Buzz is not enough for Ma­rine boys

The Herald - Arts - - TV AND RADIO - MARK SMITH

There were two pro­grammes about tight-knit com­mu­ni­ties on tele­vi­sion last week,

(Chan­nel 4, Mon­day, 9pm) about the mil­i­tary and (BBC Two, Tues­day, 8pm) about bees, and they proved that both rely on the same prin­ci­ple: the sac­ri­fice of young males. In the case of the bees, the males are al­lowed to die for the greater good; in the case of the army, they are ex­pected to die for pretty much the same rea­son.

Royal Marines Com­mando School fol­lowed one par­tic­u­lar group of re­cruits in their first weeks and, as al­ways with pro­grammes about the army, it was in­spir­ing, de­press­ing and dodgy. In­spir­ing be­cause the Marines ap­pears to of­fer an im­proved way of life for many young men; de­press­ing be­cause the im­proved way of life comes with a ter­ri­ble risk; and dodgy be­cause all the el­e­ments that are sup­posed to make the army the most mas­cu­line job in the world also seem to make it least mas­cu­line too.

When young men join the Marines, for ex­am­ple, they are told how to shower prop­erly but this doesn’t in­volve pam­phlets or hand­outs; it in­volves, as the doc­u­men­tary showed, an­other man strip­ping off and show­er­ing in front of them.

Even more strangely, the com­mand­ing of­fi­cer also lines the men up in front of their beds, or­ders them to take their clothes off and tells them that the best way to sleep is naked. “DO YOU UN­DER­STAND, YOU ‘OR­RI­BLE BUNCH? NAKED!” he says. But no mat­ter how loud he shouts, noth­ing can hide the lu­di­crous ho­mo­eroti­cism of a process that is sup­posed to be any­thing but.

The bed­time rou­tine was the most bizarre rit­ual, but the other was the way in which the process of train­ing that is sup­posed to turn boys into men ac­tu­ally turns men into boys by treat­ing them as in­fants who must be or­dered about, shouted at and, when all else fails, hit to make them do as they are told. They were told how to iron, clean, fold and brush be­cause these are ap­par­ently the foun­da­tions of learn­ing how to kill.

Be­fore all that, they were re­quired to swear al­le­giance to the Queen, but just sec­onds be­fore the oath, were also told that this was the last op­por­tu­nity to back out. At which point, one re­cruit put up his hand and said he’d made a mis­take – an im­pres­sive act of will con­sid­er­ing it can take more courage to say you don’t want to join the army than it does to say you do.

Af­ter that re­cruit had been sent home, the rest of them could get on with declar­ing their dy­ing al­le­giance to El­iz­a­beth II, which threw up yet an­other sim­i­lar­ity with bees, who also hap­pen to spend their lives in sub­servience to a Queen.

As it hap­pens, there is a bees’ nest in my gar­den, so af­ter the pro­gramme was fin­ished I went out and watched them come and go. They work hard, go­ing from nest to flower and back, but watch­ing a bees’ nest in sum­mer is a pretty melan­cholic af­fair. We know what comes next. We know that these barely-born males won’t even see out the year.

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