A real soldier

I still doubt whether war can ever be justified, but I have come to respect the best kind of soldier.

A soldier stands at the Beitbridge border looking out for illegal border jumpers.
A soldier stands at the Beitbridge border looking out for illegal border jumpers.

Many early Christian martyrs died for refusing to serve in the army, but when rulers became Christian they began to make compromises, claiming there could be a just war in certain extreme circumstances. The soldier who accepts that belief sincerely, must have strong principles because it sets a difficult path to follow.

A soldier is the state's licensed killer. He is expected to fight, and if necessary to kill, when those above him command it. But if he must be able to kill when he is ordered, he must also be able to stop killing as soon as they order him to as well.

This is why discipline is so important in an army, and why most armies give their soldiers a smart uniform for ceremonial occasions, different from the battledress they wear in war. I am very uneasy when I see men in battledress guarding State House. They have clearly been told to expect to meet enemies on our city streets. Because they are dressed to fight, they expect to have to fight you and me.

A real soldier doesn't like fighting any more than we do. He will prefer to look for allies rather than enemies. He believes that anyone who isn't against him is for him.

Wilfred Mhanda's life story, which we have read in these pages, shows he is a real soldier. The more allies he has, the less he needs to fight. And when he does fight, he is likely to succeed more quickly. And if he does that, he'll be the first to celebrate the peace.

A few months ago I attended the wedding of another real war veteran and came away with some new impressions of professional soldiers, which the bridegroom and his companions in arms certainly were. These were men who had shared hard experiences, had a certain pride in their ability to do a difficult and unpleasant job and had a sense of discipline. That discipline restrains them from gross abuses in their military action and makes them able to stop fighting when they are ordered to.

This description will sound to readers very different from the overweight men who swagger around throwing their considerable weight about. The guys who sing and shout about hondo isingaperi have never seen real war, or if they have, they must be pathological killers. If they are young, they are being duped. If they are not young, they are duping the young ones and they are dangerous. But if any of them, young or old, met someone tougher than them, as the real soldiers I have described usually are, their shouting falls silent and they will probably look for somewhere to hide. “Tougher” in this case doesn't only mean physically stronger; it includes anyone with the courage to say “no” to their demands.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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