Saturday, July 28, 2007

breaking the recruits

This is from "Lone Survivor" by Marcus Lattrell, which a friend of mine has just read. It's the story of an American SEAL, and describes some of his training. This passage stuck out to me:

"Coronado, like New York, is a city that never sleeps. those instructors are out there patroling the corridors of our barracks by night into the small hours. One of them once came into my room after I'd hot mopped it and high polished the floor till you could almost see your face in it. He dropped a trickle of sand onto the floor and chewed me out for living in a dust bowl! Then he sent me down to the Pacific, in the company of my swim buddy and of course himself, to "get wet and sandy" (a punishment, and not a nice one). Then we had to go through the decontamination unit, and the shrieking of those cold hydraulic pipes and the ferocious jets of water awakened half the barracks and nearly sent us into shock. Never mind the fact that was 0200 and we were due back under those showers again in another couple of hours. ...

"My roommate quit that night. He went weak at the knees just watching what was happening to me. I don't how how ... he thought I felt.

"One time during Indoc while we were out on night run, one of the instructors actually climbed up the outside of a building, came through an open window, and absolutely trashed a guy's room, threw everything everywhere, emptied detergent onto his bed gear. He went back out the way he'd come in, and then tapped on the poor guy's door and demanded a room inspection. The guy couldn't work out whether to be furious or heartbroken, but he spent most of the night cleaning up and still had to be in the showers at 0430 like the rest of us.

"I asked Reno about this weeks later, and he told me, 'Marcus, the body can take damn near anything. It's the mind that needs training. The question that guy was being asked involved mental strength. Can you handle such injustice? Can you cope with that kind of unfairness, that much of a setback? And still come back with your jaw set, still determined, swearing to God you will never quit? That's what we're looking for."

My friend is impressed and sees spiritual allegory here, but I have to admit that I'm not impressed. I'm disgusted. He's outlining the chief objection I have to the military. The boot camp experience, particularly for elite forces, is just cruel, sadistic and inhuman. I understand the point: to "break" the individual's spirit, to condition soldiers to follow orders, and to think of the unit before self ... but this is flat-out inexcusable. It the Marines who lost an entire platoon during training in 1942 because they were ordered to march into quicksand and, to a man, they did? This is why I hold a deep-seated objection to war and militarism in general. After you break someone like that, how do you put them back together? You can't.

Two years ago, I was in a Bible study with an Army captain who talked about how he enjoyed this sort of work, breaking the new recruits, and how in tougher cases he would even call them in to his office and call their parents in front of them to say it wasn't working out, just to humiliate them that final degree.

It's sick to take pleasure in breaking another person like that, and I told him so. And reading this description of SEAL training, I'm more convinced than ever that it's fundamentally wrong, no matter how it gets rationalized.

Does God teach us through things that are unjust? Absolutely. I've heard it referred to as "being ruined for life," and I can agree to that phrase wholeheartedly. But you'll never convince me he gets the sadistic thrill out of it that you see in an officer climbing in through an open window and trashing an inductee's quarters to the extent described in this book. That's just sick.

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