Things of military

Walking is a subject that is always straying
(Solnit 2001, 8).

On September 8th, 2018, the weather is warm, but the sky is cloudy. I watch intently how students of the 105th cadet course of the Finnish Defence University march as one body. One hundred and sixty-three pairs of feet stomping in sync. The rhythm is loud, and captivating. The sound changes when the surface changes from sand to gravel, yet the rhythm persists. 

I am touched by that rhythm as it runs through my body. Rhythms are pleasing in themselves, but when military bodies move in rhythm more is moving than just them. This timed marching is a visual theater, thick with meaning. The marching bodies come to a standstill in a formation, at arm’s length from each other. When the lines are straight, a silence follows. We are at a military cemetery. They are facing the grave of Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim (1867-1951), who led the Whites in the Finnish Civil War (1918-1919), was the commander-in-chief in Finland’s defence forces during the Second World War and acted as the sixth President of Finland (1944-1946). 

The symmetry of the crowd, the timing, and the trained precision of body movements reveal a rehearsed choreography. This is how an organised crowd works: at a simple shout, everyone knows what to do. We could call this crowd a troop, but cadets are both.

They are studying for a university degree, Bachelor of Military Science, yet their University is a military institution. The (aesthetics of) soldier makes the crowd a troop.

A crowd is a force to fear, an embodiment of danger, the dark side of modern society. It has rarely been seen as a solution to any problem. (Borch 2012).

A military troop is a force to fear too, an embodiment of danger for some, while at the same time it represents a legitimatised solution to violence. This crowd-troop at the grave is not dark and dangerous, it is admirable, unreachable, floating. This is how I feel when I look at them.

Later when I reflect on the significance of military remembrance, I think of Dan Öberg’s writing about his visit in 2013 to the Heroes’ Acre war memorial in Namibia, where many graves were emptied when the state went through the process of deciding which heroes should be buried there.

Heroes’ Acre captures the empty glory of power like ‘amen’ does in prayer. Arguably, the resting place of the hero or heroine is not prepared through the empty grave – as if ‘in case there is one’ there will be a grave ready. Rather, the grave precedes, intersects, and succeeds the history of war as it is ready but empty. The emptiness of the grave is a guarantee that war endures – not in case it occurs – but as a ready-made symbol, always virtually there, waiting to be filled. (Öberg 2016, 165–166).