Recent reports of "cadet abuse" at Waiouru have produced strongly polarized responses. Left-wing bloggers such as No Right Turn have reacted with horror. Right wing blogs such as SageNZ take the view that it's all part of turning cadets into real men. When I first heard the news three words lit up in capitals in my mind STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT.
This experiment showed how easy it was to corrupt good people into committing horrific acts simply by placing them in an environment where such behaviour was expected and permitted.
Now I'm quite happy to concede that the staff at Waiouru were skilled professionals and that they treated their charges harshly but properly. I'm willing to believe that the "sadistic" sergeant instructor is doing no more than he has to to bring his recruits up to the necessary level of toughness and ultimately to help them stay alive. But the instructor is an expert. He knows how far to go. And he doesn't rape or broom his trainees. Or bash their testicles to the tune of Jingle Balls. And anyone who simply hasn't got what it takes winds up out of the army, not out of the human race.
The problem was letting untrained cadets exercise unsupervised authority over younger cadets. The reported stories are exactly what you would expect to happen. The army was at fault, not for any abusive behaviour by the staff but because of inadequate supervision and a culture of silence which inhibited cadets reporting abuses to staff and proper investigation of those complaints that were reported.
Hopefully things have now changed and the army no longer allows this sort of abuse to happen. Whether the culture of secrecy and closing ranks to protect wrongdoers from the scrutiny of outsiders has also been discarded remains to be seen.