Nearly a decade ago, I could regularly walk across the town of Sangari on the bodies of American soldiers, beeping with the sounds of their laser tag deaths. Countless US Army units rotated through the Joint Readiness Training Center (JRTC) and lost to their Arianan foes in Sangari. Coming from an imaginary country located south of the Caspian Sea, the Arianans—portrayed by Geronimo, JRTC’s opposing force unit—fought outnumbered, against the full panoply of synchronized American joint capabilities.

Some commentators ascribed the Arianans success to home field advantage: they know the terrain of Fort Johnson. However, many Americans had already spent months in that cursed land and still lost. Anyway, if preparing to fight in a specific context yielded victory, why would the US Army continuously produce contextless doctrines?

Others believed the Arianans succeeded due to their high levels of training. Geronimo conducted battalion operations every month. Such high-echelon, force-on-force training seems a possible explanation for their success, but American units could feasibly conduct large-scale force-on-force exercises that mimicked the fog and friction of war before fighting in Ariana.

One attribute clearly separated American and Arianan forces: the Arianans had beards.

History shows the value of beards. As presented in the documentary 300, the Spartans are often lauded as the ancient world’s greatest warriors. They had an impenetrable shield wall and unpierceable abs, but their courage to die to a man at Thermopylae came from their inspiring beards.

With beards comes combat prowess. The Romans expanded their republic with bountiful beards. Pliny writes that a barber did not even arrive in Rome until the Punic Wars. But after their victory over Carthage, they began to shave and started a slow, gradual decline. Shaving led to the infighting that doomed the republic. Formerly free, unshaven citizens were subjugated by a capricious, corrupt, and beardless empire exemplified by the tyrannical Nero shaving in a ridiculous spectacle of control and submission. Fortunately after him, Hadrian, with his beard, wisdom, and moderation, established defensible borders that Rome could maintain through the crisis of the third century and beyond.

As exemplified in the decline of republican values in Rome, shaving is a tool of dictators. In Europe, after a brief renaissance of glorious beards, shaving returned under absolutist monarchs. Mimicking Nero, Louis XIV made a spectacle of his shaving routine to control the French aristocracy. Peter the Great forced his nobility to shave while enslaving Russian serfs. Shaving is a system of population control. Shaving rogue hairs symbolizes mowing down rebellious peasants. It displays an authoritarian’s power over the bodies of his subjects. It is the ultimate form of biopower, forcing submission and sacrifice of bodily autonomy. It has no value but to signify the power that a leader has over his subordinates. In the military, authoritarian leaders will criticize followers who do not shave as “unprofessional.” This opinion is not based in any deep appraisal of the soldiers’ professional commitment, but rather a reaction to each soldier’s individual facial hair independence.

The United States can look at its own history and see the value of beards. During the Civil War, beardless but mustachioed (more on that later) George McClellan could not seize the initiative. His personal facial hair choices evidenced his risk aversion. It took Ulysses S. Grant, with his risk-tolerant beard, to aggressively bring the fight to the enemy. His diverse life experiences allowed him to understand that parade-ground shaving was not important in industrial warfare. Empowered by the resplendently bearded Abraham Lincoln, Grant in turn enabled William Tecumseh Sherman and Phillip Sheridan to exercise disciplined initiative, displayed in their shared understanding of the value of beards, to bring the Confederacy to its knees.

Unfortunately, we did not learn from our bearded history. Victorian Britain conquered a quarter of the world with majestic beards. Its regiments acted with initiative and independence. They seized Sevastopol armed “with beards to hide a badger in.” But afterward, the British Army mandated shaving down to a mustache. This produced the tight, controlled submission of the tens of thousands of British finest that went over the top and neatly walked to their deaths at the Somme. Without the initiative and elan of beards, the British Army fell into the stalemate of World War I. The United States foolishly adopted this policy under the misguided belief that you need to shave to get a seal on a gas mask. Undoubtedly the Central Powers led this damaging disinformation campaign. Fortunately, in both world wars, the Allies faced mustachioed menaces in Wilhelm II, Hitler, and Tojo.

Since then, the United States has maintained an awful warfighting record when facing bearded adversaries. Against clean-shaven opponents, the United States managed a draw in Korea. In Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh’s wispy beard defeated America’s technological advantages and our ineffective, clean-shaven South Vietnamese allies. We may have won the Persian Gulf War, but that was due to Saddam’s mustache.

A mustache is the worst form of facial hair. It involves all the downsides of shaving while signaling to the world that you lack any self-respect. It is the supreme signifier of submission, which is why tyrants favor it. Saddam’s mustache so demoralized the Iraqi Army that even the Republican Guard did not put up a fight. In Afghanistan, I could easily recognize which Afghan National Army officers had been on the losing Soviet side or the victorious mujahideen side during the Soviet-Afghan War based on their choice of Stalinesque mustache or majestic, freedom-fighting beard.

Of course, a few readers will still be skeptical of the power of beards. But even the most ardent skeptics cannot deny the clear and strong correlation between beards and victory—so strong that the profession of arms would be derelict in its duty were it not to at least explore the causal factors involved. What mechanism causes beards’ effectiveness? It is true that a majestic beard can inspire subordinates, as Erik the Red’s beard compelled the Vikings to sail across the Atlantic. However, inspiration is not a beard’s main impact. Nor is intimidation effect—on display every time the beard of Black Beard terrorized crews to surrender—the main value of beards. It is not the intrinsic value of beards that provide an advantage. After all, a decent segment of our population cannot grow beards, but they still serve effectively in our armed forces.

Beards’ power comes from rebelling against shaving. Shaving destroys morale. I was never closer to quitting Ranger School then when dragging a frozen razor across my face on a snowy February morning in the Appalachian Mountains. While as an opposing force commander at JRTC, we regularly overran demoralized units that had “professional” field shaves with their patches of hair and bloody razor cuts. They were exhausted having carried shaving kits for miles and having wasted their water on their face rather than quenching their thirst. Soldiers must blame their overcontrolling leaders for these pains.

Shaving means submitting to arbitrary, authoritarian rule. It extinguishes initiative and the will to fight. Using myopic measures of combat power, that did not factor in beards, war games predicted that an invading Russian army would easily overrun its opponents. Revealing the problematic reliance of the defense establishment on simulations with underlying, unproven assumptions, the war games did not account for the importance of the beard domain. This domain had far more impact in the Russo-Ukraine War than the much-hyped cyber domain. Vladimir Putin with his clean-shaven authoritarianism did not allow his army initiative and did not even trust them to know about the invasion until it was almost underway. Meanwhile, bearded Volodymyr Zelenskyy became an icon of the resistance of a free people. His beard inspired his nation and the world. Free, bearded Ukrainians, recalling the facial hair of their independent, Zaporozhzhian Cossack forebearers, fought with spirit and initiative.

Our doctrine is based on soldiers seizing the initiative to secure positions of advantage. We must recognize how the beard domain offers a position of advantage. Multidomain operations, the Army’s operational concept, siloed capabilities into land, sea, air, cyber, and space. However, these domains fail to explain why we have not succeeded in Afghanistan, Somalia, or Yemen. We have dominated the recognized domains in our recent campaigns, but without achieving victory. The Taliban marched into Kabul not by converging air, cyber, or space capabilities but through beard power. The people of Afghanistan saw the shaven Afghan National Security Forces as craven, weak, and hairless puppets of a corrupt and overly centralized regime.

Beards are clearly a critical domain that we do not appreciate. We must introduce a beard domain into multidomain operations to account for the psychological aspects of war and ensure our success in future wars.

In 2022, my battalion deployed to JRTC to fight my old unit, Geronimo. We dealt them a crushing defeat. I was shocked. What had happened to the undefeatable Geronimo of the past? It was true that we had the luxury of the first rotation after the COVID-19 stand-down, which for a few halcyon months had liberated our battalion from the normal oppression of readiness metrics and Sisyphean, mundane tasks that prevent units from any meaningful improvement. Was it that our investment in our battalion concepts, standard operating procedures, and a common understanding of how to fight in large-scale combat operations had paid off?

Unfortunately, I could not tell, because Geronimo had been handicapped. Among the countless Geronimo dead, they had not a single beard. Geronimo no longer portrayed Arianans but instead were inferior, shaved Torrikeans. They lacked the Arianans’ finesse and initiative. The same oppression that hamstrung regular units had brought them low.

Only by acknowledging the value of beards can the United States prevail over its opponents. Our allies are already recognizing the importance of this domain and accept that beards could help solve recruiting challenges. I hope that starting today, April 1, 2024, Army leaders will have the bravery to fight against anti-beard disinformation campaigns. History proves that the beard domain captures essential elements of victory not accounted for in multidomain operations doctrine’s current domains: initiative, the inspiration of looking really good, and the will to fight. To return to being an Army that wins, the Army must achieve fully synchronized, synergized, and federated convergence by incorporating the beard domain.

Maj. Robert G. Rose, US Army, serves as the commander for Alpine Troop, 3rd Squadron, 4th Security Forces Assistance Brigade. He holds an undergraduate degree from the United States Military Academy and graduate degrees from Harvard University and, as a Gates Scholar, from Cambridge University. He looks great with a beard.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense.

Image credit: TimeTravelRome