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Monday, 8 April 2013

Brainwashing

I recently watched a BBC drama called Our Girl.  It was about a young girl, one of a large family, from the East End of London, who decided to join the army.

It brought back memories for me.   At 17 years old, and unhappy at home, I decided to do the same thing.

I enlisted, went through rigorous medical checks and interviews, and found myself boarding the train on a cold wet day in November, heading towards the camp at Guildford, for six weeks of training.

It was my first ever time away from home and I was both excited and terrified.   The first couple of days passed in a blur.  Settling into a room with 5 other girls, collecting uniform and equipment, finding my way around, endless lectures, etc.   All this accompanied by constant shouting and what I would consider now to be bullying, by corporals and lance-corporals, trying to knock us into shape.

One of the characters in the BBC drama likened it to joining a cult.  It was certainly similar.  The object of the exercise it seemed was to remove your personality and individuality, and produce an army of women who were all the same.  Obedient and subservient.

Every morning at 6am, we were woken up by an officer shouting at us.  We dressed and stood by our beds for kit inspection.  We then hit the parade ground and learned to march.....for 2 hours.  Breakfast followed, and then intelligence tests, lectures and assault courses.

On Day 5 I woke up with a nasty bout of flu.  I could hardly stand, let alone head out to the parade ground in icy cold weather.  I stayed behind.  I sat on the floor against a radiator to try to keep warm.
A lance-corporal found me there and shouted at me.  I was ordered out onto to the parade ground, but I refused because I felt so ill.  She was completely unsympathetic and put me on a charge.   As I understood it, being put on a charge meant being locked up, but in this case, I was ordered to clean the toilets and the hallway.

I set about my tasks.  It wasn't too difficult because the areas had already been cleaned, but when this officer inspected my work, she wasn't satisfied, and told me to do it again.  I refused, saying that it was absolutely pointless to have to clean something that was already spotless.  Red rag to a bull.  More shouting, resulting in my being sent to a sargeant's office, where I was yelled at some more.

All of this of course is part of the brainwashing.  I realised at that point that I was too strong a character to be browbeaten by these people, and that the army was not the place for me.

This was only the first week of the six week period, but I made it clear that I wanted to leave.  The army don't like people giving up.  It means they've failed, so it actually took the rest of the six weeks for me to convince them that I was serious.   I was interviewed every day by every rank of officer, eventually seeing the Commanding Officer towards the end of week 6.   Finally I was out.

I don't often think about this episode in my life, but when I do I question if it was  my character that was unsuited to army life, or whether I was just too young.  I wonder what path my life would have taken if I had stuck it out?



18 comments:

  1. Good for you, Ayak. It's certainly one way to find out the strength of your own character and what you will and will not do - a tough way though! I can't imagine you would be you if you'd stuck it out, so don't spend anytime dwelling on it!
    Axxx

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    1. It was such a long time ago Annie. I rarely think about it. The programme brought back the memories...and it was a pretty accurate portrayal of army training.

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  2. You were a pretty tough 17 year old - I would have caved in a that age.

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    1. Outwardly tough Annie, but not so much on the inside.

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  3. I think there is an element of all Expats that I meet of not wanting to conform to the norm. Maybe, it was an important lesson at such a young age Ayak, the realization that nobody will tell you what to do and how you wouldn't conform to. At 16, I applied to join the Navy, but went to the medical with a broken leg!. Of course I failed it!. I sometimes wonder when I look back how different my life would have been if I passed the medical and joined the Navy. I am so happy looking back that I didn't:)

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    1. I think you're probably right Westy. Some expats don't conform.

      The Navy would have been my first choice (I loved the WRNS uniform!) but at that time they didn't recruit women under 18 yrs old. I was impatient and wouldn't wait. I think I had this rosy picture of travelling the world in my smart uniform....I didn't really think it through...but who does at that age? I too am happy I didn't stick it out.

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  4. I imagine watching that Tv programme must have brought all this back to you. I didn't see it, but have a friend whose son joined up and knew very soon into his 6 week basic training that it was not for him. He, too, then spent weeks resisting the force to make him comply. I dont think he will ever regret not carrying on with it, and I guess you feel the same. It musdt have been a harrowing experience, but it seems you knew yourself a lot better by the end of it. Father in Law stands no chance does he.... you are stronger than the British army. Simple ! jx

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    1. The programme, although a drama, was pretty accurate in most respects Janice. And I can believe how hard it must have been for your friend's son to "escape".

      I think it was a very useful experience for me at that age. It did make me grow up very quickly, and I've always been pretty independent since. I don't know about being stronger than the army, but I refuse to let FIL get to me.

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    2. That sort of brainwashing is not for me. I knew it when I was younger...and I would never have stuck it out. I queestion everything. They don't want questioners or thinkers. Robots...that how that works.

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    3. Absolutely Charlotte. The best soldiers are those who have few opinions and will do as they are told.

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  5. it's interesting to consider the "what ifs" of our life...every now and then I wonder "what if" I'd continued to work for the family owned company that I worked for as my first job when I finished high school. I worked there twice...and they called 3 times trying to get me to come back, by that time my son had arrived I and was able to spend 8 years as a "stay at home mom." but "what if" I'd worked there till retirement...I'd of retired in 2007 and have worked for them for 43 years. ok but what of all the things I did and saw by not working for them...the nice comfortable life or the more risky life...well we all know I didn't choose comfortable...you did the right thing thing for you...the Army wasn't it :D

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    1. It is interesting when we get these "what if" moments Theanne. I've had a fair number of them in my life. I am a strong believer in fate and think that things happen for a reason. Whatever is meant to be, will be.

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  6. My father...after a somewhat varied life... was a professional soldier and my earliest years were spent within shouting distance of the army.
    He said that the brainwashing was to get people to react automatically in dangerous circumstances...but added cynically that the reason put forward was always that people could be retired from dangerous conditions in good order while the reality was that the brainwashing over rode the natural sense of caution when in obvious danger.

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    1. I think I'd go with your father's theory Helen.

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  7. I didn't see the drama, but you post gives a very good impression of what it was about. Well done for recognising so quickly that you'd made a mistake and the life wasn't for you and finally convincing the powers-that-be that this was the case. I'm not good at what-ifs, but can imagine that your life would have been unimaginably different if you had stayed in the army.

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    1. Yes I imagine it would have been very different P. I don't dwell on what-ifs too much..it's a bit of a waste of time really. You can't change what's past but you can learn from it for the future.

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  8. A lot of the young men who join the army come from unstable & unhappy homes & the army is a lifeline for them. They put up with the shouting & orders as the army offers them a home & three meals a day plus a salary & that might be their only option in life. In any case the initial training is always the worst bit, it is designed to weed out those who can stick it out & those who won't or cannot accept the discipline. The idea is to suppress individuality in order to form a cohesive fighting unit that acts as one. Unfortunately, what works for them in the army does not always equip these young men with the necessary skills to manage once back in civvy street & if they don't have family to support them while they adjust they end up on the streets. It's very sad.

    I was going to join the RAF myself, as I liked the uniform & thought it would be a little more civilised than the army - less shouting. I liked the navy uniforms as well but back then the wrens only served on shore so the RAF it was. I passed the tests & was given a joining date but in the interim fell in love & did not join up. The relationship subsequently broke up & I did then regret not joining the RAF & have sometimes wondered what my life would have been like if I had joined up. However, I suspect I would have often been in trouble as I do find it hard to keep quiet if I think something is daft or just plain wrong. Maybe it was for the best.

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    1. Hi Tricia. I think you are right. A lot of the girls joining up at the same time as me did indeed come from disfunctional families, or had been in care. The army would have been an attractive option for people who hadn't experienced stability in their lives. And putting up with the shouting would be a small price to pay.

      I think, like you, had I stuck it out I would probably have been in trouble often. I also cannot keep my mouth shut and even though I recognise discipline as being important in the army, I don't find it easy to accept unnecessary discipline...ie cleaning toilets for a third time!

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