During Sunday many televised news broadcasts in the UK showed a video purporting to be clandestine video footage of some unusual hazing rituals allegedly being carried out by soldiers of the Royal Marines, a part of the Royal Navy.
The video footage had been obtained by the News of the World, a Sunday newspaper well known for its sensational reporting style, and formed the subject of a report which it published this Sunday - there are links from this report to allow the video to be viewed at various speeds.
The substance of the report and most (perhaps all) comment about it has been that the methods displayed in the video are shocking and repulsive. 'Repulsive' was certainly the word used by one interviewee on a BBC televised news report during Sunday evening, apparently a former officer in the Royal Marines. There is no question that the scenes shown in the video were pretty strong stuff and shocking to someone like me who has absolutely no personal experience of a military existence.
However, after thinking about this for a little while I have come to slightly different conclusions about this whole episode. It seems to me to be somewhat disingenuous to throw one's hands up in horror when confronted with this kind of thing. The Royal Marines and the Commandos have the reputation for being a well-trained bunch of pretty tough people whose mission is to get the job done. No excuses. This is what we expect them to do and, generally, they do it rather well. Just how do we think they acquire the skills to allow them to perform so well? It is certainly not, I would imagine, by having its personnel learn such skills as embroidery and cake-making! War is a tough, vicious, risky business and people kill and get killed.
What this whole scenario reminds me of is some of what I have read about the uncompromising methods used in ancient Sparta to train its military - because the whole state apparatus was devoted to military activity. Obviously the same is not true of our comfortable, modern, Western-style democracy, but we still require our military to do our dirty, or simply difficult and dangerous, work for us and it seems to me to be completely unrealistic to expect them always to behave in the way that most of us are expected, and choose, to behave.
UPDATE: (Wednesday 30NOV05 08.48) I just noticed that this post has been referenced, as have those of a few other 'bloggers', by a part of the MSM, namely the Daily Telgraph - see here.