Thursday, 15 March 2012

SHELL SHOCK AND ALL THAT

A sergeant on his 4th tour in Iraq/Afghanistan, leaves his base in the dark of night and murders 16 nearby villagers, 9 of them children. This adds yet another case to the long list of human atrocities against other humans. Where lies the blame and can we devise a cure?


We are all born naked, innocent, and requiring long years of education in order to cope with the daily difficulties of surviving in a strange new environment after the comforts of the womb. We have no apparent free will as to choice of time or location of birth. But, then, what choice do the quarks et al that make us up have? They are locked almost forever in a mad dance around each other. Evolution and Environment shape us but are there any innate characteristics common to all of us that allow us to defy or modify what we are taught?


Like you, I can speak only from a tiny sliver of knowledge compiled from personal experiences that include listening to, and reading of, the experiences of thousands of others, still a tiny fraction of humanity. My travels have been limited to time in every Canadian province and territory, every state of the USA, 14 European countries, and Japan. My wars were limited to WWII, POW time, and the Korean airlift. I have lived with people of 13 different faiths. My friends have included those from all walks of economic, political, and social levels, yet there is still so much I do not know.

Wherever I have found myself - in groups of dogs, cats, deer, birds, squirrels, or humans - I have found variety among these characteristics common to all: skepticism, bravery, cowardice, aggression, care, and greed. In addition to these I find variety in humans in: compassion, generosity, hospitality, desire for knowledge, gullibility, patriotism but all exist everywhere regardless of the education received, convincing me there is no lost soul that cannot be salvaged. Just a couple of examples: For a month I shared a POW hospital room with a Russian prisoner of war. He was convinced that the capitalistic West, especially the USA, was more of a threat to the USSR than Germany, yet we became friends and his views moderated as did mine. During the long march westwards fleeing the Soviet advance I got mixed in with, and enjoyed, a large group of very friendly Asians, meek and mild, but also POWs. It was not until after I left them that I learned they were the feared fearless, ferocious Ghurkhas. Today I get frequent house calls from Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses. I sit them down, warn them that I am agnostic which means I will listen to their views, take and read their literature but expect them to listen to my views and accept an article or two I have written. Is it really so strange that they keep coming back with friendly comments on my views - and with more of their views and literature?

For many months now my computer screen has been the target of vicious anti-Muslim articles. The authors have yet to include criticism of any non-Muslim outrage. Yes, I am uncomfortable in the company of women in hijab attire just as I was when taught by nuns revealing only a small portion of their face implying they were ashamed of the body their God gave them and that all men were rapist.

This is a long detour to get back to the sergeant and his ilk and to what we used to call shell shock. Such actions must be punished if only to deter others but is he or his training and country to blame? For ten thousand years large percentages of our males have been forced into soldiering. Pay was low, augmented by raping and looting, and gratitude was fleeting. Fancy uniforms, esprit de corps, flags, and medals tried to hide the pain, exertion, stress, cold, hunger, lost limbs, and life-long uncompensated disabilities that survivors endured. Humans are remarkably resilient. Many, including myself, have gone into battle enduring painful illnesses so as not to let the team down. But many do break in the horrors of war and the realization they are being used by their indifferent superiors. As late as WWI, among those executed for cowardice were: France 600, UK 281, Canada 25, Germany 18, Belgium 13. Of these only the Nazis executed men, over 40,000, for various offences in WWII. In Bomber Command Shell Shock became "Lack of Moral Fibre", bringing not death but disgrace to only 0.3% but that amounted to 375. For the victors, at least in the victorious West, compensation was much greater and gratitude more enduring than ever. Subsequent wars, all unpopular, have seen less compensation and gratitude.

So, what needs to be done? Worldwide, actions that we admire and loathe are widespread. As aggressors remain, but none at the moment who threaten us other than economically and morally, the tools of war have to be maintained, sufficient to the need based not on greed but on honest interpretation from extensive intelligence. Maintaining a draft would ensure a more equal distribution of the fighting and dying burden and forestall reckless aggression. Long term planning that builds wartime infrastructure with an eye to post-conflict use should be the norm. Frequent rotation of personnel between fighting and desk jobs would help ensure command care for those in the fighting zones.

Humans reject anything imposed on them by force, but will choose to adopt from other cultures what they come to believe are superior goods, customs, or beliefs - often a slow process as it hurts entrenched interests. Beneficial organizations like Doctors Without Borders, Red Cross, Red Crescent, The Peace Corps, Amnesty International, Greenpeace, Concerned Scientists, numerous Wildlife Societies, and thousands of philanthropists have had immense impact. Diverting funds from, say, a couple of our un-needed carrier groups to UN Peacekeeping would also help.

But basically, to get at the root of the problem we need to reform education be it in the untamed NW states of Pakistan or our own institutions. There is some truth in the old Jesuit boast "Give us your children until they are 7 and we will have them for life." How do we alter the myths humans are prone to cling to?  Can we develop in education a remedy for Greed and Much wants More. Humans with less are often much happier than those cluttered with material goods.

There is enough good in our species to warrant its continuance but it does need weeding and fertilizer. Saving us from ourselves is no easy task, but worth the effort.

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