The decision of the Lower and Upper Houses of the Bermudian Parliament on June 22 and July 5, 2018 respectively, to end conscription, in my view, is a most retrograde and unfortunate step for the island, particularly for the black male and underprivileged citizenry.
There is no doubt in my mind that although conscription was seen as a “force-to-will” vehicle for shoring the Royal Bermuda Regiment on a yearly basis, on a higher plain, it could be seen as less about RBR and more about supporting a demography of the population that in reality would have been worse off without the programme.
Let’s face it, in the past, new members entering the RBR via conscription were never a true reflection of the island’s eligible demography when race and age are looked at. Indeed, the black population, many of whom could be regarded at best as underprivileged and at worst poor, dominated the intake.
Unfortunate as it was, it shouldn’t surprise us as those who were better off and more privileged, had the means to provide their sons and daughters with a good family structure in the home and solid educational grounding, that later provided a way off the island to attend college and university. Consequently, they escaped conscription for lusher pastures, leaving those who couldn’t to fill the void.
Equally true are the generational struggles endured by the black race, thereby resulting in broken-home structures and lack of postsecondary school educational opportunities.
Certainly, the black male is most vulnerable here, not only lacking the foundational education necessary to enter college, but also sometimes engulfed with personal identity struggles, heightened as a result of limited father involvement or a total absenteeism combined with the ineffectiveness of an overburdened mother not having the time or skill necessary to walk her troubled son through the pits of adolescence. For this guy who doesn’t yet understand that what stands before him is a fight for a good future over the perils of a darker, easier route of brokenness and nothingness, conscription was the perfect answer.
Not an option for him to choose whether or not he should sign on to the RBR so that he can be taught those foundational life underpinnings he missed out on in his home, but rather a must that he does.
For this one young black male who represents so many, the choice shouldn’t be his to make. It must be made by those who know better and who ultimately will be left dealing with the ripple effects when such males choose the lesser ideal of seeking his identity and manhood on the streets.
A fundamental problem facing the black man today is a lack of self-identity made worse by an evolving generation of independent women, who now dominate their male counterparts in all spheres of life. The idea of men being the head of their household in the way our fathers and grandfathers did 50 years ago is long out the door.
To an overwhelming extent, women no longer depend on the man to be the sole breadwinner. In fact, many women today provide the bread, eggs and bacon all on their own. This drastic change of role is killing the black man’s self-esteem in the home.
Consequently, he turns to the streets where he can exercise his frail identity of manhood among his peers. On the streets he is again a man, having a voice and authority.
I am surprised that in all the discourse on the worthiness of conscription, that no research has been done or mentioned on the positive effects the programme had on the black male population in Bermuda.
I am confident any such research would show that the programme and ultimately the RBR had been beneficial in shaping the lives of many people who came from broken homes and thus, now, are positively contributing to society. I am sure the research would also show that through conscription valuable skills were learnt, discipline and character enforced, and self-esteem and visions were created.
Notwithstanding the positives ,however, I will agree that conscription was not a perfect antidote to the island’s problems. In fact, it is an open secret that the programme was fraught with challenges, some of which may have caused irreparable damage to some persons who enlisted. Despite the negatives, however, it is unwise to throw the baby out with the bathwater, when remedying the defects would have resulted in a programme that works at optimal level.
Now the real question is: what is next? The approach of seeking volunteers to be supported with investment in those who enlist may be well intended, but will serve to further undermine the Bermuda Government’s undernourished coffers going forward.
Further, the proposed approach also softly mirrors a socialist view to governance, one that promotes the ideal of compensation without sweat. It is worthy of note, however, that the Government may have held itself hostage on the issue of ending conscription, since the troubled issue was heavily used as a political tool during the 2017 election — appealing to those, and I dare say, blacks, who saw it as an unkind reminder of colonial rule.
It is my view that many of these persons were and remain very short-sighted, unable to rightfully appropriate many of the values and benefits the programme brought to Bermuda.
In closing, I contend that every qualified Bermudian whose circumstances otherwise does not prevent him/her from partaking in a programme of mandatory national training and grooming such as conscription did via the RBR, should be enlisted for the sake of their own good and the nation at large.
Indeed, the vehicle provided via conscription leading to the personal and professional development of the island’s human-resource talents should have been one to be emulated in other jurisdictions as a model for national success.
Regrettably, I am of the view that the Government’s decision to end conscription is not one borne from the failure of the programme, nor as a result of its antiquated demeanour as being sold, quite to the contrary it is an act of cowardice, giving in to a populist viewpoint for political appeasement.
To throw out such a vital programme as outdated and no longer necessary is particularly sorrowful when the future of so many black, underprivileged youths, some of whom are lacking the ability to choose rationally for themselves are at stake.
Orville P. Campbell is a construction project manager, social commentator, former resident of Bermuda and immediate past president of the Jamaican Association (Bermuda)