Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Ugh ! Those Nasty Men !

Strange how sophisticated metropolitan liberals often turn out to be astonishingly naive. I noted Tracey Emin's little-girl outrage that anyone could make fun of her art being destroyed, and John Humphrys' genuine bewilderment at the thought that the Lady Chatterley trial might have led to Big Brother contestants discussing "my f*****g stiffy".

Step forward one Deborah Orr, Indie journalist. I did wonder if this was a joke.

My disillusionment with the British Army

Call me a mug, but I really went for that stuff about the British Armed Forces being the best in the world.

Here's a knotty moral conundrum. Is the Royal Marine who shopped 42 Commando the sort of person we want in the British Armed Forces? I suppose that depends on whether we want our fighting people first and foremost to have a strong sense of justice, and the courage to act on their convictions, or first and foremost to be able to put up with whatever physical and emotional privations may be thrown at them, because they understand that their own discomfort and suffering is not important, compared to staying loyal to the team and obeying their superiors.

und so weiter. Deborah is of course talking about the Royal Marines little soiree of the other evening.

Three points here. One is that whether the Royal Marine Commandos are nice chaps to get drunk with has nothing to do with whether or not we have the best Armed Forces in the world. We do not employ them to be nice. Far from it. Probably the finest fighting soldiers of the last hundred years were the Waffen SS - and they wouldn't win anybody's nice guys contest. I think it was Alexander who said at Cassino "unfortunately we are fighting against the best troops in the world - what men !"

Secondly, your conundrum, Deb. Strong sense of justice ? Nice to have, but first and foremost to be able to put up with whatever physical and emotional privations may be thrown at them, because they understand that their own discomfort and suffering is not important, compared to staying loyal to the team and obeying their superiors ?

Yes please. That alone, that above all, that all the time. Because unless your soldiers can win battles it doesn't matter how highly developed their sense of justice is - it'll be rotting in a ditch somewhere.

Deb's horrified that no one has been sacked or demoted over the video. But no-one's complained, woman ! Can't the lads indulge in a bit of horseplay ?

If the commandos want to keep Guardianistas off their backs and Deb onside, I suggest they announce that the party was a bonding event for gay S&M aficionados - and sue for invasion of privacy. Deb will be denouncing the homophobic tabloids in no time.

Thirdly, not only are rough boys rough boys now, it was ever thus. What would Deb say about a young boy soldier, leader of a platoon known and feared as 'Bloody B', who bullies an unpopular cadet and then sets fire to him, causing him to be admitted to hospital ? Straight out of the army, I imagine.

The authorities were wiser, and the young cadet lost his stripes, but went on to become quite a useful soldier.

Mysterious Deepcut-style deaths are not new, either. Charles Allen's Soldier Sahibs tells of the great John 'Nikal Seyn', but he had three other brothers who died in India. Seventeen year old Alexander, killed, stripped and mutilated by the Shinwari tribesmen of the Khyber Pass, Charles, who died young after losing an arm, and William, who "was found one morning in 1840 delirious in his bed, two of his ribs broken and his body a mass of bruises. The cause of his death was never properly established - it was put out that he had fallen into a ravine while sleepwalking".

As you do. Sometimes bad things happen when you get a lot of people together whose profession is violence.

Deb's also worried that the army recruits some rough boys from rough places, "concentrating their efforts on deprived areas and young adults coming out of care".

There you go. I happen to think, as did the Duke of Wellington, that that's a good thing.

“People talk of their enlisting from their fine military feeling — all stuff — no such thing,” he said. “Some of our men enlist from having got bastard children — some for minor offences — many more for drink; but you can hardly conceive such a set brought together, and it really is wonderful that we should have made them the fine fellows they are.”

In a moving essay, Shaun Bailey explains why he thinks its a good thing too.

I am Shaun Bailey. I come from a black working class environment. I was born and brought up by my single mother on the North Kensington Estates. Where I live, the peer pressure to offend surrounds you. Crime is everywhere. Education on the estates is not an issue. The teenage pregnancy rate is well above the national average. There is a teenage drugs epidemic. There are significant mental health and disability issues. There is little mobility out of the area. The number of people in contact with social services is way above the national average.

Yet just a few yards away on the other side of Ladbroke Grove, you can find houses worth millions of pounds where bankers, celebrities and media stars discuss being attacked and the threat of burglary rather than the problems of today’s youth.

I am one of the lucky ones. That I escaped my destiny I put down to three things: being part of a close-knit family; having a determined mother; and being enrolled with the Army Cadet Force (ACF) when I was 12 years old.

Most of the essay is not about the Cadets but about the estates within walking distance of Paddington Station. Read the whole thing.


Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I'm with you on this one, Laban. There are plenty of orthodox ways of testing young men's resolve, courage and stamina. I have no objection to the fighting, but naked? And a corporal laying out a man on his knees with a kick? Where were the officers? In fact with several of the 'Shock-Horror' stories concerning the army recently, there appears to have been litle sign of officers doing their job, which is to 'grip' their troops and *command* them.

Laban said...

Hi David - I don't approve either. but neither do I think it is a deciding factor in whether the army are any good or not.

Anonymous said...

NB the defenders of Cassino were not Waffen-SS grenadiers but rather Fallschirmjager (Luftwaffe paratroopers) and members of the Luftwaffe's 'Hermann Goring' Division.

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's going to do much for recruitment though. Unless, of course, you're into that sort of thing.

Anonymous said...

Well, as a former British "fallschirmjager", myself, I can tell you that we always had deep suspicions concerning those "rock-apes". Naked mud wrestling - go on, sailor, give us a kiss and tell us what it was like. Oh dear me, their faces will be as red as a para's beret.