CGS bollocked us last week. As bollockings went it wasn’t too bad; I have had better – (Graeme Lamb was a master at communicating rage through the medium of paper, albeit the paper often had puncture wounds), and I have had worse. I agreed entirely with the sentiments, but do wonder about the things unsaid.
On Twitter some have commented as to whether the it was addressed fairly or unfairly, while across at The Wavell Room, David Calder (@drjcalder81) in my opinion came closest to hitting the mark. But hitting the mark on what?
CGS’s 3.5 minutes of steely eyed ire was based on allegations of sexual assault carried out by soldiers on a soldier. Clearly if proven this would be a significant breach of the Army’s Values and Standards, and in particular ‘Respect for Others’.
CGS mentioned “Values and Standards”, an “honest sense of decency” and that a “higher level of behaviour” is expected of us. But in considering the allegations I am struck by the fact that from the society we are drawn, and to society we will return.
One of the contributing factors in the background of many sexual assaults is exposure to pornography. Pornography with its objectification of people as a means (vehicle) to an end (sexual satisfaction) and not as an end in themselves, would seem to be the antithesis of the Army’s Values and standards. I have written before about pornography, and that a society that accepts pornography such as ours does, should not be surprised when members of society increasingly behave in a manner that has been socialised as acceptable through pornography. The fact that pornography is acceptable and that the yet the behaviour is unacceptable, is one of the many contradictions in our society. This contradiction of society is mirrored within the British Army, we preach respect for others and yet fail to condemn pornography.
“Social cohesion and individual liberty, like religion and science, are in a state of conflict or uneasy compromise throughout the whole period.”
I want to encourage us, the military, to think both broader and deeper. We spend much time and effort thinking about Hybrid Warfare and Information Confrontation; we recognise too that the character of war is changing in composition and balance from the kinetic to the cognitive. We spill ink more freely than blood on the Somme, in talking about AI, PME and Mission Command. We discuss all these and recognise intuitively that the character of war reflects the character of the societies waging war, indeed war is a social mechanism. Information confrontation too, seeks to exploit the fissures in our societies and we are faced with the strategic implications of this daily, and yet how much time and effort do we spend looking at ourselves? How much time do we spend considering the strategic implications of our evolving sociology?
“To understand an age or a nation, we must understand its philosophy, and to understand its philosophy we must ourselves be in some degree philosophers. There is here a reciprocal causation: the circumstances of men’s lives do much to determine their philosophy, but, conversely, their philosophy does much to determine their circumstances.”
The quotes in bold were all taken from the introduction to Bertrand Russell’s seminal work ‘The History of Western Philosophy”. Many may discount the relevance of philosophy to the profession of arms, but as we consider CGS’s exhortation to do better by ourselves, we should take a moment to consider what tools we have to see ourselves for what we are. Philosophy gives us many of these tools. Lastly, and with a nod at PME and Mission Command, consider this:
“To teach how to live without certainty, and yet without being paralysed by hesitation, is perhaps the chief thing that philosophy, in our age, can still do for those who study it.”