Thursday, 1 March 2012

Fighters or Fakers: A Beginners Guide to Authentic Armies.

As the month of April fast approaches and we’re bombarded with stories reminding us to remember heroes fighting wars abroad and cheap ANZAC Day Contiki cruises to Gallipoli getting people to ‘remember wars aboard’, maybe it’s time that in addition to remembering the heroes, we take time to talk about the zeroes.  The armies whose stories will not be chiselled in steel or stone, but at best will be scribbled on toilet walls.  Those who fight so blindly for too long, in the quest of causes unknown, to achieve so little for so many… ‘Best we forget’.

We’ve all seen our fair share of ineffective and unthreatening armies – the ‘Barmy Army’, the ‘Kiss Army’ and of course the ‘Swiss Army’ – the army that turned compact cutlery into a weapon of messy distraction.  Most of all though, there is one select group of silent under-achievers that drag their feet ever so quietly below the radar.  An army whose ‘home front’ is actually the front of your home!  Of course I’m talking about the ‘door-knocking gentry’ – the ‘Salvation Army’.  Among other things, the main issue I have with the Salvation Army is its title.  There needs to be some criteria that must be met before you can call yourself an ‘army’, which is why I’ve used the Salvation Army as a case study to compile this handy ‘how to’ guide for all would be armies.

First and foremost, if you spend more time fundraising rather than fighting, you’re not an army – you’re a cohesive band of beggars.  If ‘asking for money’ made you an army, then the traffic light-based window washers of Melbourne would be our national defence force.  On a smaller scale, it’s the same way that just because you have a friend who constantly asks to borrow money off you, that doesn’t mean he’s a ‘soldier’.  What you need to realise is that when Elvis Costello sang about ‘Oliver’s Army’, he wasn’t talking about Oliver Twist.  No one’s going to respect an army that’s so poor, they constantly have to ask for spare change and donations of things bogans couldn’t sell at a garage sale.  So pick-up a weapon and start a fight.  Or better yet, drop the ‘Army’, grab some matching rings and just call yourselves the ‘Salvation Team’.  At least that way people might mistake you for superheroes rather than people out to wage a holy war.

The next step to becoming an army of any worth – you have to show some track record of success in fighting an enemy.  It’s Australia – there are enemies everywhere.  Declare a war on ‘drought’!  Load yourselves up with water-pistols, hoses and 1500 angry farmers, head out into rural Australia and start spraying.  Call yourselves the ‘Farmy Army’ if you have to, but just start fighting.  If it starts to rain by chance while you’re out there, claim responsibility for it and say you “called in air-support.”  Whatever the case, they’re all points to add to your ‘army resume’.  Like any job application, people are going to want to see that you’ve had experience.  Be careful though, if Nazi Germany taught us anything, it’s that there is such a thing as being ‘over-qualified’.  This my friends is where I have no respect for the Salvos, because they’ve never won a war.  They haven’t even won a battle!  They’ve had one battle to fight for 70 years now – ‘poverty’ – and they still haven’t beaten it!  How is it this hard for you to beat poverty – by definition, it’s horribly under-funded and seriously under-equipped.  McDonalds doesn’t even have an army and they’ve almost decimated ‘anorexia’!  And they did it with just a clown and a burger thief.  Shape-up or give it up.

Thirdly – weaponry.  You’ve got to be wary of any army that lists it’s ‘battlefield kit’ as: ‘collection bucket, trombone and confident smile.’  An army is supposed to be something that can at least defend itself if it’s not prepared to attack, so when the only baton you’re ‘armed’ with is the one you use to conduct the Salvation Army band, you need to re-evaluate your situation.  If you’ve got no weapons, no battlefield experience and deal in cash, there’s a good chance you’re not a Salvation Army – you’re a Salvation Business.  And no one was ever defeated by an army that had more shareholders than soldiers and an ABN instead of an AK-47.  This is why I suggest the standard army kit includes at least a Swiss army knife.  It’s perfect – you don’t need a licence to own one, it’s compact, fits conveniently into a trumpet case and this way, your arsenal is at least on par with one nation’s defence force.  Plus, for the Salvos, it’s red and white, so the colours match.  Figure out a way to work ‘Target’ shopping centres and ‘Redhead Matches’ into the mix and you’ve literally got yourself some firepower and a target to practice on!

Yes I know what you’re thinking – surely I must be down on every ‘non-violent’ army.  Not true.  Like every argument, there is an exception to the rule.  Do you want to know my favourite army?  ‘Dad’s Army’!  It was funny, efficient and gave work to the elderly, and while their kill rate wasn’t high, they were at least packing heat.  By the way, it’s more than a little ironic that the Salvos aren’t allowed to carry guns.  It seems like it’d really help their fundraising a lot more.

The last point for armies to take into account is uniform.  Uniforms serve two purposes – to either make you completely undetectable to your enemy or to make you highly visible to onlooking media and public as you demonstrate your awesomeness.  The two best examples of this are the traditional khaki camouflage versus the rabbit-fur hats and white gloves of the Chinese Army.  And let’s face it, when you have the biggest army in the world and you’re armed to the teeth, you can pretty much wear whatever you want.  The best tip here, when sorting out your uniform, stick to the ‘3B’ rule – Black Jumpsuit, Boots, and Balaclava.  The headwear is the real deal-breaker, without it you’ll just look like you work in pest control.  During the night you’ll notice improved cover, and during the day you’ll see a marked increase in people’s willingness to hand over money to you.

For the Salvos this is pretty much the ‘Arab that broke the camel’s back’, so to speak, because they have neither.  They haven’t even tried camouflage – they wear black pants and white shirts.  The only hope they have of blending in with their surroundings is if they’re fighting a battle in the middle of a group of Mormon door knockers or QANTAS choir children.  Even then, you’ve got the annoying rattling of the spare change tin that’s going to make you more easily detectable than Peter Pan’s crocodile, and who really needs the extra stress.

In the end, I suppose I feel the same way about groups like the Salvation Army as I do about police bands – I’m not really sure what purpose they serve, and I’m not entirely comfortable with them associating themselves so closely with sections of the defence force.  Here’s the deal – they can keep the title of ‘army’ as long as they accept everything that goes with that, be they ‘Barmy’, ‘Salvo’, ‘Swiss’ or ‘Kiss’.  What better way to scare the Taliban than to send over to Afghanistan 300 leather-clad, face-painted Englishmen armed with only cork-screws, flick-knives and trombones?!  At the very least, the introduction of conscription and an out-dated policy towards employment of homosexuals could be just what these groups need to be allowed to call themselves ‘armies’.  The point is, unless you meet the above criteria, you’re not an army.  At best, you’re slightly similar to an army, in the same way that Polish dancing is slightly similar to pole dancing.  So change your name or earn your stripes.