Sir Yes Sir   (2015Sep05)

Saturday, September 05, 2015                                          12:21 PM

The Times reported 30 cadets suffered concussions and broken bones after their annual, traditional ‘pillow fight’—I guess it should be called ‘pillow-plus’, since duck-down rarely causes contusions. Reportedly, helmets were added to the pillowcases—the word ‘rambunctious’ comes to mind. Despite the injuries, I consider such a foofaraw small potatoes compared to the military’s ongoing struggle with rape within the ranks. Both problems bring up the question of how organizations so focused on discipline struggle with disciplinary problems.

Cognitive dissonance and soldiering seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly. ‘Honor’ is often used as a watchword during training that includes instructions on how to stab someone in the face. ‘Obedience’ to orders is considered a sine qua non—yet soldiers are told that, in extreme situations, each one of them is still expected to disobey when they feel they are being ordered to commit crimes against humanity—this as part of a cooperative murdering enterprise. Call the confusion police.

Don’t misunderstand—I’m not against the military, nor do I question the need for a military. We’re no crazier than the rest of the world—there’s just more method to our military madness than anyone else’s. But I am a great believer in seeing things as they are. The military—not so much. For all the “Always Faithful” being thrown around, we still somehow end up with thousands of vets without homes, without jobs, and committing suicide—some of them disabled from literally shedding their blood for the rest of us.

Yes, veterans should be cared for as a matter of public policy—though they never have been—not sufficiently. But, failing that, shouldn’t the military itself have a program that sees to these old warriors’ needs? And between the public and the military, isn’t it shameful that no such provisions are made? In battle, a soldier keeps marching forward as others fall—the medics will see to the wounded and the fallen. Is our neglect of veterans a mirror of that, writ large? Do we, like Donald Trump, prefer soldiers who don’t get captured (or shot)?

But the main confusion in matters military is discipline—they want disciplined fighters. But they want fighters—not traditionally the most disciplined people. The military has no choice but to admire the spirit of young people who like to ‘mix it up’—they invariably have to look the other way when certain traditions get out of hand—nothing could be worse than a battalion of docile, obedient pacifists—you might not be able to trust them to kill.

‘Roughhouse’ is a tidy little word, isn’t it? It implies that otherwise criminal behavior is just a matter of letting off steam—and in the case of trained killers, roughhouse can extend all the way to concussions, broken bones, rape—well, the boundaries get a little fuzzy after a while. One commenter on the pillow-fight story asks, “Seriously? These are our future military leaders?” Unfortunately, the answer is yes—military leaders have to deal with chaos and violence from both without and within—violence is their purpose. How can it help but be their essence?

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