Carlsson & Karlsson - Who has done more for the Swedish Armed Forces?

He is referring to two classics of Swedish popular culture, the comic "91:an Karlsson" and the film "Repmånad" ("The call-up"), which together have,  in all their warmth and affection, long formed the Swedish people’s picture of the Armed Forces. But the world they describe is exclusively male – and the question is whether the olden days really were golden days. Maybe the military is stuck in an outdated and outmoded view of a reality which once was. 

Retirement may beckon, But let’s give them a medal first.

Repmånad (”The call-up”), a film by Lasse Åberg and Lars Molin from 1978. Photo: FBB

In all seriousness – what have Loffe and Mandel, a.k.a. Janne Carlsson and Karlsson 91, done for the Swedish Armed Forces?    
Answer: More than most  

Just play with the thought for a moment: now that the Supreme Commander intends to increase the number of medals awarded ... why not seize the opportunity to give the makers of the film The Call Up (Repmånad) and the comic-strip magazine 91-an Karlsson something glittery to pin on their chests?   

I’d be happy to assist with the customary commendation:  
"... for services in assisting, with your humour, warmth and genuine affection, the Armed Forces in winning a place in the hearts of the Swedish public, and for contributing to building a bridge between generations of Swedish National Servicemen and women".

Something along those lines. Sure, I’m joking, but still ... We can continue with our hypothetical thought experiment.  

# The short straw

Who can’t remember 91’s constant quarrelling with Lance Corporal, sorry Corporal, Revär (it took quarter of a century for him to get that third stripe). The battles that the latter always thinks he wins, with the aid of power and authority, but which always finish up with that eternal conscript, the impeccably honourable Mandel drawing the short straw.   

Or the diffident telecommunications board worker Jonsson (played by Lasse Åberg) who meets the go-getting Löfgren (Janne Carlsson) in The Call Up (Repmånad). Together with a crew of other characters, including the left-leaning bohemian Skogh (Jonas Gustavsson), the duo abscond to a party-night at the local assembly rooms ... when Skogh succeeds in converting the company chief, Jonsson, who utters the classic line to his combative lieutenant: "Remember Ådalen, Wickman, remember the Ådal massacre. We are mere tools of Property ..."

Mean? Hardly..

Instead it’s all about the tales which old, or passing, friends tell each other on the sauna bench, tales of military preparedness during the war, national service and the hardships of being called up for a military refresher course. Exchanges that pretty much always occur with a warm, humane, grumbling tone of male conversation, and which more than once have caused the other half of humanity, women, to shake their heads: silly old men, are you never going to grow up?

For, as it is in these tales of military training, so it is for the comic strips and on film: a very masculine world. Major Morgonkrook’s house maid Elvira plays a minor role as the recurring object of desire for 91 and his constant antagonist Axelsson 87. Woman, as represented by journalist Bea (Lena-Maria Gårdenäs), is again placed on the periphery in "The Call Up" as the recipient of the uniformed men’s admiration and longing. 

Nostalgia. Nostalgia. To even whisper in the sauna that just maybe not everything was better in the past, is to cause the social atmosphere to cool off quicker than the stove itself.  

Karlsson 91 first put on his uniform as early as 1932 and is a long lived character – just like Loffe from off the television But everything comes to an end sooner or later. My guess is that both are nearing time for demob. Or, rather, retirement.
The last Jonsson or Löfgren to be called up to a refresher course passed out more than a decade ago. The last young soldier could pass out from National Service as early as next year, or the year after. My twenty year old son , Henrik, is probably one of the last to be drafted in via the conscription laws, and is actually part of a select company as it is (only one in ten of those born in 1988 are performing National Service).
Lost knowledge
Förlorad kunskap

A committee of inquiry, headed up by member of parliament (the Riksdag) Ander Svärd, is looking into the future, but for them to propose anything other than the almost immediate abolition of the system of mandatory national service would be for them to drop a bomb worthy of disposal by the demining groups at Boden and Eksjö.   

It is, of course, possible to make a long list of advantages of the new order of things, which takes its starting point from an employment contract for a set period of service: not least ... at long last ... a more equal of recruitment of the two sexes.  On this point today’s system has been a confirmed failure. Just about one in twenty of those undertaking National Service are women. And that isn’t good. Most definitely, not good.   

The disadvantages of leaving the era of compulsory National Service behind us? Not least that widespread knowledge and awareness of the Armed Forces, which is shared by at least one of the halves of humanity, will be lost. In the same way, there is an obvious risk that the place in the hearts of the Swedish public that the Armed Forces have long enjoyed, will disappear.

Talking of lost experience, there’s a hot topic up for discussion at the moment. Just imagine, the Swedish Armed Forces, of all the world’s defence forces, are going to need to go out looking for soldiers with experience of winter conditions!? In the next issue of Insats&Försvar (Mission&Defence), which comes out on the 9th June, we tell the story of the ambitious work done by the Armed Forces unit for Leadership and learning, FM LOPE (terrible name, great job), as regards the gathering in, and handing over to the leaders of today and tomorrow, of knowledge and experience that’s out there but is unknown to a wider audience.