The day had finally come. There was great excitement in the air. All of us were eager to begin the next phase of our military training: skills at arms – learning everything about the military rifle we were told is a soldier’s best friend! Even those who usually spent the day away from the camp, hiding “kuma rocks” – the military camp was located in a hilly and rocky area – did not miss the first day we started using rifles. It used to be if you were lazy and did not want to do training, you simply went and hid in the rocks, and got punished later! Not on this day!

While as a “military cadet” at Chamboli Secondary school I had handled a rifle, this was the real thing, this was actual military training, for real combat. The camp was located in Kasama, northern Zambia, near Chishimba Falls, and was actually called Chishimba National Service Military Camp. There were upwards of 6,000 recruits at the camp, broken into many platoons and several companies.

All of us had been “captured” as soon as we wrote our final secondary school leaving exams, packed into military service trucks or carted into trains first, and ferried into the National Service Military Camps. After six months of basic infantry military training, those not called to colleges or the University of Zambia went on to “production units” for several months. “Production units” were hated like hell!

It was the thrill of holding a rifle, learning how it works, knowing how to strip, clean and assemble it in the shortest possible time, and going to the firing range to learn how to hit targets that taken together meant everything to me, as a military recruit. I wanted the feeling of power a loaded rifle gives its handler. I wanted to fire as many rounds as I could, to satisfy myself that in any military confrontation, at that time most certainly with elements of the hated apartheid South African defence forces, I would shoot several of them, to death.

I did learn everything I could, rather too fast too, about the service rifle Zambia National Service used. I still can handle it, very well too, to this day. As soon as the excitement of handling a rifle begun to evaporate, I begun to ask difficult questions, about myself, the rifle, and killing young people I did not even know but because they were defined as “enemy soldiers”. I wanted to learn everything I could about the world I found myself in, the history of armies and nations, and why the apartheid South African regime oppressed Africans.

I had no doubt that Zambia then needed to defend itself from the ground and bombing raids coming from the South. The Kaunda regime, through a crafty combination of a subject called “civics” and the content of our junior and senior secondary school history subjects which had significant portions of African history combined with Kaunda and UNIP’s anti-apartheid, pro African liberation politics meant that most of us young Zambians actually looked forward to engaging the apartheid regime’s hated cowardly forces, in armed battles. In fact, it was none other than University of Zambia students themselves who had demanded that Zambian youths must be armed to repel the Boers.

Radio and television then were full of stories about how “our African brothers and sisters” in South Africa were suffering at the hands of the white population in South Africa and its openly racist government. Zambia was host to many liberation movements and political parties from countries in this African region who were still fighting for their independence. Several of these political formations had armed wings. We truly looked forward to the day all our brothers and sisters in Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa would be independent.

Almost 40 years later, I am still asking some of the questions that bothered me then. One question in particular, still bothers me to this day: why is it apparently impossible to construct a world free of violence, free from guns and bombs; free from armies? A second equally troubling question haunts me: what kind of world is this in which teaching young people to be proud to kill and die in war is an honour, perhaps the greatest honour?

Almost 40 years later I am convinced there is something horribly wrong with our world, a world in which a young person is groomed to learn how to kill other young people whom she or he does not know as individuals. If they had met in other circumstances, they would have fallen in love, married and had children together.

I now know that I graduated from my military training as a young soldier indoctrinated with a violent patriarchal nationalist consciousness, masculine pride in having learnt how to handle a rifle and use it to kill. I also now know that the world is organised into geographical entities called “countries” for the purpose of protecting the wealth of rich men and a tiny sprinkling of women and their friends abroad. Forty-five years later I now know that all countries, besides other things, are containers for private greed, racism, xenophobia, and are designed to exclude competitors. It is this fear of competitors which makes armies and wars inevitable.

Male domination in the world, also called “patriarchy”, has everywhere used the violence of slavery, feudalism, colonialism, capitalism and imperialism all wrapped up in racism to construct what today we call “countries”, as its basic geographical unit of accumulating wealth. Each country trains its young people to prepare to kill to prevent their rich people from being dispossessed by rich people from other countries. These young people are organised into national armies.

Dear young fellow, I am, therefore very clear in my mind what is happening in Ukraine: the US and its NATO allies are expanding eastwards in Europe to increase their share of the global economy for their rich people. Russia and China on the other hand, will resist this expansion with everything they have got, including sending millions of their young people to death and nuclear weapons, in the war we are currently watching on television and on social media.

Of course, many civilians have died in Ukraine, and many more will die, on both sides; unless the patriarchal and rich people’s lust for wealth, power and control on both sides yields to sanity. Both sides, being nuclear powers, may kill all of us.

There is a layer of young people in the world who can stop all this madness of war everywhere, including now the threat of a possible Third World War: it is young people from ordinary poor working class and rural farming communities who are, ironically, the largest in numbers in the armies of all countries of the world. It is silly really, the rich men who run and control the world send young people harvested from poor working class and rural families whom they actually impoverish, to die protecting their wealth! The children of the rich are rarely on the actual frontlines of any battle!

Eureka! I have found the key to the answers to all the questions I have been asking myself for almost 40 years: it is this: as long as young men and women from poor rural and working-class families continue to make themselves available to join the armies of their countries in order to learn how to kill children of other country’s poor rural and working-class families for rich people, wars will never end.

The rich men achieve this by vaccinating young people with the virus of love of male violence so that to hold a gun, and be able to kill, is the most powerful state such poor working class and rural families young people will ever experience. The war in Ukraine makes it absolutely necessary for young people to say no to the violent patriarchy and its capitalism which thrives on wars, if we must have a war free world.

(Send comments to: kalindawalo2010@gmail.com)