This morning, a report emerged castigating the behaviour of the SAS overseas. However, applying our rules to the world they face makes no sense.
This morning the behaviour of our military came to news via a leaked report, outlining the terrible behaviour of our most clandestine unit, the SAS. The Sydney Morning Herald entitled a clip within the article announcing the report, posing the question: Who dares wins, but at what cost?
It is within that question that exposes the length of their ignorance. What this report apparently reveals is a culture so terrible, so awful, that it should not stand. But we’re seeing it through the prism of home, a standard applied by those not subject to the same questions and moments that they are. We cannot apply what is acceptable here to combat over there. A round shape cannot fit in a square hole.
In fact, what was revealed is nothing new, and some of it was laughable in the face of what they’re asked to do.
The Crompvoets inquiry castigates the SAS for breaches for “unverifiable accounts of extremely serious breaches of accountability and trust…like loss of weapons, unacceptable Workplace Health and Safety practices, wasteful practices in resources management and poor audit results.”
Per the SMH, “…the inquiry also acknowledges the impressive capability of the special forces to conduct sensitive and dangerous operates, but contrasts the image of the special forces portrayed to the Australian public with a darker perspective…”
Both of those statements conflict viciously. They’re a force that we ask to operate in the dark, and we don’t ask about the horrible things they do, but we’re surprised that they’re not following the rules, yet we’re continuing to ask them to follow orders.
Put simply: Please eliminate these people, but you know, please stick to the WHS practices.
What I also found interesting was the testimony of special forces insiders that made the report. It’s certainly not a home run, and it certainly should not shock.
You see, the belief that leadership will get you killed through incompetence, rivalry with other units, bullying those who choose to serve and not fight, all of those things are as old as warfare itself. It’s how you stay alive. The only people you can trust are those you know, everyone else will get you killed. That is the mentality. Perhaps it’s toxic and wrong, but that’s war. I’ve learned this from first-hand experience. The incompetence of your own countrymen is a reality you only discover pooled in the blood of your friends.
That all holds true for the regular soldier, but it is especially true for those who serve in units like the SAS; those asked to do unspeakable acts, those forever kept a secret. The feeling of us/them is forever palpable.
The rules we support are the only thing that tethers one to our sanity. The allegations of “cover-ups” in the field speaks to this. They very much exist, but they’ve long pre-dated this report. On this, I can only speak from experience. Things happen in the zipping quicksilver moments of combat, and mistakes are made. Wrong intelligence, wrong place, wrong time. It’s a harsh thing to say, and I don’t think you’ll understand me, the realms of right and wrong are blurred in those moments.
It is only after the moment do you count the cost, and then you’re applying real judgement to an act made in unreality. Often, it’s not the same person that you’re judging. So, a decision is often made. Is it wrong? Yes. Does it feel wrong then? No. Walking in a twisting swirling steel hell where anything and everything may certainly see us all killed skews the ideas of right and wrong we’re raised with.
If you want to blame someone this morning, blame those who put them there. Those who started those wars, and those who set those operations. I believe that we shouldn’t be in the Middle East, but I don’t hold those who fought them responsible. Which doesn’t grant them carte blanche, and if there are legitimate claims for war crimes, then that should be investigated. But, we should judge on the basis of charges, not the assumption of those charges.
The conversation should be about what happens when they return. You could make the case that the behaviour over there impacts their lives here, but that’s an easy connection to make. It’s a factor, but the lack of support at home is the issue. Those who made it back remain where they fought. It’s an awful cliché, but it is certainly true for all of us on some level. It’s a horrible load to carry for the rest of your life. A handful of years that defines a life.
Again, I can only speak for what I’ve seen, but those who I know, their number continues to dwindle each year, their lifespan pushed to the end through all the personal abuses they’ve participated in, to soften the blow, to warm the alienation.
If you want to solve the issue of culture, start with those who came back.
At the request of the author, their identity remains anonymous.