Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Nothing lower than a thief...

So my cohort 'Grouchy' here at work, is grumbling more than usual today. It seems that one of our 'colleagues' here thought they would help themselves to some of his lunch, which he had stowed in the communal fridges, in our lunchroom. He's not a happy lad and I can totally understand him.

To be honest, there has been a rash of such thefts over the period that I have been working here. Clothing, sunglasses, lunches, umbrellas, cigarettes, the list is endless... Now where I come from, a thief is the lowest form of life there is. And that's even taking into account politicians, lawyers and socialites. In the Navy, we had a very particular way of dealing with a thief.

You have to understand that in the military, people don't just work together, they live together for prolonged periods of time, in very difficult, demanding and at times dangerous circumstances. Not only that, but they rely implicitly on one another, they depend on each other to perform to the best of their ability, to watch out for one another. Their lives depend on each another. It's a pact. An unwritten code upon which rests every value and belief that they share.

Then you discover that one of your own is a thief. It is a betrayal. Not only of shared values and beliefs, but of trust. If you cannot trust a man in the military, there is no place for him. He cannot remain. He has to go. I cannot speak for other branches of the service, but in the Navy we had our very own brand of justice to meet out, once a thief was discovered onboard. I can still recall vividly one destroyer I was priviledged to serve on, it was discovered that we indeed had a thief. The 'old man' got on the blower and made the following announcement, his voice fairly trembling with rage: "Gentlemen... we have a thief amongst us. There is a thief onboard my ship!! I don't care how you find him. And once you do, I don't care how long it takes to get him up here... but I want that man standing before me in my cabin!!" A trap was laid and sure enough, he took the bait.

When word got out that we had caught the thief, Burma Road was lined with matelots of all ranks and trades. They began back aft by 12 Mess, the stokers mess. They dragged this sorry, miserable excuse for a matelot through the gauntlet, all the way forward to the ladder outside Sick Bay, which led up to the Wardroom flats, via Radar 3 and the CCR. Every man-jack who had a notion to, felt free to clobber him as he was dragged past.

There have been cases where it was common for a man to have a hatch closed on his hands, breaking several or all his fingers, just to get the point across. It was called "Messdeck Justice", back in the day. It was the retribution of the crew, prior to dealing with the official channels of justice. I can tell you that he was in a sorry state by the time he had reached the CO's cabin. But there was not a man there felt sorry for him. What he had done was the worst offense immaginable. To steal from your shipmates... He was subsequently charged by the Captain on the spot and flown off the ship to the 'Crowbar Hotel', which was the military stockade (prison) in Edmonton. Following his time served, he was dishonorably discharged from the Armed Forces.

I will always have an abiding love for the military, partly because of it's clear sense of division between right and wrong. Because you ARE responsible for your actions, as well as for your own defense. Because in the military point of view, scumbags are scumbags and are treated as they rightfully deserve to be. Because black is black, and white is white. There is no quagmire of grey in the military world. Because a military man will not blame himself when somebody else fucks up.

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