Militaries are fascinating, whether you want them to be or not. While I won’t watch the larger parades of modern-day forces because they are entirely too representative of the threat of violence by the state, I do remember enjoying scenes from the 1980s film on Shaka Zulu that depicted the discipline with which his warriors learned to use assegais, and work in formations that often defeated their enemies. It doesn’t matter how pacific one might be: finding shows of force come wired in the brain.
When individuals “fail” at the discipline, and what this says about the human spirit, is also very interesting. Is disobedience and small acts of defiance that gives us a chance at survival, ultimately? One of the most famous photos from the Nazi era is a huge picture of a crowd.
You have to stare at it to detect the one man who, in a sea of hailing salutes, resolutely keeps his arms down while staring balefully at the camera. He would not comply. I wonder what happened to him. I always wonder what we gain as a whole from the very few who simply say: mh, no thanks.
Take nuclear war. I found out that we have had more ‘incidents’ than are normally told to the general population. I grew up at a time when Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not at the forefront of consciousness. The word nuclear had been sanitised, it meant the generation of cheap and plentiful electricity — if we could only crack the secrets of fusion rather than fission — so things were rosy.
Rosy in the modern sense that rather than fearing a cataclysmic act of god-level event to end all things, we go about our regular lives vaguely acknowledging the existential dread that our technology both sustains us and poses a threat. If not an unhinged laboratory leak of some dreadful virus, perhaps it would come from the unhinged command of some dreadful despot. There are a few of those hanging about, complete with impressive ticker-tape armies to carry out their command…
…or maybe not? We might still be here by sheer good fortune. Going back to the nuclear incidents I mentioned, there are many resources available online that tell an interesting story about us and nuclear weapons. Sometimes armies just, you know, lose nuclear warheads. Haha, oops? Sometimes they almost detonate them by mistake, like by dropping a hammer in a sensitive situation.
I mean, I wish I was kidding. But sometimes, when paranoia is running truly high, the difference between a post-nuclear winter and this prosperity we live in has come down to one officer saying: Nah, I don’t think the data is right and we should maybe not initiate the annihilation of the world as we know it. Like one Vasily Archipov did during the Cold War.
It is a wonder that we are still here. That in the midst of the worst, hardest moments there emerge antiheroes who disobey for a greater good. I wasn’t trained to this, but something about this level of courage. Let’s turn the page, see what small civil disobediences might bring.