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Federal

Mar 8, 2012

Military 'culture': loyalty and inevitable malfeasance

The purpose of a military, once we ignore recruitment drives and feel-good advertising on humanitarian work, is to kill, writes Dr James Connor, a senior lecturer with the University of NSW.

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After examining more than 1000 allegations of abuse within the Defence Force — triggered by the Skype s-x scandal in which a female officer cadet at the Australian Defence Force Academy was filmed without her knowledge having consensual sex with a male cadet — the law firm DLA Piper yesterday released a summary document to confirm that at least 775 of those allegations fell within its terms of reference. According to Defence Minister Stephen Smith,  some of these allegations constitute serious criminal offences. The report’s summary stated:

“We have allegations across every decade from the 1950s to date. The earliest date of alleged abuse is 1951 — on a 13-year-old boy, now a man in his 70s. They are made by men and women in respect of conduct by men, women and groups. They involve minors and adults.”

The release was one of seven reviews released in full yesterday. The ADF has committed to a cultural overhaul, including a “Pathway to Change” strategy to improve Defence culture, which includes S-x Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick’s review of the treatment of women at the academy. But the Kirkham inquiry, the review concerning the Skype incident directly, remains unreleased in full. Yesterday it was revealed that the inquiry never actually interviewed “Kate” — according to Smith, due to “circumstances relating to her well being”.

Kate has not returned to ADFA and criminal proceedings relating to the Skype incident are still continuing in the ACT Courts. Smith still commends the student for coming forward, as he told the ABC’s PM yesterday:

“She has nothing other than both my sympathy because her career has been disturbed, but also my admiration for her coming forward. I’ve said previously that there should be no criticism of her for coming forward and indeed one of the extracts that I read to you from the work done by the chief and the secretary is that there does need to be a change of culture, which doesn’t view dimly those people who come forward when they believe inappropriate conduct has occurred.”

But Defence Force chief General David John Hurley remains critical of the decision to use the media. He told PM:

“You know the Defence policy in relation to people coming to the media inappropriately and so forth. This is a value judgement, the Minister’s given a view on that; we would also reinforce through our culture review programs what we expect and the behaviours we expect. There are channels for people to go through and the media is not necessarily the first recourse.”

For the military, it is a question of loyalty. Dr James Connor, a senior lecturer with the University of NSW at the Australian Defence Force Academy, recently published a peer-reviewed paper in the journal Criminal Justice Ethics. He submitted this commentary to Crikey today in relation to the cultural overhaul announced by Defence …

Dr James Connor writes:

The purpose of a military, once we ignore the recruitment drives and feel-good advertising on humanitarian work, is to kill. Kill those deemed to be the enemy — that amorphous other out there who is perceived to be wrong. The fundamental training, socialisation and control problem in a military is that it is remarkably hard to actually get one human being to destroy another.

To create a viable military force that will kill requires intense resocialisation of its members and a refashioning of their identity. In effect, militaries take a “normal” person and turn them into one that can fight.

It is a tired trope that soldiers must stick together, fight for each other and support each other to be effective combatants. We see it in cultural representations of brotherhood (pick any war film) and through the formalised rituals of brotherhood, oaths of allegiance and affirmations of fealty. Soldier’s memoirs are filled with tales of brotherly fealty to one another and unit.

Thus, the answer to this problem of killing and group solidarity is to create a powerful bond within the group that subsumes individual needs, desires and identity — the group or pack becomes the most important. And members of the group are strongly pushed to be part of it and support it no matter what — after all — do you really want to be the one member of the platoon that no one likes?

The military uses emotional manipulation to encourage soldiers to act in certain ways. In one respect this is functional for an organisation that has been tasked with taking people and turning them into subjects capable of killing. However, the effect of inculcating a strong emotional disposition to be loyal to the unit and fellow soldier is that it can overwhelm other emotional responses — such as fear, disgust, anxiety and shame.

In effect, doing what your mates are doing is what is most important, not what might be morally correct. Creating powerful group bonding leads the members of that group to see others as inferior — even if at times those others are part of the military. Minorities in the military are often targets, be they women or ethnic groups, as they don’t “fit” the imagined idealised “white warrior male”.

There is a constant, moronic refrain that women should not be allowed in the military — yet when these “arguments” are considered they are merely men trying to assert their power and position over women.

There is nothing in the military that women cannot do — yes, they can even carry packs and march, and shoot, and fly and drive and no, menstruating does not stop you fighting. This discussion over combat roles gives those who seek it an “excuse” to attack female military members as not being “worthy” of the uniform. Creating an us (men) and them (women) attitude.

The fierce loyalty displayed by the military inevitably leads to appalling behaviour, where members think they can get away with anything — as long as the group is with them. These behaviours are condoned and covered-up by the “leaders” further propagating a sick, unhealthy culture. No military is immune to this — consider the Canadians in Somalia, Abu Ghraib, US kill teams in Afghanistan, and closer to home the plethora of inquiries into the Australian military.

While overwhelming loyalty is the goal of training and culture in the military, the preconditions for appalling behaviour will always be there. When you are taught to believe that your group is most important — then it should come as no surprise to the rest of us that at times that means denigrating others and covering that up.

The challenge is that you also need soldiers to be intensely loyal to each other if you want a coherent fighting force. However, what is sorely lacking is the moral and ethical counter-point to this in-group loyalty. Militaries must change their training and cultural practices to account for and manage the risk fierce group loyalty poses — or inevitably more murder, r-pe and scandal will occur.

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