10 Questions with Beth Greener

<p>Beth Greener, editor of <em>Army Fundamentals</em></p>

Beth Greener, editor of Army Fundamentals

1. Now that it’s published, what pleases you most about Army Fundamentals?

What pleases me most about the book is the fact that many of the contributions are from young scholars, and that this book allows their new and exciting research to reach a wider audience. I’m also particularly pleased that the book covers a wide range of disciplinary approaches to understanding different aspects or parts of the New Zealand Army, as well as insider and outsider perspectives. This is something that hasn’t really been done before.

2. Why did it need to be written, and why should it be read?

There are two main reasons why I think this needed to be written. The first is that here in New Zealand there is an ongoing lack of public dialogue about security and defence matters. There often isn’t any dialogue at all, or, if there is, the discussion is typically held between the ‘usual suspects’, the usual commentators on security and defence matters, without reaching the general population. So this book hopes to appeal to and inform a broader audience as well as diversifying the commentary within a New Zealand context.

The second reason why it needed to be written is because of a lack of such material worldwide. There are very few sources which provide a comprehensive examination of military matters. There are books on military history, on military personalities, on the use of force in international affairs, on military engagement in counter-insurgency, on military sociology — that is the relationship that militaries have with the societies and states they spring from (this material tends to focus almost exclusively on the American experience) — and so on. Yet these only give fragmented tastes of what an army might be, what it might do and how it might relate to other institutions. This text considers one institution from a range of viewpoints to try to get a better picture of the identity and functions of a modern military force. Hopefully, it will also encourage comparative works elsewhere — it would be fascinating to see what some of the issues arising in this book look like in an Australian, Indian or Nigerian context, for example.

Why should it be read? Because we have a range of institutions that exist to represent and to secure society, but we don’t necessarily understand these institutions or their personnel very well. With the case of military forces, this lack of deep understanding is particularly puzzling. After all, this is the institution with the ability to utilise organised lethal force, the capacity to fight wars on our behalf, to respond to emergencies at home and abroad, and, in a worst-case scenario, to even offer a threat to democratic government and liberal values. This book is therefore aimed at anyone who would like to know more about a case study of a military, in this case the New Zealand Army. Such people might be civilians ‘looking in’, or they might be soldiers, NCOs or officers seeking to understand how ‘outsiders’ (and a select few ‘insiders’) might view them and their roles.

3. How do you think the Army will receive it?

It felt very presumptuous calling and emailing Chief of Army Major General Peter Kelly to say, ‘Hey, by the way we’ve written a book on your organisation and it’s coming out soon!’ Initial indications are, however, that this could potentially be a welcome initiative. The New Zealand Army has proven to be quite open to research and outside observation, something which is quite astonishing when compared to research access and interest on a global scale, and that to my mind is something for which the institution and its personnel should receive substantial praise. That said, some in the Army may well be sceptical about the value of the book. After all, most of the authors are ‘outsiders’, and some of the insiders could perhaps be charged with being more specialist in focus, so at first glance some may wonder what this book could possibly have to add. But over the years I’ve found officers, NCOs and soldiers to be pretty open-minded and I’m hoping this open-mindedness will extend to the book. Essentially, I hope that even if there are disagreements about some arguments or conclusions, most people could find it valuable in some way. I guess we will have to wait and see.

4. What did you look for in your contributing writers?

I looked for people who were already researching in relevant and exciting areas, who could write well and who could articulate quite complex ideas in a relatively straightforward manner. The idea for the book came from the fact that I’d been involved in examining a number of theses on this topic, and I was somewhat crestfallen at the thought of all of this very interesting research dying on a library shelf of academic theses somewhere. This gave me the idea of trying to bring the work that I was seeing to a broader audience. I have to admit I also chose writers who would deliver on time, and it was a bonus to me that many of the authors are young women with important things to say.

5. What’s one new thing you learnt while editing the book?

I learnt a great deal from the other contributions from the book — can I pick one from each? I really enjoyed Michael Lauren’s portrayal of Afghanistan, which is done in such a way to help you better understand the environment the New Zealand Army was working in. I also really enjoyed the personal stories that came through Nina Harding, Maike Guesgen, Kiri Stevens and Jane Derbyshire’s work — often abstract ideas can be understood so much more when tied to real life experiences, and I think these pieces do this task very well. Peter Greener’s work asked some of the questions I’ve wanted to ask about — such as how do others really see Kiwis? — Given that we have a lot of working myths about how good Kiwis are on deployments. Sam Morris’s work helped illuminate the ways in which Kiwis seek to navigate the conflicting demands placed upon them, whilst Josh Wineera’s chapter gives a really interesting insight into how the New Zealand Army has evolved the way it teaches and trains soldiers. Bill Fish’s understanding of the basic philosophical building blocks of what it takes for someone to be able to carry out tasks, Nina’s insights into soldiering dispositions and Cameron Sigley’s practical experiences with operational constraints helped round out my interest in thinking about the risks of using the military as the ‘fits-all instrument’. Most of all, throughout this process I learnt that it was a very good idea to start from a place where much of the research had already been done, so that collating and editing the book and making each chapter speak to the others was a much easier road!

6. You are an academic and researcher who spends a great deal of time examining militaries. What drew you to this field and what keeps you interested in it?

It has always been a bit of an interest. When I was a kid I was aware of the Cold War, the Rainbow Warrior bombing, the Gulf War of 1991 and so on. I guess the ongoing thread in my research comes from this awareness, as I have always been intrigued to know how countries seek to provide security for their people. Militaries are a big part of that, but there are also important questions to be asked about the consequences of using military forces to provide for security or other objectives. Years ago in my PhD (completed in 2005) I looked at how we could reconcile certain liberal values that we espouse with the existence and use of military forces; for a while I then researched how international policing might work as another option in some situations (2009) and then I considered how police and military and other institutions might work together (2015). So this book is both an extension of this underlying project on security provision as well as a bit of a return to the nuts and bolts of trying to understand military identity and function.

What keeps me interested is that the concept of security that underpins the existence of such institutions is dynamic. In an era of cyber security and stability operations and HADR (humanitarian assistance and disaster relief), whose job is it to keep people safe? What are the consequences of utilising particular personnel or institutions to provide for security in contemporary times? These questions keep me motivated and the very next book is looking at private security providers, to help round out my understanding of these issues.

7. If a soldier is something that has to be ‘made’, how do individual soldiers ‘unmake’ that soldierliness when they leave the military?

Crikey, I think that is another book. It would be a bit arrogant of me to attempt to answer in any comprehensive way. All I know is that certain aspects of that soldierliness might always be a part of that individual. Some of the skills, attitudes or even mannerisms of soldiers are taken on at formative parts of people’s lives. As Nina Harding’s work in particular points out, not only does the group to a certain degree self-select, but they also do so because they want to be something new. Certain aspects of that ‘something new’ might be shed upon leaving the military, but certain things might also remain. Many ex-soldiers (we could also say ex-officers too) are to be found working in areas where discipline, planning, leadership, a desire to help others and the ability to work in a team are key, for example.

Maike Guesgen’s discussion in the book about an officer swapping soldiering for teaching could still be said to have a few elements of similarity despite a rejection of the institution as a whole. There are certain similarities in the traits required for soldiering with other areas, such as policing or emergency management where many ex-military end up, so even if people switch jobs they may remain in recognisable environments, or they may stay in touch through something like the reserves. If you hear people calling the time as 1300 instead of one o’clock, people wanting their socks to ‘smile’ and insisting upon well-polished shoes, then you know something has remained. However, some might also throw this model out entirely and pursue something almost diametrically opposed . . . Perhaps we could write another book on ex-soldiers and ex-officers’ experiences where they themselves can answer this much better than I?

8. You are a busy university teacher and researcher and you also have children to look after. What’s the best time of day for you for editing and writing?

Any time I get the chance! I’ve learnt to do a lot in a short space of time. Researching is the bit about my job that I really enjoy. I enjoy teaching too (administrative jobs not so much), but I can only teach well if I feel I know what I am talking about at least just a little. I function best in the mornings and evenings. Afternoons are much more deadly . . .

9. What strategies do you deploy when the going gets tough?

One strategy I’ve learnt out of necessity is that sometimes you need to say no and prioritise what you really value. Then when you still inevitably meet choppy waters it is a case of keeping an eye on the horizon and remembering that there are always choke points and also times when things just flow. Research is something that is much easier if you enjoy what it is you are researching, so that also plays a role in helping to navigate and to select what it is that you spend your time on. It’s also just always one foot in front of the other. Any major responsibility in life teaches you that, I think.

10. What are you reading at the moment?

Fiction — lots of Amitav Ghosh and Rohinton Mistry. Non-fiction — a PhD on police reform, private security policy documents, UN gender and policing resources, a book called War, Police and Assemblages of Intervention, and material for teaching courses on international relations and world politics. Many, many things are waiting to be read, and I can’t wait to read them.