Stand with Greek soldiers against hazing

June 2017 Greek soldiers

By MITCH USMC 05-09

The author is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps in Iraq and a member of Socialist Action.

Can hazing build strong bonds in military, school, or athletic associations? No it cannot. The opposite is true. Hazing is about breaking down an individual to conform. Its about fear and obedience. It creates a culture of solidarity based on common abuse.

For many, the end results of hazing have led to serious mental health issues, addiction, and even suicide. Hazing is an especially problematic issue in the U.S. military. High-ranking American officials will say that institutional hazing has long been eradicated from the military. Yet report after report shows this is far from true.

Many members of the U.S. armed services report being hazed at some point in their training process, and those that speak out in opposition are vilified. They are accused of not being able to perform in the high intensity training that the military service requires. The blame is always shifted to the victim. The top officials will often imply that if the soldier had just tried harder they never would have found themselves being hazed.

Recently at the U.S. Marine Corps’ recruit training depot on Parris island, a young Muslim military recruit was hazed prior to jumping off a third story building—tragically ending his life. This exposed a culture of hazing at the training depot, where 20 Marines were then served with legal consequences. The spokespeople for the military said that these 20 Marines were “bad apples” and insisted that a culture of hazing does not exist in the military.

However, it won’t be long before another story of unabashed hazing reaches the public eye. There is a systemic reason for hazing in the military and people stuck in this system fear reprisal and social isolation. The young man mentioned above who jumped to his death, sought out mental health counseling as a result of his hazing. He eventually recanted his story for fear of retaliation. He was only treated for a day and released back to the same unit that was hazing him. This only can come about through a culture that values silence and submission over hearing the truth.

I’m writing in solidarity with Greek soldiers who are standing up and organizing against abuses in the military. Nikos Argiriou was charged for releasing a letter condemning hazing that occurred during his time in boot camp in the Greek army. Nikos unjustly received a suspended two-year sentence. A guilty verdict was largely deemed to be a foregone conclusion because military service is compulsory for every male citizen in Greece. His activities as an active duty soldier in the Conscript Solidarity Committee were considered an affront to this institution.

Nikos was charged with defamation after giving a first hand account of his hazing and trying to fit it into a bigger picture of high suicide rates and drug addiction among members of the Greek military.

The military as it stands under capitalism is used to maintain the power of the ruling class. It is not for the liberation or benefit of working people anywhere. Yet working people are recruited, drafted, or conscripted into armies across the globe. There is no room for honesty, solidarity, or democracy in the capitalist military. The structure is top down and it will vilify anyone who speaks out in opposition to hazing, against military policy, and other abuses. Many who serve can expect lasting trauma from their experiences.

Yet there are those who resist. Nikos and his co-thinkers stand in a proud tradition that includes soldiers who opposed the war in Vietnam. Nikos will not be another example in a storied history of militaries handing out stiff penalties for those that do not conform to the role of silent sufferer. He tried to bring to light an unacceptable culture in the Greek military.

Soldiers are workers and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, and like any other worker they should have the right to organize against abuses from their bosses.

Initially, this message was sent in April in solidarity with Nikos and calling for his acquittal, the cancellation of his sentence, and removal of all charges against him. Since April Nikos stood trial and had the charges against him reduced to less serious charges and then cancelled due to a recent law that dismisses minor charges before 2016.

Comrades in Greece said that building a solidarity movement was very important. They received more than 110 declarations of support by unions and many international statements as well.

As a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, I stand with Nikos Argiriou and the Greek Conscript Solidarity committee as I stand with soldiers in the U.S. to end a culture of abuse and to restore their democratic rights and their rights to not be used as a tool of destruction for the capitalist class. An injury to one is an injury to all!