Military discipline can brutalize

(Canscene) — In recent history men under arms have been known to display extraordinary acts of courage and regard for humanity. Others, who soldier on without distinction seem content meekly to obey orders. And yet others have been known to commit acts of brutality both toward strangers and their comrades at arms.

I can testify from experience to the tendency of military discipline to dehumanize service personnel. The task of creating an effective fighting force demands obedience on the part of those under command, but the methods employed frequently lack psychological insight.

The threat of punishment hangs over the head of lower ranks for even minor offences, such as returning to quarters after hours, forgetting to report for guard duty or not making up a bed properly. And more serious offences lead to a term in military prison where punishment is harsh, sometimes cruel and unusual in the hands of the wrong enforcers.

The Hill. a British film made more than 40 years ago and starring Sean Connery depicted an extreme case of military sadism. Extreme, but not impossible as many ex-servicemen agreed to after seeing this critically acclaimed film.

Six-and-a-half years as a soldier showed me many sides of military life, from psychological terrorization of new recruits by ill-tempered NCOs to downright brutality of men who used their rank to assert their superiority, showing the insecurity that lay beneath.

We must remember that as long as it is necessary to keep men under arms, brutality will not be confined to the My Lais and Abu Graibs and Guantanamos. Brutality — like its opposite, charity — will continue to begin at home.

And no, I haven’t forgotten Somalia and the incident that brought shame and disbandment to the Canadian Airborne Regiment
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