Morale: We'll Beat You Down To Bring You Up


August 13, 2009: Israel recently cracked down on hazing at a radar station in the south. There, officers would abuse new members of the unit by putting plastic handcuffs on them, pulling hairs from their legs, pouring hot sauce on their arms, stuffing garlic into their mouths, and beating the victims. Six lieutenants were arrested and punished with up to 31 days in jail. Although the new soldiers were told the hazing was voluntary, most chose not to risk worse treatment by opting out. 

The brass ordered a search for similar practices elsewhere in the armed forces, and found dozens of units that used some form of hazing to welcome new members. Commanders have been advised to modify their welcoming ceremonies to lose the sadistic items, and emphasize more positive reinforcement stuff.

Hazing has been common in military organizations for thousands of years, and migrated to schools and sports teams. It's intended to be a bonding exercise (a surrogate for the bonding stress of combat), but sometimes gets out of hand, causing permanent injury, and even death. In the Russian Army, the practice got so bad after World War II, that it became a major source of injuries and deaths (many from suicide). Since the end of the Cold War, the Russians have been making strenuous efforts to eliminate the hazing, but the system has proved resistant to complete elimination. Only the abolition of conscription will create the kind of atmosphere that will see the hazing disappear.

Studies of hazing behavior have shown that it does little to create the bonding and character building benefits promised. So hazing has disappeared, at least officially, from many organizations (like American military academies and college fraternities and school sports teams) where it had long thrived. But the practice persists, and probably will continue to do so for some time. It is, after all, an ancient ritual, that is still not fully understood.


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