Friday, November 26, 2010

A Soldier's Lesson in Humanity

Here's something that I found lying around my computer's hard-drive which was written during my BMT. Enjoy!

Everyone has their own version of how military life has affected them for the better or worse. These versions are so different and vibrant that it casts a cloud of confusion in judging the effect BMT has on a callow eighteen-year-old as he is being made to serve the nation. Yet, one thing is for sure – BMT has a resounding effect on anyone and it certainly changed my view on humanity.

Before coming to BMT, my only perception of war and the military is a detached one which is taken from war movies and documentaries. Through these sources, we are made to view the extremities; the glory of dying for one’s country or the horrifying destruction that war brings. Such a view is often shallow as it results in us supporting or condemning the need for war while ignoring the role that humanity plays in it. However, BMT allowed me to consider many important questions about the sanctity of life and sacrifice and nothing reveals so much other than the live firing and hand grenade exercises. These collective experiences both make me a better soldier and a better human being.

Firing the SAR 21 certainly left an indelible impact on me. I distinctively remember my initial fear of firing that first round and the adrenaline rush of euphoria afterward as I get increasingly accurate at my shots. Taking a step back, I realise how the surge of adrenaline is a very dangerous feeling; the excitement one gets from firing the rifle strips part of our humanity as we forget that what we are firing at – human beings. As a result, we become overly engrossed in completing our mission and lose our compassion and even our own moral compass. Therefore, instead of defending our country, we engage in mindless slaughter. Thus, while we train hard to be a competent soldier and claim a ‘swift and decisive victory’, we must always remember to be ethical in our treatment of our enemies for they too, share the same hopes, fears and dreams as us. For while there is an inevitable need to be on opposing ends for the sake of our individual country, on the most basic level, we are still flesh and blood and have no personal grudge against each other.

Such an experience made me understand social scientist, Philip Zimbardo’s, ‘Lucifer Effect’. One of his postulations is that genocide occurs as soldiers are made to think that their enemies are less than human which removes their sense of conscience and remorse which is exacerbated from the loss of personal identity due to implementation of uniformity and regimentation. Consequently, excessive brutality tends to be easily justified when dealing with our enemies. This also highlights an important point that while we must put our trust in our commanders and follow orders, we must retain our sense of ethics and humanity to put our foot down and stand against it should our orders be blatantly unreasonable which is rarely the case.

Another defining moment for me was during the hand grenade exercise. The effect of the explosion as ball bearings are sprayed in the air was certainly impressive. Yet, in all our awe of its effect, we often forget that such a simple technology would sound the death knell for anyone in a split second as our lives are made so vulnerable like a candle flame in the wind. Such a frightful thought does bear a valuable lesson in humanity. It teaches us, soldiers, to cherish the fruits of life and everyone that is around us for in the merciless scourge of war, no one knows when our time will come. It emphasises on the need for the generosity of the heart in showing care to our fellow soldiers out in the field for in the most trying of times, the triumph of the human spirit in brotherly bond will bring calm amidst the storm.

Never has these concepts been so real to me before the experience of wielding weapons that could wipe out a portion of humanity in a matter of seconds. As much as our time spent is in the hopes of becoming better soldiers, we must understand and maintain a sense of our humanity. While Hollywood may proclaim ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patrica mori’ [1], it is more important that we could place our hands on our hearts and say that we were human in the battlefield. That is one lesson in humanity that I will never forget.

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[1] ‘It is sweet and proper to die for one’s country’ – a famous line taken from one of Horace’s poems which was made popular by Wilfred Owen’s poem, ‘Dulce Decorum est’

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