Misunderstandings about the military
Led by the United States, the English-speaking countries seem to be almost continuously at war -- fighting for their own long-term safety and trying to rescue others from tyranny. In the USA, the wars are mostly initiated by Democrat administrations -- WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Serbia and now Libya -- but usually start out with widespread support among Americans generally.
There has however been no mass mobilization since WWII. The wars these days tend to be fought as just another budget item with only the professional military involved. The population generally have no experience of war and little acquaintance with military men. The countries concerned just live on in peace and prosperity. This has produced something of a paradox. The people at large of the world's most "warlike" countries know little of war or of military matters.
In the circumstances, there seems to have developed -- particularly on the political Left -- a quite warped view of the military and often a real contempt for the military. In a patriotic country like America, that contempt has to be mostly veiled but observers of the Left will be familiar with such attitudes anyway. Because of the British tradition of emotional restraint, however, overt expressions of patriotism are rare in Britain and Australia so the Left there are more vocal in making known their attitude to the military.
So the combination of no experience with the military and Leftist contempt for military men does seem to have led to a fairly widespread lack of understanding of what military men are like and how the military functions. And as a former army psychologist, I think I might be in a position to make a few points that may dispel some of those misunderstandings.
* A very common misunderstanding is that military men are dumb. That is far from the case. The military handle some very dangerous gear so a dummy would be more of a danger to his buddies than to the enemy. For that reason all Western armies select on intellectual grounds: You have to have an above average IQ to be a soldier. And in the more specialist jobs (officers generally, special forces, etc.), the intellectual requirement is quite high. So it is quite right to refer to the "profession" of arms. It needs training, knowledge, dedication and ability comparable to many other professions.
* Another incomprehension that seems particularly common on the left is why on earth would anybody take a job where he might get shot at? That seems like a very bad deal to most Leftists and may be part of the reason why military men are overwhelmingly conservative. Guerilla war where they can shoot others from cover (as in various "revolutions" -- such as Castro's) seems OK to Leftists but they generally haven't got the stomach for regular military service.
So why DO military men put themselves in harm's way? The answer quite simply is that they are real men. They have inherited a strong dose of the characteristics that enabled men to survive in "caveman" times. Life was a very risky business for us for most of our evolutionary past and men who did not enjoy risks and challenges just did not survive. Military men actually ENJOY putting themselves to the test. They LIKE doing difficult and dangerous things. Sadly, the army often disappoints them. Even if there is a war on, most of your time is spent waiting around. But the army does a lot of training and sport and there is always the prospect of action. So in every army, the men are always keen to get to "the front" -- where the action is and where they might get shot at! I was one of them many years ago. The Vietnam war was on at the time and I volunteered for a posting there.
A little story might help illustrate all that. During the Vietnam war, Australia had conscription and it was largely conscripts who were sent to the front. What is not generally known however is that conscripts were not usually sent to the front unwillingly. Anybody who did not want to go was discharged as "medically" unfit or was given the chance of volunteering for work in (say) a BOD (Base Ordnance Depot -- a military warehouse). But given the option of spending two boring years in a BOD back in Australia and going to Vietnam, close to 100% of the conscripts chose Vietnam. Men like excitement and Vietnam offered that, even if it was dangerous.
* Another myth much beloved of Leftist psychologists is that army men are some sort of "robot". They are all the same and just obey orders like machines. The old Prussian expression that a soldier should be "Kadaver gehorsam" (show corpselike obedience) helped establish that myth. And it does have a germ of truth. Take a look at the picture below. It is easy to see a march of robots there, is it not?
It is in fact a parade of cadets at Sandhurst, Britain's equivalent of West Point. So all the men there are in fact highly skilled soldiers with the equivalent of a university degree who will go on to positions of leadershiop throughout the British army and later on lead in British life generally. Far from being robots they are an elite.
So learning to work together and take orders is certainly a part of military life but it says nothing about the character of the men involved. The fact that the army has to train its men very heavily in order to get them to that state of readiness should speak for itself. It does not come naturally. Military men are very much individuals. And when you are in the army, you get to know what individuals your fellow unit members are and come to value them accordingly. For that reason, military men feel great grief at the loss of anyone in their unit -- as you will hear any time you ask them about their wartime experiences -- and in later life you never walk past a member of your old army unit in the street without stopping to chat. Fellow members of your unit become very special friends. You don't of course get on equally well with them all but you usually respect them all.
So I hope that goes a little way towards showing how wrong are simplistic judgments of the military and of military men.
Perhaps I should close on a rather provocative note: You could think that women would not be attracted to military men. The men are often away on deployment and may come home in a body bag. What sort of a deal is that for a woman? Yet as you always see, when the men come home from deployment, most have wives and girlfriends waiting eagerly to see their men again. How come? Easy: As I have pointed out above, military men are real men and real women like real men.
Take as an example the Australian soldier below. He is clearly a family man and may look undistinguished to some. But Ben Roberts-Smith is a man of exceptional intelligence, daring and courage. For his actions in Afghanistan he was recently awarded the Victoria Cross, which is as high an award for valour as there is. It is very rarely awarded. You can read his story here and here. He could join the officer corps any time he applied but he chooses to serve as a corporal leading a small detachment of Special Forces. Why? Because that is where the action is. We can be proud that the English-speaking nations still produce men like him -- JR