Years back, while returning home from a night out on the town in London, I found myself on the “underground” in a carriage packed full of late-night revelers. Into my carriage stepped a large brute of a man who immediately began threatening and harassing anyone close to him. Stoned, drunk or simply a troubled soul, I have no idea, but what was clear to me was that he was extremely aggressive and potentially a dangerous individual.
The Big Threatening Oaf
His vehemence was first directed at a young couple who he had decided “looked at him wrong.” According to the oaf, he was indeed willing to kill the couple for their offence. In addition to focusing on this couple, he turned his rage on a young Indian man to his right. He violently shoved the man into the doors and continued ranting at all and sundry.
Looking around I found that the passengers on the train had all become intently focused on their shoelaces. Upset, stunned, and terrified at what was taking place I tried to take stock of the situation. Simmering in the back of my mind was the story I had read some weeks prior, where a group of youths, who after boarding a city bus full of passengers, proceeded to cause havoc, threatening passengers. One passenger told them to behave themselves only to be violently attacked resulting in his eye being gouged out of its socket. Yep, in full view of a busload of passengers… none of whom did a thing to stop a couple of half-wits from tearing a man’s eye out. Even though it was a long time ago now I managed to find the story here.
A Wimpy Way Out
Edging closer to the unruly oaf I waited until the doors of the carriage opened at the next station, and as the “beep beep beep” of closing doors sounded I stepped forward and with all my might shoved the man from the train onto the platform. The doors shut behind him and the tube left the station. Now, let me be clear. I did this not because I was feeling macho. Au contraire, I did it because I was terrified. I was ill-prepared to take the man on, should he confront me and instead decided to wimp out on a full-scale attack, which seemed imminent, either on myself or a fellow passenger. Instead, I chose the somewhat more cowardly approach of shoving him from the train as the doors were closing. I certainly had zero intention of getting into a brawl with the man. I liked my eyes and was quite enjoying life thank you very much.
A burst of applause rose in the carriage as relief swept through. I recall being mad as hell, mad at the brute but just as mad at the carriage full of passengers who were content to sit by in a complicit manner and watch such abuse take place. What chance did the thug have against an entire carriage of people who do not accept his behavior? None. In short a truly frightening thought if you ever find yourself in danger in a public place. Clearly, if you think you’re safe amongst crowds you’re deluding yourself. In a very graphic and heart-wrenching clip, I found the same thing here, where a male staff at a McDonald’s in Baltimore stand by actually videotaping two black girls beating a white girl to a pulp, actually causing her to have a seizure!
Minutes after this event on the “underground” I got chatting to one of the passengers on the carriage. As it turned out he, along with no less than 5 of his friends, all of whom were on the same carriage and had been within metres of the event, were on a break from their postings in Bosnia. Yes, they were all young British military. Now ask yourself, if you were to be harassed on a train, or anywhere public for that matter, would you not believe that a group of 5 young, strong men with skills in combat would be the perfect “bystanders” to have around? Apparently not.
The Absurdity of This Mindset
Warning: Strong personal opinions are about to follow.
In a roundabout way, this brings me to the topic on my mind. I never thought too much of that incident until David reminded me of it. It caused me to think about the military. Now I must confess to having a certain aversion for military types. It may be a bias or prejudice, but I am simply puzzled by the psyche of an adult human being that willingly adheres to rules and acts that are frankly absurd. I simply can’t imagine standing in front of my boss each morning to have him inspect my clothing to see if I’ve managed to dress myself correctly. Zipper up soldier? Yessir. Shoelaces tied soldier? Yessir. It defies belief. Further, I can’t imagine working in an organization that thrives on quashing free-thinking and questioning in favour of “yessir.”
Colonel: We have an important mission soldier. You are to take a team of men and eliminate those people over there soldier.
Soldier: But sir, who are they exactly and what makes killing them a good idea sir? I’d like to please see some factual evidence to support your theory that this exercise is an intelligent, well thought out one, after all, I’m risking my life on this judgement call.
Can you imagine the response?
In the military, questioning the status quo or one’s superiors while refusing to partake in actions that often go against the common sense of the individual, or against one’s own ethics, results in a dismissal or court marshal. When the same thing happens in a vibrant private business the result is innovation, productivity gains, or possibly seeking a new job. The important aspect, however, is that alternatives exist for the individual.
It Inhibits One’s Rational Thinking
A structure that inhibits intelligent and rational thinking in favour of looking to a god-like creature for instructions seems inherently dangerous to me. I see nothing heroic or honorable in blindly following kill orders, regardless of who is being killed. Don’t get me wrong I have respect for the physical abilities of these men, but they are in fact just hired killers too lazy or stupid to consider their actions.
To my way of thinking, an intelligent adult would not put up with an environment where clear and utter nonsense is routinely taken as truth; or, acts of war are enacted because someone heard voices. “What sir? God told you sir? Yes sir, no problem sir. Right away.”
I fully comprehend and understand that most of the military policies and procedures are “designed” to keep the soldiers alive in a combat situation. Discipline, following orders, team building, etc are “exercises” that train the soldier to engage in behaviours that will keep them alive when the proverbial “shit hits the fan.” My argument is that they would be even more likely to stay alive if they weren’t involved in the first place!
Thinking back to those soldiers on the “underground” that night, were they in need of instructions? Did it require an authority figure to say “soldiers stop that man?” I mean it’s hard to imagine that five young army guys didn’t have the capabilities to deal with a single unarmed thug on a public train. If a little guy like me with my skinny legs could stop him then they sure as heck could have.
It Instills a Conformity to the Wrong Ideals
Maybe I’m completely wrong on this, but I’m inherently suspicious of anyone that clamors for rigid conformity, hierarchical structures, places absurd value on shiny metal badges and ribbons, and is willing to chant silly slogans without first having drunk a half dozen beers. Imagine replacing the current Silicon Valley populace with military types. I’m willing to bet that we would experience a stupendous collapse of innovation. Yet these people are given powers and “toys” that clearly far exceed their abilities to responsibly wield them, while at the same time people’s very lives the world over are affected by their decisions.
I’m told that the camaraderie within the military is beneficial, but I also have to question this. As an analogy, a gang of playground bullies has camaraderie. Individual members typically can and do conduct themselves despicably, but since they are “part of the gang” and “one of us” the individuals within the gang will put up with behavior that would otherwise be considered poor form, causing individuals to be ostracized. Groupthink no?
In contrast, when I choose my friends I choose them based on their behaviors, thoughts, and deeds. This comes well before considering their membership to any organisation or group. I’m free to exclude them from my personal network where they fail to meet my value criteria. Not so in the military. “You’re either with us or against us” – George Bush. Hardly a thinking man’s realm.
Point In Fact
Should the U.S. really be puzzled that it has unending and unwinnable wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya?
The former two wars were meant to be short operations where the world’s most formidable fighting force, with their whiz-bang technology, would decimate the destitute impoverished peasants. Over a decade later and nobody has an intelligent answer as to what it is all about. Libya looks set to follow the same pattern. I have to wonder whether these wars would ever have originated if we replaced the military with Silicon Valley types.
Before sending me any hate mail, consider the mindset I’ve discussed. I have nothing per se against anyone from the military, but I have to question the mindset that allows one to devote their life in such a thoughtless fashion, especially considering the history of the military, and this goes for any military in any country. I’m not picking any sides here. I further realise that an army full of free-thinking individualists would be akin to herding cats, which is to say… impossible. What is required for a “successful army” is a lot of mindless impressionable teenagers, still incapable of objective thinking and disobedience. Is it any wonder the recruitment stations are typically located in low socioeconomic areas?
What value do armies, wars, and conflict add to the human experience? Sure, some conflicts are unavoidable, but most are clearly “created” to fulfill some political (or worse) agenda. By participating in this behaviour we validate it.
Diving Deep into the Human Psyche
Side thought: In his excellent book “The Lucifer Effect” Dr. Phillip Zimbardo delves into the depths of the human psyche with the military as his focal point. This is the same Dr. Phillip Zimbardo who first conducted the now-famous Stanford County prison experiment. You can see a presentation here for a glimpse of the studies conducted and the results produced.
As youngsters, we may have all enjoyed the “romantic” idea of being Rambo, but the reality is anything but that. I have a dear friend who is a pilot for the British Navy. He had no intention of being Rambo but rather wanted only to play with the toys that the military get to play with. Flying harriers, helicopter gunships, that sort of thing. Activities that are far too expensive for the average man to afford. Unfortunately for him, he is neck-deep in the horrors of the Afghan war. He tells me when he signed up there was no war taking place and certainly never signed up for one, while additionally admitting to a dislike for the conformity. This was overshadowed by his really, really wanting to play with the toys.
What a heavy price to pay.
“Military men are just dumb stupid animals to be used as pawns in foreign policy.” – Henry Kissinger