The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Misplaced military pride and real heroes

There is nothing virtuous about the military. It is merely an organization that draws in misled young boys under such incomprehensible values like “pride for your nation” and “protecting the homeland.” The latter is especially perplexing if you are a soldier fighting a distant country for no apparent reason other than a third country’s command.
There’s nothing virtuous about the military. Soldiers, however, are still heroes. Heroes not because they are “willing to risk their lives for their nation”—don’t be ridiculous, no one in their right mind would risk their life for something as big and inarticulate as the principle of nation. No, they are heroes because they still go ahead and risk their lives, even if they lose their beliefs in what they are fighting for. They are heroes because they are humans in an inhumane situation. Ultimately, there is only one reason left for their fighting: to stay alive and go home together.
I saw this play called “Black Watch” during my stay in Chicago over spring break. It is a military play, without any of the predetermined anti- or pro-war messages. The play is instead a simple description, with the soldiers’ words and from their point of view, telling what it means to fight in a war and how it feels to be a soldier. The play examines soldiers’ motives: motives to join, to fight and then to choose to leave or stay.
To understand the play we need to know that “Black Watch” is a legendary infantry regiment of Scotland. The play is set in the present, and was written based on interviews with the “Black Watch” ex-soldiers who served in Iraq, in the “war on terror.”
I have to admit that I could not understand half of what was said because of the very heavy Scottish accent. My knowledge of the political-economic-strategic aspects of the military is also limited. There are, however, some key elements concerning the personal aspect of military that I learned through the play, because understanding the key ideas did not require understanding the words.
One is the importance of pride. Military pride covers a wide range of things. From the very beginning, when these young boys hear about all the reasons to join the military, they get to hear about the entire glory-filled history of the regiment. They immediately learn that being a member of the group is something to be proud of—it is a privilege. Then they learn to take pride in everything they do, since they are a member of this very high-prestige group. They take pride in what they wear and how they wear it, they take pride in how they march as a group, and they take pride in their tradition. It is just like being a member of a very uptight club.
Second, the playwright offers another reason, somewhat connected to pride, why these boys decide to join the military. It offers them a place to belong. They are adolescent boys who are desperately in need for some sort of identity. If they cannot find or define it themselves, the easiest solution for them is to turn to the military, which already gives them a pre-packaged identity. After all, it is a win-win situation for both parties, isn’t it?
Third is the importance of the community. “Black Watch” is famous for drawing most of the soldiers in from the small, close-knit, pre-existing communities. Because of this, many families have generations after generations serving in the regiment. Community gives the main motive for fighting and staying. As the characters state in the end, they did not fight for the country or the nation, but fought for the regiment, the mates, the people on their side. And this stands true for staying, too: the tradition of the family somehow locks the individuals into the regiment.
Finally is how soldiers keep being humans. Besides the expected horrors, we also hear about the boredom they experience in the desert, as well as the pornography they keep watching and the dry and black humor they keep in their talk—tools to presumably keep themselves sane in this inhumanity called war. However, in the instance they get knocked out of this shell of toughness (i.e. someone actually dies), everything tumbles—and every nicely defined reason for joining, fighting and staying becomes meaningless. And that is when a soldier decides to leave.

View Comments (1)
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (1)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • C

    Coral SmithOct 25, 2011 at 2:01 am

    If it were not for Canada’s military, they would be American
    If it were not for America’s army, they would be British
    If it were not for Britain’s army, they would be French
    I think the Romans and Persia had a struggle once.
    Or the Mongolians violent leader Khangas Khan would have completely taken over.
    Most likely if it were not for any army, you wouldn’t be alive.