Military answers to civilian problems

Why is it that at election times I notice how many teams of “trainee security guards” are marching and drilling in the open spaces of our city?

Is this really a demonstration of the violence that is implicit in the way some people conduct election campaigns? Or do I only notice them when that atmosphere of suppressed violence makes me more aware of them?

Either way, even if it happens every day, isn’t this a strange way to train men you want to guard your home or business from robbers, who do not make a habit of marching down the main street in daylight when they are about their nefarious business?

We seem to expect everyone who wears a uniform to behave like a soldier on parade. Someone needs to remind us all that a security guard is not a soldier.

The security companies that employ these imitation soldiers are a fairly recent institution. Until the 1960s, anyone in Europe (America may have been different) who wanted their house or business guarded would seek out a trustworthy elderly man, perhaps a retired policeman, to be their night watchman. This man would spend most nights watching the premises; he would soon get to know weak spots in the fence where burglars might break in, windows that didn’t close properly and other such significant facts.

He also got to know the people who were entitled to be there and what their business there was. He became a trusted member of the establishment and, because he was trusted, he did a better job of observing everything there was to observe and preventing undesirable situations from developing. And he cost the customer less; though they paid him more than a company would, they were paying less than a company charges them now.

Security companies don’t work like that. All that drill is possibly a substitute for personal contact. The guards are taught to observe certain rules, but if you hire them, you need to watch them to be sure they do keep those rules. Most of us can’t spend half the night walking round watching the watchman, so the company’s answer to that problem is to move guards around frequently, so that they don’t learn enough about the places they are guarding to be able to misuse that knowledge. Which means they don’t learn enough to be able to guard it properly.

I suspect the impression of efficiency conveyed by all that marching drill and the military way your security guard will salute you. For myself, they remind me more of an obvious soldier in civilian clothes I saw in the street some time ago. He didn’t walk, he marched. He seemed unable to roll his eyeballs, so when he wanted to look around him he had to turn his head as if an imaginary sergeant-major inside his head was giving him the order “Eyes right” and he swung his head to the right. If that’s the model you want your security guards to imitate, you are inviting every burglar in town to run rings round them, but a lot of us do seem to be impressed by military ways.

We accept far too meekly a kind of governance by executive order. This week, as usual at the beginning of school term, a lot of children were sent away because they can’t afford the fees. Government repeats its ban on this practice, but does nothing to help harassed teachers without books and teaching materials to do anything useful with and for those children. Just forbidding headmasters from rejecting children who can’t pay doesn’t do anything to advance the education of those children – unless somebody, meaning the government, provides the necessary materials. Why else do we pay taxes?

But, of course, we have seen worse than that. Destroying “sub-standard” or “illegal” houses doesn’t make less people homeless. I could multiply examples. Why do we suffer all this so meekly?

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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