Thursday, February 17, 2011

Blind Obedience at Linton Hall Military School

My chief complaint with the way Linton Hall Military School failed to prepare me for adulthood (or even high school) was its emphasis on blind obedience, instead of giving me the basis for making my own decisions and teaching me self-responsibility.

At the time I resented being given a fixed amount of time to make my bed, brush my teeth, or take a shower. I didn't just hate having a grown woman (nun) seeing me naked in the shower, but I intensely disliked having someone there making sure that all of us soaped up and rinsed, as if we didn't know how to do that ourselves at that age.

Normal children in a normal home environment, by the time they reach a certain age, have learned to take responsibility for doing certain things, because they understand the consequence of their actions. Failing to brush your teeth leads to bad breath and cavities, failing to hang your clothes leads to wrinkled clothes (or dirty ones, if they're dropped on the floor.) But there was very little of that being taught at LHMS; the prevailing philosophy was "obey orders -- or else."

History has given us countless examples of the perils of "just following orders" ... at the Nuremberg trials where "following orders" was not an acceptable excuse for war crimes, same thing in regard to the My Lai massacre, or the Jonestown, Guyana mass suicide.

Even in less spectacular instances, the ability to take responsibility for one's own actions, to do one's workconscientiously without the need for constant supervision, to do what is morally right in face of peer pressure, are all important life skills.

Here's something that happened at Linton Hall which illistrates the dangers of blind obedience.

There were certain cadets designated as "medical corpsmen," one (at least) in each company. Presumably they had taken a first aid course, and were often entrusted in taking medication from the nurse's office up to any cadet who was sick in bed.

One evening, in the dorm, our medical corpsman (who happened to be younger than I) was going around with a bottle of pills, telling each cadet to swallow a pill. Now this was the sixties, and I had heard the lecture about drug dealers offering free samples of various narcotics, in order to get people addicted. (Pretty much an urban legend, mind you, but I didn't know that yet.)
So when the medical corpsman got around to me I naturally asked what the pill was and what it was for. I said "naturally" but apparently everyone else took it without question. "Just take it" was his response. I would have spoken to the nun in charge of the dorm, except she wasn't around in that moment. I knew better than to just blindly take it, but I also knew better than to outright refuse, since I suspected that if I refused, I would have been held down and forced to take it. (I later learned that my suspicion was right, as I will explain in a future post, if I end up writing it.) So I pretended to take it, but didn't. (I don't want to go into details, but the medical corpsman was younger than I, so he was easier to fool than an adult would have been.)

I never found out for certain what the pill was. Rumor had it that some had gotten sick from the food we had been served, and that it was some type of antidote, possibly anti-diarrhea medication. I didn't get to read the label on the bottle, so I don't know. As an adult, I've learned that many pills have printed letters or numbers which, together with the color and shape of the pill, allow it to be identified, but I don't remember what the pill looked like, or whether there were any identifying markings, or how widespread the practice of marking pills was at the time. Who knows, perhaps it was part of a psychological experiment to see how docile we were. I do know that I was just fine even without taking the pill, so it's still a mystery.

What I do know about medications is that the correct dosage generally depends on body weight, and the same dosage may not be appropriate for a seven year old as for a fifteen year old. I also know that some people have severe allergic reactions to certain medications. To have a registered nurse order the wholesale medication of all 200 or so cadets seems irresponsible to me. I am quite certain that the order to have everyone take a pill came from the nurse, and that this wasn't something that the medical corpsman had brought from home.

Since outgoing mail was censored, I wasn't about to write home about the incident, especially not the fact that I had successfully avoided taking that pill, but I made sure to mention it to my mother, and her reaction was the most disappointing aspect of this incident. "You should have taken it," she said. She was unconcerned about a possible reaction to something given to everyone, or about the fact that everyone was medicated. She had no interest in asking what had been given to everyone in the school. I felt terribly let down by her lack of concern.

Many years later, as an adult, I was asked to do something illegal at work. Twice, actually. Both times I refused to do so, the second time a bit more diplomatically. Both times I really needed my salary, but that consideration never entered my mind; I just refused, automatically. I am proud of myself for that. In a world where many people simply go along and do what they're told, I believe that my refusals to break the law (and morality, as this involved theft to benefit the company, the first time on a small scale, the second for a rather large amount) are among my biggest career accomplishments, greater than the responsibilities I took or the money I earned.

Learning to follow my own conscience was something I, as a child, had already learned before being sent to Linton Hall Military School.

Update (March 7, 2011) I have recently heard from another cadet who was a medical corpsman at the time, and he said that the pill might have been a salt pill. I still wish that whoever gave it to me at the time, had answered my question and told me what it was.

Copyright 2011"L.H. Cadet"
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This blog is NOT affiliated with Linton Hall Military School. The opinions contained are those of the author.