Power and Equality

Millions of young men died because a minority of people in power couldn't get along

Word War One caused suffering and misery not just for the soldiers, or even the loved ones who lost family, but to countless millions of people.   And the tragedy is, some people still believe war can actually solve our problems.
Word War One caused suffering and misery not just for the soldiers, or even the loved ones who lost family, but to countless millions of people. And the tragedy is, some people still believe war can actually solve our problems.

The old soldier and I sat together and he talked for a long time

It has become almost a ritual that on Sunday mornings my wife and I, after doing our grocery shopping for the week, go to a certain restaurant for morning coffee. We’ve been doing it for years and, of course, many other people fall into such routines. One such person is an elderly man who turns up driving his battery-powered wheel chair. He’s in his nineties. This gentleman comes in and quite often sits close to us, often striking up a conversation. As a rule, he talks briefly of the usual common place subjects: the weather, what’s in Sunday newspapers, and what is going on around the area. But today as we sat he talked for al long time, and I was fascinated by the things he told me. He really opened up.

Jack was at Buna where some of the worst fighting took place

Jack was already twenty-six years of age when Australian and American Army battalions were fighting the Japanese at Buna and Gona in 1942. He was a sergeant and, out of his battalion at the end of this horrific fighting, his unit had only a hundred men left. Those that hadn’t been killed or wounded were down with dysentery or malaria so, when the chance came after three months of being at the front of some rest, Jack was very glad. They move back a distant airstrip.

It was a rag-tag lot like these who slowed the Japanese advance on the Kokoda Track

A reservist Battalian, the 39th, took the initial brunt of General Horii's so-thought invinsible troops and held them back just long enough for reinforcements - drawn from North Africa - to arrive.
A reservist Battalian, the 39th, took the initial brunt of General Horii's so-thought invinsible troops and held them back just long enough for reinforcements - drawn from North Africa - to arrive.

Some people have to wield power even when it's not needed

The battalion pulled back way behind the front lines. They were now in comparative safety and the American soldiers were confident enough of their position to actually rig electric lighting that night. On the other hand, a very officious Australian Lieutenant, who had been a school teacher before the war, ordered the Australian soldiers to dig trenches and to ‘turn to’ as if they were still at the front. Jack, being a sergeant had to order the men to do this. But that was not all.

Just putting on their boots was agony. It truly was a green hell

After the men had dug in, the Lieutenant ordered Jack to find seventeen men to be sent out on a night patrol. No one wanted to go. This was not because of any form of cowardice. They knew they were far removed from the likelihood of action. Most of the soldiers had ring-worm in their feet. They were suffering. Putting on their boots was absolute agony. Trying to walk on feet so badly affected was even worse. However, Jack managed to get fifteen men who would do it. The remainder were so badly affected he felt he could not make them. So he reported to the lieutenant that he’d been around to every available man in his section, and even tried in other sections, but fifteen was all he could come up with. He was two men short.

Naval ratings on parade in the 1950s. Boot camp toughening.

It was definitely 'no frills' aboard naval ships in the d1950s: Men slept in hammocks, on on benches, tables or on the deck itself.  Hotel rating: half a star at best.
It was definitely 'no frills' aboard naval ships in the d1950s: Men slept in hammocks, on on benches, tables or on the deck itself. Hotel rating: half a star at best.

Jack was charged with not carrying out an order

Jack was charged with not carrying out an order, and when he tried to argue his case, was charged with insubordination. Such are the ways of the military. I suspect it is still not much different today, though I hope it is. For I can recall a particular unfairness that occurred to me during my own years in the military, my six years with the Royal Australian Navy. Sometimes the impossible is asked and when one falls short, the response, so often, was a disciplinary charge. And these charges were significant; the punishment was so often out of proportion to the offense. For example, seven days stoppage of leave and pay for being a coupe of minutes late in reporting back aboard one’s ship, even when it wasn’t under sailing orders. If it was, the charge was worse. There were gaol sentences for things which in Civilian Life would get one nothing more than a good behavior bond or a small fine. It seemed that power went to the heads of any in authority and they were just about always ready to wield it.

There is a subtle difference between discipline and fear

The military learned way back in the days of Ancient Greece and Rome that a 'disciplined' army will always win over sheer bravery.
The military learned way back in the days of Ancient Greece and Rome that a 'disciplined' army will always win over sheer bravery.

Such attitudes towards power stems from the culture of the organization

Such attitudes towards power over others stems from the ‘culture’ of an organization and the military are infamous for it. Turn back the clock far less than two centuries and the Navy were still flogging men with the cat-of-nine-tails, and the Army ‘breaking men’s bones on the gun carriage wheel. Such sadism was commonplace. Things were a lot better during my years in the Navy (1954 to 1960) but sailors – especially in boot camp – could still be ordered run with a heavy .303 rifle held over their heads until they dropped with exhaustion if they’d upset the gunnery instructor.

Terror of discipline stifles initative, even common sense

All of this was supposed to make those who sign up better at doing their jobs. What it generally did was to put so much terror into them at an early age that they lost a lot of their ability to respond individually and use their own common sense. They felt they must have an order before they could act. Bit like the quarter-master who refused to break open the ammunition boxes to supply the Redcoats in South Africa with bullets until he got a signed order in his hand. This, as thousands of Zulus warriors advanced with the intention of killing them all. It seems a reprimand was worse than death itself. History shows, they were all killed.

General Douglas MacArthur. Brave in WW1, in WW2 he controlled from afar

When the Kokoda Track fighting was at its fiercest, MacArthur gave his orders from Brisbane.  When it looked like we were winning, he moved to Port Moresby.  He never visited the front.
When the Kokoda Track fighting was at its fiercest, MacArthur gave his orders from Brisbane. When it looked like we were winning, he moved to Port Moresby. He never visited the front.

Turn a man into a robot and he will act like a robot

When you turn a man into a robot he acts like a robot. There is no initiative, no creativity, and no innovation left, in a man who is so frightened to use his own mind to make decisions to get himself out of a scrape because of his conditioning. The soldier or sailor of old was certainly brow-beaten and cowed to the extent that he was not a real individual anymore, rather a number of be used and exploited. Or as they were commonly referred to in days gone by: They were ‘Cannon fodder.’

Today our young ones are far more independent

It is said that the youth of today have little self-discipline compared with fifty or a hundred years ago. This may be so. We know that the schooling of old, whereby the edicts of the teacher could not be challenged, brought about a certain compliance and belief that ‘authority always knows best.’ Keep quiet and listen! Same applied to doctors, clergymen and policemen. If they said it was right it was right. Today, many of our young ones are far more independent and do not necessarily take for granted what they are told by such authority figures.

General Horii, the man in charge of the Japanese at Kokoda

Killed in New Guinea, General Horii did his job and lost thousands of Japanese dead.  But the end came when Tokyo ordered his men to 'advance to the rear'  to re-inforce Japanese forces attacking in the Solomons.
Killed in New Guinea, General Horii did his job and lost thousands of Japanese dead. But the end came when Tokyo ordered his men to 'advance to the rear' to re-inforce Japanese forces attacking in the Solomons.

Is lack of compliance to authority good?

Is this a good thing? There are pros and cons. Fors and against. On the positive side, the young ones of today are far less likely to fall for the jingoism that led hundreds of thousands of young men, possibly millions of young men, to sign on the dotted line and go away overseas to fight and kill people they had absolutely nothing against personally. The young ones of today are much better informed. On the downside, they are likely to be more rebellious and troublesome and perhaps be much problematic to the ‘authorities.’ To me, though, the pros far outweigh the cons.

Money speaks - But it doesn't have as much influence as it did in the past

No, I’m of the belief that the power-seeker who wishes to rule over others is gradually on the wane. More and more individuals are learning to stand up for themselves. Leadership is no longer a quality which is attributed solely to the privileged, those with family power and money. There was a time when only a handful of people – those who were brilliant and won scholarships – could enter the hallowed halls of university, and thereby be assured of head start in life such as the young ones of the wealthy so often have handed to them. Now a huge percentage of our youth can attend university, and do so. Money still speaks, but it does so with nowhere near as much influence as it did in the past.

Australia troops slopping their way through mud on the Kokoda Track

Leather boots turned to mush.  Heat, humidity, mosquitoes, disentery and thick jungle all added to the strain of the actual fighting.
Leather boots turned to mush. Heat, humidity, mosquitoes, disentery and thick jungle all added to the strain of the actual fighting.

Knowledge enables the power of wider choices

Knowledge is power. Well, it at least enables one to choose more widely. In days gone by it was a labourer’s job, an apprenticeship (if you were lucky) or the enlisted man’s military for the uneducated working class lad. The ‘Old Boy Network ensured the rich went in to Officers’ School, or the Stock Exchange, Banking or at the very least, a start in middle management. Nepotism prevailed. It still does, I expect. But it isn’t quite as effective as it used to be. International economic competition is making that sort of favoritism more and more redundant, thank God. Corporations are after talent as never before.

Australian 'diggers' in action in Papua-New Guinea

It was a 'take no prisoners, no quarter given' war.   People who had nothing against one another on a personal level killing one another because someone told them to do it.
It was a 'take no prisoners, no quarter given' war. People who had nothing against one another on a personal level killing one another because someone told them to do it.

Every single one of us should be given the opportunity of education

George Orwell said in his book, Animal Farm, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” This still applies. We know there are lots of ‘snouts in the trough’ as far as the world is concerned. But the more and more education the masses get –and I really would love to see this extended to all, especially the women who in some countries are so down-trodden – the longer and wider that trough will become. It will become so long that everyone will at least be given an opportunity to get their share of the goodness contained therein. And isn’t that fair?

When all Humankind really has equal opportunity, the days of ‘lording it over others’ will become increasingly rare. Absolute equality might never eventuate, but at least we will be closer to it than we are at the present time. It won’t be welcomed everywhere. But it will be welcomed by the majority.

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Comments 4 comments

gmwilliams profile image

gmwilliams 3 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

This hub is succinctly spot on and correct in its synopsis. There are people in love with power and the intrinsic and extrinsic rewards it brings. Humankind loves power because of its territorial nature. People love to play upmanship and power games with one another in order to establish dominance. Power is analogous to the pecking order. Someone is going to be dominant while others will be the submissive in the power game. It is like the law of the jungle where the strong and the most cunning will subdue the weak by any means necessary.


Pennypines profile image

Pennypines 3 years ago from Mariposa, California, U.S.A.

Tom, perhaps you are right about today's youth being better informed than to follow like sheep to the slaughterhouse. I certainly hope so. Yet we still have those who wield power and exert it over those with herd mentality, demeaning those who refuse to toe the mark.

Only time will tell. Thanks for a fine HUB


cheaptrick profile image

cheaptrick 3 years ago from the bridge of sighs

Hello Tom.Your focus on education is the heart of the matter.Four thousand years ago Confucius was asked what the answer to all the worlds problems was.His reply consisted of one word; Education. Sometimes the truth is so simple it makes them stumble.Great hub as will be reflected in ratings.


Tusitala Tom profile image

Tusitala Tom 3 years ago from Sydney, Australia Author

Thank you GMWilliams, Pennypines and cheaptrick. It's always good to get some feedback.

Yes, cheaptrick, Education is the answer - for Education, in its broadest meaning of the word, can be powerful enough to change our values and beliefs, perhaps even enabling us to feel we are 'citizens of the world' rather than just of our town, city or nation. Yes, Education is so important.

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