Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Sunday, 17 April 2011

The Warrior Caste

The recent controversy at ADFA has revealed some interesting perspectives held by some inside our military, and a bunch of diehard hangers-on.

We've listened to a range of opinions, which when stripped bare of bluster and posturing, highlight a world view which to me, is somewhere on the weird side of bizarre.

It's a view expounded by people (almost all male) who have spent most or all of their lives inside the military establishment, or working in support of it.

Put simply, it goes like this - Some serving members of the ADF see themselves as a separate caste. They believe that the membership of this caste puts them outside what is considered reasonable when it comes to matters of gender or race. They also seem to believe that nobody from outside the ADF has any right to make judgements of their conduct.

On a personal level, I first became aware of this worldview when called up in 1969. The behaviour of many of the NCOs at our recruit training battalion at Singleton could only be described as bizarre. If the carry-on of some of these instructors daily in plain view on the parade ground at 3RTB had been observed on a public street somewhere, men with strait jackets would have appeared in short order.

A few of these people were borderline psychopaths. A few were also as thick as two short planks, and there were one or two who were a combination of both.

There were also some excellent instructors, generally blokes who'd seen active service in Vietnam, and didn't need to make fools of themselves to establish respect. The quality of both the instruction and the instructors improved markedly once we progressed to Corps training.

Nevertheless, it was from time to time necessary to suspend rational judgment of some of these individuals and to understand that their world view was an aberration. The problem was that whilst as recent civvies, we could see this; many of them simply could not. I guess this explains the long periods without leave that apply early in recruit training. Contact with the real world during this critical conditioning process might burst the bubble.

It's apparent that there are plenty of individuals in the year 2011 who still inhabit this fantasy world - a world in which an entirely different standard of behaviour, especially as applied to issues of gender and race, apply.

Some examples of the mindset are revealed in comments such as "if I was in a trench next to a female I'd want to have sex with her" and "the guys would be perving on the women instead of concentrating on the task at hand". The implication being that a different set of standards apply that would make the phenomenon of men and women successfully working together as they do in Civvie Street impossible in the ADF.

Mining companies and oil exploration outfits seem to get by with mixed gender employees deployed in some rough and ready situations. Some schools of my experience are tough and elemental environments, but they don't seem routinely to descend into hotbeds of sexual depravity.

All of the above, together with my short but real exposure to the soldier's life, confirm two notions.

One is that our membership of our military should always be leavened with people who are essentially civilians when it comes to their life experience. This can be accomplished by a regenerated reserve, or some form of compulsory national service. An observation I heard repeated by many regular soldiers at the time was that the average I.Q. of the ADF went up several points with the advent of National Service. Nations with a successful and respected military such as Israel know how to make this work.

The other is that civilians make the best soldiers. I base this opinion on history. Arguably our greatest soldier, Monash, brought his civilian values to the war he fought, something that brought him into conflict with the British military establishment, who were members of an officer class who regarded their working class soldiers as expendable.

War, is after all, the ultimate absurdity. This does not however justify the belief that only those who take it seriously are capable of fighting. Civilians have in this country demonstrated a capacity to suspend rationality for a while to successfully participate in the collective madness of conflict when no other option exists. They've also been coerced or conscripted when there were other options - but that's another story......

Generations of Australians who stepped out of civilian life for short periods when they were needed (or thought they were) demonstrated that they made very good soldiers, whether they were Chockos or Nashos.

In the meantime, there are some in the defence establishment who need to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century. The media's over-hyping the incident, and I'm not sure that Steven Smith has gone about it in the best fashion, but it needs to happen yesterday.

The caste system hangs on in some parts of India.

It's out of place here.

Sent from my iPad

1 comment:

Boy on a bike said...

The chockos I served with were in general, a very bright bunch. Much, much smarter than the Regs who formed the nucleus of the regiment. There were no hard feelings though. I have generally thought since then that reservists are keen to be soldiers, but are unwilling to put up with all the boring crap that happens in the regular army.

I think all recruit experiences are quite psychologically bizarre. I encountered some total loon instructors on my recruit course, but they generally reverted to human as soon as we graduated. The initial part of recruit training is all shock and awe.

We had a number of instructors who had been to Vietnam - some were still regulars and some were ex-regulars who were still wearing green 10-15 years after they set foot over there. They were all excellent - the calibre of instruction and their passion for excellence was awesome. We might have been chockos, but they were intent on turning us into the best possible soldiers in the time they had available.

As for women in the trenches, we had that in our regiment. Women who wanted to go to OCTU were put into the infantry companies in order to learn the ropes. Did hanky panky occur? You bet! I can definitely attest to that.

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