The letter penned by the Commissioner of Police condemning the valorising of the army mutineers of 1970 brought to the surface several important issues. One such issue is the fact that, even in tiny countries like this one, it is entirely possible to live in an insulated space with little to no understanding of other people’s lived realities—often in the same community.
Another issue is the extent to which critical thinking and analysis is critically absent from the average person in this society.
Now the Commissioner is absolutely correct regarding the sworn duties of the professional military or naval person. When that person puts on that uniform and takes the oath to serve the sovereign good, defend and uphold the Constitution, that person is to respect the authority of those placed in command.
Conversely, if one engages in conduct prejudiced to military discipline, there are strict consequences. Certainly the actions of the mutineers warranted punishment by death according to the law of the land. The professional military person is obligated to obey the orders passed down one’s superiors, without question.
Well, to a point.
The culture on the naval side of the Defence Force, for instance, does allow for a certain degree of questioning from the lower ranks, particularly out at sea. There the most junior sailor can stop or alter a vessel’s course if he or she sees it heading into danger.
There is also more room for one to exercise one’s initiative in the Coast Guard because of the fluid (pardon the pun) nature of maritime conditions and the way things can dramatically change without warning.
How ironic considering that it was the Coast Guard that stood firm on that fateful day in 1970.
However, this country is unique in a great many respects and, unfortunately, far too many influential persons are unable or unwilling to acknowledge that uniqueness along with the social impact of certain key factors.
We can begin with the very Constitution that the various arms of the Defence Force and Police/Prison Service are sworn to uphold.
It’s interesting that the Commissioner could speak about an elephant in the room. In a society that came into being through colonial domination and maintained a hierarchical notion of ethnic entitlement for generations through acts of physical and psychological violence, there is a whole herd of elephants crowding the room.
But this is the one thing the elites and aspiring elites who control much of the narratives are either unable or unwilling to acknowledge because it does not conform to their interpretations or square with their agendas.
The Commissioner’s opinion piece essentially represents the mindset of the ‘coloured’ middle-class element written about by Bukka Rennie and CLR James. These are people who, since the 19th century, maintain an ambivalence about where they truly belong in the society, aspire to move into the spaces created by the self-appointed elites and who have consistently hijacked and blunted truly progressive movements.
Some ended up in the fledgling Regiment, having been seconded from the civil service. Some of these were elevated to the level of their incompetence, becoming ‘drunk’ on power and the privileges that go with being a commissioned officer—same as many officers today who attended Sandhurst and Dartmouth.
But, according to the Commissioner, Raffique Shah, Rex Lasalle and company were just upstarts who found things were moving too slow.
Dr Richard Drayton, in his feature address to the distinguished jurists in 2016 entitled ‘Whose Constitution?’—which the Commissioner should seriously read and digest—pointed out that this country was: ‘forged less from the love of liberty than by generations of violence sanctioned by statute and common law. Very few of the subjects of the English Crown in these tropics were legal persons’.
Think very carefully about the words I highlighted.
Put more bluntly, the racist infantilising and effeminising of non-whites in general and African/Indian people in particular is what informed the culture and the legal, economic and political systems that shaped this society following 1834.
The exclusionary structure that the activists protested in 1970 were largely formed after Emancipation when the question of how to integrate the formerly enslaved into the society was answered by applying pseudo-scientific, racist and misogynist theories ‘legitimised’ through academic writings, into the legal, social and economic institutions.
Connect that to what Raffique Shah outlined at his court martial and in Selwyn Ryan’s book ‘Black Power Revolution’. He spoke about even the waters in Teteron being ‘segregated’ along with clear examples of old racial/class divisions and double-standards continuing post 1962.
I fully understand that this is where the professional military soldier, airman and sailor must dig deep into the well of discipline and the code of honour. But all of this is what is ignored by the OpEd.
The Commissioner’s opinion piece imagines that one, as a military personnel, can completely separate the culture of the institution he or she is in from the socio-economic realities of the community he or she came from. Not even in England has this always been the reality; and I seem to recall news reports of a possible revolt by senior officers if Jeremy Corbyn had won the elections.
The Commissioner also conveniently skirts around the fact that the British armed forces were once the repository of the country’s deep class separatism and that much of what is called military discipline was based on its cultural contempt for its own working class—the same class that made up the bulk of its navy and army lower ranks for centuries.
Perhaps the Commissioner should read Norman F Dickson’s ‘On the Psychology of Military Incompetence’.
This is the same mindset that attempts to maintain two other egregious assumptions: the first is that the laws are dispassionate, ideologically neutral codes meant to preserve a peaceful order that existed in a sort of Calvinist binary.
The other is that the colonial structures of power and exclusion along with the Euro-centred ideas that went with those structures simply became null and void and we began with some clean slate, completely running our own affairs from midnight 31 August 1962.
However, Dr Dayton’s paper shows us this never the case. At least four other researchers, Adom Gatachew, Greg Grandin, Jason Hickel and Stephen Kinzer, make it clear that at no point in time did the Western powers intend to completely give over the colonies—and certainly not the raw resources they had profited off of—to the peoples of those countries.
So it’s no wonder that people took to the streets and there was discontent in the army. And of course they were dreamers. They were at the young age where, in a functional society they were supposed to be, as were millions of other youths all over the world at the same time.
Yet, astonishingly, we have people in this society blaming them for the increase in crime in the country because of their acquittal. This is patently false.
In what way was Raffique Shah responsible for the crime level in Laventille and East Dry River in 1887? Note the year.
How did Mike Bazie contribute to the slum conditions outlined in the Moyne Commission of 1938? How was La Salle responsible for the culture of impunity that saw the perpetrators of the 1943 Caura Dam racket essentially get a bligh?
Following the ‘logic’ of the Commissioner, I also have to wonder at another elephant that giving me sweet eye across the room. When you swear to defend the country and uphold the law and see that the people who are your superiors flout and disregard said law at times with impunity, at what point do you say enough is enough?
By his ‘logic’ then Flight Lt Jerry Rawlings should not have taken the actions he took in Ghana, or Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, or Muammar Qaddafi in Libya.
Another one of Shah’s batch in Sandhurst, Qaboos bin Said, did the exact same thing in Oman, deposing his father and became the Sultan. But his coup wasn’t only supported by Britain, they sent members of their elite SAS regiment to help. I’m wondering what’s the moral benchmark here?
You know what Commissioner, maybe I’m looking at this all wrong as usual. Maybe you just understand the role of the protective services better; the same role observed by Arthur Calder-Marshall in 1938 when he wrote in ‘Glory Dead’:
“The benevolent tyranny, which is supposed to be superior to the interests of the exploiting capitalist, has in fact legislated throughout in the interests of that class. It has been the political side of capitalism, with a different personnel but a common aim.
“Its police are summoned to defend the employers against the threat of the workers, but not to defend the workers against the employers. The volunteer corps is the extension of this alliance, the endowment of the rich with police and military powers to shoot to preserve their positions of ascendancy…”
If so, my bad, carry on smartly.