A video has recently appeared on the Internet, showing the brutal beating of young soldiers by older servicemen of the armed forces of the People's Republic of China. The video caused quite a stir and reminded Russia of its own problem of army hazing. Is there hazing in today's army if Russian conscripts serve only one year now?
Unfortunately, for many years the Russian army was terrifying not only potential opponents, but also parents of young men of military age. One has to admit that parents had every reason to worry about their sons: hazing and bullying was widespread in military barracks. The phenomenon appeared in the Russian army due to a variety of factors, including historical ones. Some blame Brezhnev's reform from 1968, when army service period in the Soviet army was reduced from three to two years in ground troops and from four to three years in the Navy.
There is an opinion that the reform triggered the development of hazing as army generations were changing each other. Senior soldiers, who had served one year, were of course annoyed about the fact that they would have to finish their service with conscripts. This irritation was expressed in systematic abuse of younger soldiers.
They say that the recent reduction of military service from two to one year has not improved the situation much. It was time periods, but not the essence of the relationship that changed. Some others blame the Soviet government, that recruited people with criminal records during the postwar demographic gap. Those people brought the stereotypes of prison behavior in the military.
The main reason, though, as many believe, is the fact that officers mostly ignore hierarchy in military units. They prefer to use it to shift some of their own responsibilities onto old-timers, or "grandfathers" as they are called in Russia. It should be noted that this practice creates problems not only in the army, but also in the penitentiary system, where privileged prisoners are most brutal towards other inmates.
However, the problem of army hazing exists in many other countries as well. Most armies in the world suffer from similar phenomena in varying degrees. In the US, for example, a military man shot five others at Camp Victory in 2009 being no longer able to tolerate hazing.
There used to be disgusting rituals in the US Armed Forces for a long time. One of them was called "Neptune." When crossing the equator for the first time, seamen recruits were forced to eat leftovers, crawl on decks smeared with vomit, and then scrub those decks clean.
In Germany, investigation of cases of bullying of recruits in the 233rd Battalion of Bundeswehr in Bavaria led to a special meeting of the parliamentary committee on defense. The meeting was devoted to brutal rituals for recruits invented by older servicemen. They would be forced to eat raw pork liver until they threw up; younger soldiers would be locked in metal cabinets or forced to crawl under chairs. The rituals were invented to "make a recruit become a real soldier."
Reinhold Robbe, the Ombudsman for the military in the Bundestag, told of brutal customs, when young sailors were bullied on their first day on the ship. Another story happened in 2010. A 25-year-old cadet, Sarah Lena Seele, fell from the mast of Gorch Fock training ship. Her death sparked a cadet riot. It turned out that older servicemen would force newcomers to climb masts, although they had the right to refuse to do that. In addition, it was found that officers allowed bullying and sexual harassment of their subordinates.
Even in China, where army service is considered an honor, beatings of younger soldiers occurs on a regular basis. A shocking video has recently appeared on the Internet showing older soldiers beating younger ones. They would beat their heads against the wall, cane and tie them. This video caused a serious public outcry even outside China.
To put it in a nutshell, army hazing has taken roots in almost all armies of the world. The phenomenon exists not only in armies, but in any closed group of people created on the principle of coercion. Unspoken hierarchy appears in any of such groups, especially among males.
No matter what they may say about prisons, but the situation is usually better there, especially in Russian prisons. The criminal world is ruled by cruel adults, who do not encourage displays of unwarranted aggression. Although, of course, punishments for breaking rules are stringent. Following those rules will help inmates avoid trouble. In the army, even old-timers are still youngsters with no life experience behind their backs. They are mostly immature individuals endowed with youthful blind aggressiveness. This inevitably exacerbates the situation.
Many pinned high hopes on the reduction of the period of service in the Russian army. The measure, among other things, was supposed to strike a blow on the phenomenon of "bullying."
The Chairman of the Presidium of "Russian officers" public organizations, Anton Tsvetkov, told Pravda.Ru:
"Hazing is nearly all gone, although this measure was taken to deal with other problems too. There is another problem, based on inter-ethnic relations, but that is not hazing, but an independent phenomenon. The Defense Ministry tried to responds to this problem and tries to eradicate it."
The inter-ethnic problems that the expert mentioned relate to a well-known phenomenon, when soldiers from republics of the Caucasus consolidate and put pressure on other recruits. In this regard, the State Duma Committee on Defense in 2009 recommended military commissariats should form military units to have not more than three or four recruits from the Caucasus per unit, However, this problem does not seem as global as hazing. Russian conscripts have every opportunity to not succumb to such pressure.
Unfortunately, eradicating hazing is probably impossible. Having found themselves in a closed group, people often begin to act in accordance with stereotypes of behavior that had been formed before. Of course, collective structure may bring out the best of a person at times of joint labor, confrontation, or a common threat, such as war. Unfortunately, most people always go with the flow. Bullying starts from kindergartens. As for recruits, this is the most dangerous age, when young men live both with children's cruelty and physical force.
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