I am not an alarmist. If anything, I am a very optimistic
person although, at times, I feel my optimism is somewhat
Some people, on the other hand, might feel I am a weak
person because, by nature, I am not a confrontational
person. If I see trouble coming my way I cross the road.
I say this to put in some kind of context a very questionable
decision taken last week by chief of the defense staff
Brigadier Ancil Antoine.
The Brig, to my great pleasure, agreed to be the guest
on the Gladiators talk show on Power 102 FM.
It was nice to know that the Brig was opening up himself
to the nation. Let us hear what he, in particular, and
his men and women were doing to give us a sense of security
in spite of the crime situation.
I must confess that my optimism was buoyed by the excellent
manner in which he handled himself, although some people
said he had the tone of a badjohn.
But that is academic as we all have our own perceptions
of people and I do hope that the Brig will continue to
make himself available to the media for indepth interviews
on the state of the countrys military.
My optimism, however, was dashed when he threatened to
punish who he termed as indisciplined soldiers.
Let me explain.
As is customary, the host asked the Brig if he would take
calls from his listeners and, particularly, members of
the defense force.
The Gladiator asked him if he would allow his soldiers
to talk freely. The Brig did not hesitate to answer in
During this part of the show I got the feeling that some
of his men were a bit tooif I may say this
rude to their CDS.
I chuckled when questioned on salary he squealed on some
soldiers when he said that they had extramarital affairs.
He said soldiers would tell their wives they got a particular
salary but, in fact, they were giving part of their pay
to the outside woman.
They also misled their wives, the Brig added, by saying
that they were confined to the barracks when, in fact,
they were spending time with the other woman.
I would not say he was hitting his men a low blow but
any other man ratting on his friends like that would be
in line for a good cut-tail or worse.
The following day, on the same station, the Brig appeared
as a guest on another show where lo and behold, he said
that the soldiers who called the previous day were indisciplined
and would be punished.
I do not understand the abrupt about-turn.
Why did the Brig give them permission to speak freely
yet after the soldiers did he has threatened to punish
The army, he said, had the technology to trace these callers
and the affected soldiers would be found out and disciplined.
Was he setting up his men for the fall? I doubt that.
Was he pulled up by someone in the Ministry of National
Security for allowing the solders to call and spill their
guts to the listening public?
I have never met the Brig but his tone of voice on the
radio suggested to me that he is a caring leader, a man
prepared to listen to the woes of his soldiers even in
the public domain.
With this unexpected turn of events I am afraid that if
this situation is not handled skillfully, it could lead
to unwanted consequences down the road.
If I were one of those soldiers I would be looking at
my Brig with a different eye from now on. How could you
invite me to talk and then punish me for doing so?
Granted, some of them were a bit uncouth in their comments
but I dont think that he should go down the road
of punishing these soldiers.
In a democratic country people, even soldiers, should
be allowed to speak freely. If they cannot, their grievances
would be swept under the carpet and left to fester like
a sore. Sooner or later these aggrieved people may do
something to vent their pent-up frustrations.
I know that military life is not at all like civilian
life and that soldiers have a higher standard of discipline
to observe but they are, after all, humans like the rest
They have to use the same taxis, the same grocery, the
same market. In other words, they are part of the national
community facing the same set of problems and issues facing
the rest of the citizenry.
After listening to some of the callers/soldiers one got
the impression that all is not well in the camp and, instead
of trying to stifle freedom of expression, the Brig would
do well to get to the root cause of his soldiers
problems instead of reading them the riot act.
I am sure he has not forgotten the 1970 situation. Nobody
wants a repeat.
I am pleading with the good Brig to please change that
proposed course of action and let good sense prevail.