Children’s Boot Camp: More Than Machinery, We Need Humanity


When I started watching this video, and I saw the warning that “images may be disturbing to some viewers”, I initially thought “Whatever. I have thick skin, I’ll be fine.” Needless to say I was not prepared for this video at all. Initially, I was ok, wondering why the kid’s face was blurred out, and why he looked like he was crying.  As the screen zoomed out, I noticed the tire around his shoulders, and the female instructor shouting at him. At this point I was still ok. I figured it was some kind of mini boot camp, and he just looked like he was crying because he’d been training hard and was nearing exhaustion. But then the camera zoomed out further and I saw the three other instructors shouting various commands at him and screaming at him from only inches away from his face. Just as I was beginning to think, “Ok, this is getting excessive,” the kid let out a scream that ought to make any decent human being’s blood run cold; but the instructors didn’t let up, and actually got a bit louder to shout over the kid’s screams. The kid fell to the ground and still the instructors didn’t let up. Eventually he gets back up, and takes a couple of steps, and lets out a series of screams that are just a blood curdling as the first, and that continue until the end of the clip.

I opened up this window, and then sat there for a solid twenty minutes as I vainly tried to wrap my mind around what I had just watched. Surely I saw similar things on a fairly regular basis during boot camp, but seeing this happen to a child of only 13 or 14 years of age, and in this context, was different. In an actual boot camp, there is the excuse that inducing stress in this manner is essential to training because it simulates the stress of combat. Whether or not this excuse is actually a justification for this sort of behavior in boot camp is a topic for another paper; however, it is clearly not a justification in this context. Consider for a moment where they are: this is a physical fitness camp for children and teens. How does ordering this kid to say “I love my sergeant” or “aye aye sir” or any of that help him become more fit? In fact, how does trying to induce this kind of stress in any manner help this kid become more physically fit?

Sure if you watch the TV show “The Biggest Loser” Jillian Michaels can be a bit over the top, but if you notice, she tends to be constructive in her criticisms. She tries to inspire the contestants to keep going in order to improve themselves. Swarming this kid and ordering him to say, “I love my sergeant” etc. etc. and continuing to apply psychological pressure long after the kid has obviously broken, has less in common with “The Biggest Loser” than it has with the abuses at Abu Ghraib in 2003 and 2004.

Despite all this, what really struck me about this video was not so much the obvious psychological distress that this kid was being placed under, as it was the realization that none of the instructors had any sort of compassion or showed any remorse when the kid finally broke down. This is the very essence of dehumanization in the military; the dehumanization doesn’t stop with turning the “enemy” into a subhuman caricature, but continues on and spills over to render military subordinates, recruits, and apparently even children, as being less than human and undeserving of even basic human regard.

To sum up I will quote Charlie Chaplin in the movie “The Great Dictator”:

  • “More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost… Soldiers! Don’t give yourselves to brutes! Men who despise you, enslave you, who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder! Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men – machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You are not machines! You are not cattle! You are men! You have the love of humanity in your hearts. You don’t hate! Only the unloved hate – the unloved and the unnatural!”

This is the message that all troops need to hear. All of the hardness and toughness in the world is worth nothing if you have no love of humanity. All of the fighting for some abstract concept of a “country” is meaningless if you’re willing to torment the people who make up the country that you’re trying to defend.

Safety and Peace