Tue | Jan 26, 2021

Mel Cooke | Why the army is loved and feared

Published:Friday | October 19, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Mel Cooke
In this June 2, 2017 photograph, Lance Corporal Doaneye Francis of the JDF fits a helmet on student Kelly Green’s head at Denham Town High School’s Career Health and Wellness Fair.

I have never seen a dirty Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) vehicle. Of course, that does not mean that they are constantly self-cleaning, but from motorbikes to armoured cars, Willys jeeps to helicopters, Corollas to Prados, I have never laid mine eyes upon a means of transportation used by this country's military that can be considered even remotely filthy or banged up. Not a bruck light, not a sagging bumper. Rust, yes, but clean paintwork round it.

This is indicative of the aura of orderliness and, by extension, organisation that the JDF projects. And it is this reputation, which the 2010 Tivoli incursion and its fallout did not besmirch, that has led in no small part to what I call a martial state of mind, where 'call out soljie dem' is considered a solution for the mayhem we find ourselves in as a nation.

For, as was reported in The Gleaner on Wednesday, March 28, 2018, under the headline 'Military rule', in the Political Culture of Democracy in Jamaica Survey in the Americas 2016-17, it was reported that 59.3 per cent of Jamaicans would support a coup where there is high crime, and 53.2 per cent would when there is high corruption. So, combined, about 56.4 per cent of the 1,515 Jamaicans in the survey would support a military coup under specific circumstances. It the trend continues, the next survey will show that there are even more, as the supporters were 39.7 per cent in 2006, and 49.2 per cent in 2014.

I only hope that the JDF's internal checks and balances are intact so that some bright spark in a clean car at Up Park Camp or another local military facility cannot take it unto himself or herself to make Jamaica the place to live, work and raise families by 2030, or sooner, via military means.

The trust in the JDF is striking, even more so when compared to the deficit afflicting the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF). Take, for example, an open letter written by the St James Mothers against Crime & Violence to Prime Minister Andrew Holness in September 2017 asking that Salt Spring be declared a zone of special operations (ZOSO). It read, in part:

"Monday evening (September 11), several criminals were parading up and down with high-powered weapons in full display, even though there were police officers present in the community at the time ... . Please note that although we know that there are some good police officers who risk their lives to protect us, and we are thankful, given our past experiences, many residents of Salt Spring, like many other Jamaicans, do not trust the police.

"We, therefore, ask you to send more soldiers than police in the Salt Spring special operations. Also, please bring plenty drones to watch the movements of the criminals as they try to leave, and plenty metal detectors."




And there we have it. An organisation directly descended from the British colonisers who, at Governor John Eyre's command, dismantled Stony Gut, St Thomas, and led the atrocities of October 1865 in what became known as the Morant Bay Rebellion has retained the trust of Jamaicans. And the organisation founded in response to those events in St Thomas in the East, the JCF, has earned the distrust of many a Jamaican who should know.

The difference is expressed in the common sayings that a JDF recruit 'join de army' (becomes part of an organisation with rules building on their intrinsic characteristics by which they must abide), but a JCF recruit 'tun police' (has their character changed by the organisation).

We 'sen fi di soljie dem' in the public sector as well. Think about how many JDF or ex-JDF persons are in key leadership positions. Major General Antony Anderson heads the JCF, as have former JDF officers Colonel Trevor MacMillan and Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin. Colonel Daniel Pryce is at the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA). Lieutenant Commander George Overton was head of the Jamaica Society for Industrial Security and continues to have a strong voice in Jamaica's security matters.

Major Desmon Brown is general manager of Independence Park, Colonel Desmond Edwards heads MOCA, and ODPEM's director general is Major Clive Davis. And there are more.

There is, of course, the JDF's projection of intimidating fighting power on the personal and organisational levels. For the latter, we have only to refer to the Tivoli incursion, in which as little force as possible under the circumstances was used, we were told. I would hate to see an unrestrained assault.

But I also remember many years ago, going to downtown Kingston a day or so after a policeman on duty was murdered in daylight. I saw three policemen on foot patrol near the intersection of King Street and South Parade, rifles and submachine guns at the ready and looking warily all around at passers-by.




When I got to the big tree at the intersection of Orange Street and South Parade, the flow of us on foot took a diversion, so there was a clear area with a lone figure in it. It was a soldier, helmet pulled low so only his darting eyes showed, gripping a rifle and his lips peeled back to show his teeth bared in what was not a smile. It must have been my imagination, but I could almost swear I heard his teeth being ground against each other. And I, like everyone else, walked well wide of this one man.

Considering the JDF's British roots, the number of Jamaicans who would favour a military coup cannot be separated from the high proportion of us who think that Jamaica would be better off still being a colony. Upon Jamaica's 55th year as an independent country, a Gleaner-commissioned poll found that 49 per cent of persons believed we would have been better off officially remaining a colony. Put the coup poll and the independence poll results together and you get confidence in a clean green vehicle.

There is something else about the JDF that appeals to Jamaicans - titles. Lawd, wi love suppen prestigious-sounding front a we name an two initial backa it! Back up that with our firearm fascination and clean rides and there we have a Jamaican martial state of mind.

- Melville Cooke is a journalist and lecturer in communication arts and technology at the University of Technology, Jamaica. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and melville.cooke@gleanerjm.com.