What’s up with the army, anyway?

The Australian Army has hit the newswaves in a big way in the last few days with what we think of in the West as a pretty average, almost boring sex scandal. I mean, it didn’t even include non-consensual sex and quietly firing the women when they came forward. By our standards, it’s almost hard to get upset considering the rest of the shit out there. 

Interestingly, the top brass are taking a slightly less victim-blamey approach than the one our protective institutions tend to take (no need to look further than the clusterfuck that is the RCMP). He’s gone so far as to accept that this is an institutional problem, and that he will be doing some intense house cleaning to get all the assholes out and establish some kind of new Utopia where soldiers play nice and love one another.

I might sound a little judgemental, and that’s because while I totally appreciate that this guy might be completely genuine in his interests, I’m not sure how he plans on truly accomplishing his goal.

Here’s the thing. A couple of weeks ago there was this tremendous controversy around University of Ottawa hockey players raping a person at an away game. The result of the backlash was to fire the coach, kick literally everyone (related to the incident or otherwise) off the team, and take a year off from the program to retool it. Unbelievably, sexist prick and hard-line feminist alike dismissed the action as idiotic. Why? Simple. You’re dealing with a symptom, and you’re doing it wrong.

Yes, the people who actually did something wrong should face our justice system. Having said that, kicking everyone out of the hockey team didn’t magically change the machismo culture these young men are raised in. That means that when they come back next year with a new team, it’ll be a new group of guys all raised on the same idiotic ideology that causes these people to think that this type of behaviour is anything short of repulsive.

Back to the army. For decades we’ve been fed the line, correctly or not, that one of the most important things in training a soldier is that you pretty much have to beat out independent thinking. For someone to take on a dangerous mission with zero context and no reasonable chance of survival, regardless of how important it is to the war effort, requires a certain amount of blind faith.

Photo by maniaroom (http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/)
Photo by maniaroom (http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/)

It is that need to deprogram them from being people that we’re told is why it is ok for them to get yelled at, called names, humiliated, etc. This is standard army fare and has been around far longer than ladies have been serving. 

So they have these soldiers, who have been taught on pain of death to always obey a commanding officer and that you should take the abuse spewed onto you because that’s how they toughen you up. How do they intend on eradicating sexism, or racism, or any other form of discrimination from the military when they create a culture that almost inherently mandates an always angry, blindly obedient group of people who haven’t had a good night sleep in what could be years?

To make clear, I am absolutely not in any way absolving these men. They chose their life paths, and they continued to choose to be in it each day. You are not obligated to be a soldier any more than you are obligated to be a hockey player. If the culture doesn’t fit you, you can try to change it or leave. What the Army Chief said in his release to the Australian Army is incredibly true – “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept”.

I wish them all the best in this endeavour, but I can’t say I feel optimistic about its success any more than the University of Ottawa will come back with a reformed and socially conscious group of hockey players next year.

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