05 October 2005

Defence Forces just say no

This is from the Defence Forces' careers website (http://www.defencejobs.gov.au/careers_explorer/AddInfo23.html):

What is the ADF's policy on Illicit (Illegal) Drug Use (Smoking Marijuana, Intravenous Drug Use, Heroin, Crack, Ecstacy, Cocaine etc)?

Candidates seeking appointment or enlistment to any part of the ADF will have their application automatically rejected if:

a. they admit to ongoing habitual drug involvement,

b. they have been found guilty in a Court of Law, or otherwise convicted, of drug involvement,
c. they are found to have an addiction to habitual drug involvement; or

d. they admit to, or there is evidence of, a conviction for the use of or possession of an illegal drug, or of trafficking in any restricted or prohibited drug.

It is not quite accurate, possibly not quite candid. It turns out that they will reject you if you have ever in your whole life taken any drug, with the possible except of the tiniest smidgin of experimentation, like one puff of an oregano joint.

Why don't they just say so?

It seems to me to be a bad, short-sighted policy because, as far as I am aware, they have no means of testing whether you used drugs 10 years ago. This means you can just lie, and anecdotal evidence suggests that many, even most, applicants do.

This means that the Army is full of people whose drug history is outside the control of the Army. (I didn't lie on my application because I made the classic blunder of assuming that the Army was as clever as I am. I thought it was an issue of controlling risk, not eliminating it.)

It also means that your relationship with the Army begins with a lie... not a positive beginning. "If it's bad news, we don't want to know it." Not something I would want in an organisation I ran.

This however sends a welcome message to shirkers: Just take some drugs. (Hell, why not? The damage to your health is almost certainly going to be less than that caused by going to war.) Or don't take drugs but tell them you did.

Why do they do this?

One reason (the only plausible reason) that was suggested to me was that the long-term effects of drug use are not known. This is a good argument. Psychological factors are vital. For example, it is known that a military force will lose 10% of its men in the first few hours of combat through no other reason than psychological trauma (see The Face of Battle).

But it smacks of sophistry. For example, assuming that the long term effects of caffeine, alcohol and tobacco are known, we can say that drug use in general has acceptable long-term risks.

My suspicion is that the real reason is that the policy is set by people who have never experimented with drugs and are afraid of people who have. They are intimidated by people who simply have greater knowledge and experience. Alternatively, they still believe the propaganda they were told when they were little boys and girls (e.g. smoking marijuana will turn you into a crazy nigger who runs around at night howling and raping white women).

To be fair, it is simply possible that the architects of the policy think that people with the moral courage to break social norms and try drugs may be, or are, too morally courageous to make good soldiers. Good warriors perhaps, but not good soldiers. However, I find this hard to swallow for the following reason: Experimenting with drugs is the social norm. I know myself that it was easy to experiment with drugs because everyone was doing it, and I would not describe myself or anyone I knew who ever tried drugs was particularly morally courageous.

(Anyway, I don't know about your army but I want morally courageous people in my army. People who would rather die than not say things like "I really think you should stop shooting those peasants, not because it's intrinsically wrong but because it might have long term negative repercussions".

Even if they're right, if the army has any dirty jobs that need doing, I'm sure it could find the people to do them, the presence of some morally courageous people in the ranks notwithstanding.)

In conclusion, this short-sighted policy, which is probably based more on prejudice than on statistics, excludes half the population from serving in their armed forces. It is an unreasonable and unnecessary deprivation of civil rights, it is unenforceable, and it encourages dishonesty. It should be removed ASAP.

3 Comments:

Blogger nbim said...

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13:54  
Blogger Randy Bentwick said...

Excellent point dude. Just two comments:
1. What on earth gave you the idea that strict honesty was a highly valued trait of any government machine?
2. Sun Tzu says: "All warfare is based on deception." Maybe they are actually looking for good liars. Haha.

14:15  
Blogger Patrick Henry said...

Dear Randy

You are right. I am the most naive applicant ever.

22:40  

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