Thread: O'Brien
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Old September 18 2012, 01:44 PM   #8
Re: O'Brien

In today's armies, where being a soldier is a paid job first and foremost, a non-commissioned officer is somebody who joins the force for a specific length of time to get the money (and the training and working experience that may also be of use in civilian life), then gets out and goes on with his life - but unlike the regular grunt, this somebody decided to go through the effort to get into a commanding (and better paid) position during his stay in the military, and thus became a Petty Officer or even a Chief Petty Officer (which is navyspeak for various sorts of sergeant). A commissioned officer chooses the military life as a lifestyle, gets higher-level, "academic" training that is of very little use in the civilian world, and either stays in the force till advanced age, or at least can be recalled to perform his (fairly non-physical) duties at a much greater age than any of the enlisted folks.

Or at least this is the original setup, long since outdated by various developments. Essentially, it dates back to the days when nations only paid for a central core of officers to be full-time soldiers, and drafted/hired/otherwise acquired the rest of the fighting force as needed.

Nevertheless, the idea of the enlisted men as the "ordinary folks", the "not really soldiers save for the circumstances", persists. And O'Brien being an engineering specialist makes him even more the non-soldier; him being a family man of some age and gravitas, still more so. That's his dramatic role in this context. Basically, officer characters are paid for sending people to die; enlisted characters are paid to die. The sympathies of the audience are correspondingly guided. Although a "sarge" like O'Brien falls somewhere in between, being forced to send underlings to die, his motivation in a scene is still that of surviving the mission imposed upon him by the officers, and helping his men survive it as well, in a fatherly or even motherly way. Of course, him being an engineer takes away some of this stereotype, but it surfaces now and then, in episodes like "The Ship".

Timo Saloniemi
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