The Elephant on the Ground

Cease Fear, War

Internet procrastinators everywhere giggled last week at the image of a man laying face-down on the ground between his motionless mates in Oslo. He had been waiting for Camilla and Prince Charles to walk past him during an official ceremony. Too much for a young Norwegian cadet.

Soldiers pass out in front of royalty pretty regularly. At official parades, they often stand for hours in the heat or in the cold, without eating, drinking, barely allowed to blink. Exhausted by this kind of treatment, or perhaps embarrassed by the ridiculous hat that some master of ceremonies has forced them to wear, the weakest just give up. Only last week, worldwide parades claimed three more victims, all falling in front of Kate Middleton at the St. Patrick’s Day ceremonies.

Fainting soldiers

You might argue that the attention paid to these swooning soldiers by websites and newspapers is cruel, considering the widespread public humiliation that the soldier in question already stands.

But what I find more irritating is that journalists never get the focus right. Take Oslo. Everybody talks about the fainting soldier, but in my opinion, the most interesting part of the story is his comrades’ reaction. In the famous photo, only one standing soldier dares to look, while the others keep staring ahead, as if nothing has happened. Not one moves a finger to check if their friend is alive. The royals are coming- let's pretend that everything is ok.


An excess of military discipline? Maybe, but men and women who don’t wear uniforms seem no more sympathetic than those who do. Last year we all looked away in horror from the video of a toddler being run over twice in a busy market in China. She lay on the street for seven minutes, ignored by eighteen passers-by.

It’s called the by-stander effect: the more people around, the less likely they are to help a person in distress. But, once the first person stops, more are willing to do the same.

Next time you see someone laying in the street, don’t let the crowd prevent you from being that first one to the rescue. A king might follow suit.