The biggest bully I knew at school joined the police force. Even at age 16 I thought this entirely logical.
On the other hand, Roy, who was one of my circle of friends, joined the army as a boy entrant. I knew he was lonely and sensed he was unhappy. His mother died when he was eight and he was brought up after a fashion by a succession of “aunts” who lived with his (often absent) father. We were appalled, but the prospect of two years' National Service faced us all and his enlistment too had a certain logic.
Somehow my friendship with Roy survived and he is now a National Park warden close to retirement. Six years ago he said “you won't believe this Jeff but I'm a socialist now”. Whether a supporter of New Labour's authoritarianism or a late convert to the libertarianism of William Morris, I forbore to question.
As for PC Bully, he must be long retired and living on a handsome pension. I bet he's not changed one whit from the angry authoritarian he was at school and I'm glad I was never confronted by him on a sit-down or occupation. His bullying instincts would have been legitimised by his uniform and I was amazed recently to hear a senior policeman on The World At One actually acknowledge that to become a policeman is an attractive proposition for a bully.
Today the report into bullying at Deepcut Barracks has been published, and distracted parents are demanding a public inquiry into the deaths of their sons.
Months ago in NvA I wrote of my limited sympathy for the parents of soldier boys killed in Iraq and suggested the peace movement should challenge parents who send their children off to kill or be killed. An hour ago I heard a mother tell how her son had “loved everything about the army” and couldn't wait to join up. She also told how, shortly before he'd died, he was “so excited” by the prospect of fighting in a real war in Iraq. As it turned out he didn't have to go to Iraq to be shot. His family was told he'd committed suicide. He was 17.
The government wheeled out a minister who pontificated about the need for tough discipline in “the finest army in the world” and I waited for the usual “one bad apple” get out. What claptrap. I take it for granted that the armed forces and the police force are by their very nature racist, sexist, and authoritarian. I've grown up with British movies - usually, but not necessarily, comedies - which have always portrayed officers as idiots and Sergeants as bullies. We are expected to laugh at their antics and ignore the reality. Just as we are expected to applaud Mr Blair's African poverty initiative while ignoring his deafening silence about the export of British arms to Africa's terrorist governments.
Sign away a life
Growing up during WW2 my playground games were war games but my poor mum and dad refused to let me and Paul have toy guns. “Not fair!” we stormed, but their hatred of war sank in. The other day our oldest boy, Jay (seven), announced he'd never join the army because he didn't want to be killed and he didn't want to kill anyone.
Never mind a public inquiry into events at Deepcut, I think there should be one into the behaviour of parents who sign their children into the army at 17 but are devastated when they get killed.
And what about those they would kill? Are they just the other side's bad apples?