and promoted from his former rank of captain (O-3) to colonel (O-6). Barbara was also issued a decree granting him authority over the township, but this was ignored by small-town-dictator and former car salesman James "Big Jim" Rennie and his gang of renegade police officers.
Despite the military's efforts to force clean air into the dome and, through Dale Barbara, find a solution to the Dome and bring it down, small town politics turned hideously ugly and extremely lethal under Big Jim's direct efforts and encouragement. Explosive charges set up by one of Big Jim's men ignited a toxic firestorm, killing virtually every living thing in Chester's Mill.
The United States Military ultimately fails to either bring down the Dome or do anything about or to the adolescent aliens who set the Dome up as a cruel prank. The Dome is lifted by the aliens themselves, leaving the destroyed town and a handful of survivors behind.
Under the Dome (TV series)
The Institute was not directly run or staffed by the United States Military, but many former military personnel, specifically those retired from the service, were employed on the staff. Mrs. Sigsby, the headmistress, was aware that Maureen Alvorson, one of The Institute's housekeepers, was retired from the U.S. Military. It is not stated which military branch Maureen served in, what she did in the service, or what her final military rank was. Mrs. Sigsby herself "spent time at Ramstein Air Base" but it is not stated if that was as a civilian or a member for the Military.
Several other named veterans were on the staff at The Institute at the time of the story's events:
- Trevor Stackhouse- Security chief at The Institute, veteran of the U.S. Army J.A.G. Corps, served at least one tour in Iraq and at least one in Afghanistan. Retired from the Army before coming to work at The Institute.
- Dr. Everett "Heckle" Hallas- One of the personnel involved in running Back Half, spent twenty-five years as a doctor in the U.S. Army and received a Bronze Star at some point during his service.
- Maureen Alvorson- Former non-commissioned officer, Iraq War veteran. Retired military. The only veteran on staff not feared and hated by the children, Maureen initially was a housekeeper and informer, cleaning and preparing the rooms and betraying the children who confided in her whenever they did so. Haunted by her involvement in American war crimes in the Middle East (where she had also tricked and coerced prisoners, only to betray their trust as soon as she had it), Maureen grew deeply remorseful, acted to help Luke Ellis escape, then hanged herself in a shower room, leaving a message promising her colleagues that "HELL IS WAITING. I'LL BE HERE TO MEET YOU."
- Tony Fizzale- Served in the U.S. Marine Corps. One of the most sadistic staff members at The Institute, Tony genuinely hated children and enjoyed making the kidnapped children's lives worse. He was greatly feared and hated by all the children, and his hatred of them was well-known to his colleagues and bosses.
- Winona Briggs- Served in the U.S. Army. She was widely disliked by the children, and new arrivals were warned about her.
- Gladys Hickson- Failed college student, former U.S. Marine. Gladys not only lived quite contentedly with her work at The Institute, but proved extremely happy and eager to kill children when given the chance.
- Jacob, nicknamed "Jake the Snake" by his colleagues, served in the U.S. Navy. Avery Dixon knew that Jake the Snake had tried to become a Navy S.E.A.L., but failed and was kicked out (of Basic Underwater Demolition School, of the Navy, or possibly both at once), because he "liked hurting people too much."
Additionally, Luke Ellis observed a strictly-ordered, militaristic appearance among some of the numerous staff he witnessed coming and going from The Institute. Specifically, he suspected many of the "hunter-gatherer" teams to have military experience.
Among the many rumors in the local town about The Institute, one was that the facility was a nuclear missile base. Another was that the compound had something to do with germ or chemical warfare. The facility itself much resembled a military one, with a strict, never-changing routine, armed guards, a chain of command, cheap, small on-site houses and a PX (postal exchange). The Institute also was noted to bring money into Dennison River Bend much the same way a military base does- adding jobs to the area, bringing well-paid people into the town to spend their money there on leave, and by contracting local businesses to provide for its needs.
- The Stand: Captain Trips
- The Stand
- The Stand (miniseries)
- Dreamcatcher (film)
- The Long Walk
- Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (mentioned)
- The Mist
- The Mist (film)
- Cell (mentioned)
- Christine (mentioned)
- Under the Dome (novel)
- Under the Dome (TV series)
- The Institute (mentioned)
Behind the Scenes
- "The Institute" indicates that one of the staff, Tony Frizzale, flunked initial training to become a Navy S.E.A.L., which is known as Basic Underwater Demolitions School, or B.U.D.S. That is one of the most difficult training schools in the U.S. Military; there have been classes where everyone failed or quit. Failure of BUDS normally means being sent back to "the Fleet" (the regular Navy), with that failure permanently in one's military record. Tony may have just been kicked out of BUDS, or out of the Navy altogether.
- In "The Stand", Lloyd Henreid reflects that the United States government- specifically the military- once owned a great deal of land in the otherwise-empty deserts of the Southwest. Apart from Creech and Nellis, Nevada contains more than half a dozen other military facilities, mostly Army National Guard armories and depots. The former Project Blue base, where the superflu was defeloped and from which it escaped, was somewhere in southeast California, and Edwards Air Force Base was a 3-hour drive from Vegas. Yuma Proving Ground, a 1,307.8-square-mile facility used for testing military vehicles and weaps and one of the largest military installations in the pre-plague world, is a 5 hour drive from Las Vegas. Given the extreme skill with which Trashcan Man navigates the wastes as he searches out weapons and hardware for the Walkin Dude, any of these facilities would have been possible stopping points in his travels.
- "The Stand", in any form, never specifies what happens to American military dependents (i.e. the spouses and children of military personnel), to civilian employees or contractors of the military, or to any of the many American bases outside of the U.S. or ships and submarines at sea. Dependents and civilian employees and contractors would all most likely met the same fate as the overwhelming majority of the world's population did. Ships or submarines already at sea would be unaffected directly, but could never return to any port or interact with any survivors again, as even immune humans would expose the crews to the superflu, and the disease-ridden dead cities and towns across the world would be highly contaminated.
- "The Long Walk" never explicitly states that the United States Military staged a coup or otherwise assumed direct control of the government, but it is strongly implied that they did. In any event, the military has, for all intents and purposes, unlimited power over the United States' population in The Long Walk, a clear sign of a military dictatorship/police state.
- The United States Military must have undergone some kind of major change in its training, ethics, values, and the laws it is required to follow, because the soldiers seen in the story have no visible qualms whatsoever about shooting and killing unarmed teenage boys (from their own country's populace, no less), and the military is indicated to have been doing this for years.
- In "Cell", the story begins in Boston, MA, the home port of the oldest active American naval vessel, USS Constitution, which is crewed and maintained by active-duty U.S. Navy personnel. Also in the Boston area are Hanscom Air Force Base, Fort Devens, a U.S. Army Reserve and a Army National Guard armory, and a U.S. Coast Guard installation. The Constitution is briefly seen/referred to, but absolutely nothing is ever seen or heard of her crew or any of the other military installations or personnel in the Boston area.
- Given that USS Constitution was apparently unmanned and still docked during the events initiated by the Pulse that ultimately destroyed Boston, the warship most likely caught fire along with the rest of the city and eventually would have either sunk, or broken loose from her moorings and drifted out to sea.