From Captain Bligh's sadistic treatment of the crew of the HMS Bounty to General George Patton slapping a soldier suffering from battle fatigue, the history of military tyranny proves the adage that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Human nature has a dark side and too often this comes to the fore when military commanders are given nearly unlimited authority over their subordinates and civilians. History is littered with the corpses of tens of millions of victims subjected to the authority of ego maniacal military leaders from ancients like Alexander and Genghis Khan to Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot in the 20th century.
Less destructive but much more common are incompetent officers commanding small military units. This phenomenon has been detailed in fictional works such as Mister Roberts by Thomas Heggen, From Here To Eternity by James Jones and The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk.
The necessity of military discipline in any army is corrupted when small-minded inferior men are placed in positions of authority. Obviously, the military cannot be a democracy where every soldier gets to vote on decisions, but in a democratic society, it is imperative to weed out unsuitable commanders. When this fails to happen, an unnatural kind of havoc is certain to follow.
My own experience in the U.S. Air Force involved petty abuses of power by commanding officers rather than deadly forms of military tyranny. Nevertheless, it made me wonder (like Yossarian in Joseph Heller's novel Catch-22) if my real enemy wore the same uniform as I did. Or as the cartoon character Pogo famously said of the Vietnam war: "We have met the enemy and he is us."
The CO at my first duty base was a lieutenant colonel bucking for promotion to full colonel before he retired. He kept our unit grossly undermanned because requesting more personnel would not facilitate his promotion when he was getting the job done with a skeleton crew. Morale was extremely low and everyone hated the CO for forcing us to work 12-hour shifts with so little off-duty time we had to waste it catching up on our sleep.
The NCO in charge was a black woman, Chief Master Sergeant Alice Hill, who was the highest ranking non-commissioned officer in the entire Air Force. She had a foul mouth and she didn't take crap from anyone. Even the CO seemed to be afraid of her. Once, I saw her dress him down for a stupid decision he made -- a blatant act of insubordination she was able to get away with because of her special status.
The lieutenant colonel had no business commanding a unit of dozens of officers and enlisted men. He was a weak man paradoxically bent on self aggrandizement. (Imagine a sloppy fat narcissist.) He should have been pushing papers at some cubbyhole office in the Pentagon or at a base like Thule, Greenland.
However, promotions are based much more on written tests and good ole boy evaluations than leadership ability in the modern American military. This led to the failure of military command in Vietnam and the current quagmire in Iraq.
Most soldiers will follow a real military leader into hell if necessary. But they won't lift a paperclip for incompetent officers if they can avoid a court martial. Quite understandably, they don't want to risk their lives for someone who doesn't know what he's doing.
The military should be a social petridish where only the most qualified rise to the top. Military tyranny usually results when this evolutionary process is thwarted by inappropriate factors like rank based on seniority, ego-tripping, greed for higher pay and the cunning to avoid being held accountable for bad command decisions.
"The earth was made round so we can't see too far down the road and know what is coming." -- Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa
Last edited by starrwriter; 10-11-2006 at 11:47 AM..