A recent dinner party I attended included three individuals who have given a lot of thought to the topic of war:
- Phil is a retired entrepreneur who’s currently doing extensive research on his grandfather, who served with the Canadian Forces in Belgium in World War One.
- Leigh teaches a course on the ethics of war at a local college.
- Derrick, Leigh’s husband, joined the Canadian Forces at the age of 40 because, as he says, he “needed a career.” Just last summer, Derrick returned from serving in Afghanistan.
Phil’s research project is fascinating. Using the letters written by his grandfather, Ross Campbell Playfair, to his wife, Mary (née Ferris) Playfair, as a starting point, Phil is piecing together his grandfather’s experiences overseas. Phil is documenting and sharing his research, titled the Ross Playfair Letters Project, on the Web.
At one point in the evening, Phil mentioned that his grandfather asked to be transferred from a comfortable—and safe—desk job, to the front lines. He asked Derrick—who himself chose a longer tour of duty in Afghanistan in a relatively safe role over a shorter tour of duty at the front lines—why a soldier would make such a choice.
Derrick mentioned three reasons:
- Honor and duty: A soldier may support the military cause or may wish to play a more active role in helping his or her colleagues at the front lines.
- Boredom: We think of war as Hollywood portrays it, all bombs and flying debris. War, however, often comprises weeks of boredom interspersed with minutes of terror. Boredom is likely reduced at the front lines.
- Training: A desire to put the skills obtained through training to use.
We rarely give thought to the fact that a significant number of people undergo workplace training programs to develop skills they may never use. Military personnel fall into this category. So do disaster response teams. Doctors need to be prepared to treat people with diseases or injuries they’ve never before encountered.
Providing training in these areas presents interesting challenges. The person must be completely prepared for events that may never occur. In most cases, the individual hopes to never need to use his or her skills. (No pilot hopes to one day attempt a potentially disastrous emergency landing.) In others situations, such as the one described by Derrick, and perhaps experienced by Ross Campbell Playfair, the desire to use their newly acquired skills could be strong enough to risk their lives.