Ex-soldier Joe Glenton says portraying all soldiers fighting in Afghanistan as 'heroes' is used by politicians and generals to justify wars which are opposed by the majority of the British public.
By Joe Glenton
Stop the War Coalition
10 January 2013
Ex-soldier Joe Glenton refused to serve a second tour in Afghanistan on legal and moral grounds, for which he was court martialled and jailed for five months in a military prison.
All soldiers are no more 'heroes' than all postmen are jolly, says ex-soldier Joe Glenton.
Michael Moore's recent article made excellent points about the use of empty slogans like 'Support the Troops' and about the grim reality behind them.
In Britain there is a lot of rhetoric about supporting the troops, typified by the idiot expression 'If you won't get behind our troops, feel free to stand in front of them'.
However, most of the slogans have been dropped in favour of the worn out term, 'Hero'.
The argument seems to be that anyone who has served in the military is, by way of some magical and far-fetched blanket mechanism, imbued with heroic qualities. But guess what? Go on, guess. That's right, the whole thing is manufactured from the top down.
The popularisation of the term hero has its roots in the anti-war movement and might even be argued to be a testament to its success.
By my reckoning, and the polls support it, anti-war feeling became dominant in the UK some years back.
The Iraq war was discredited from the off, the Afghan war didn't take long to become a running joke. Every argument for the wars -- security here, there and everywhere, denying an incubating space for terrorism, women's rights, everyone's rights, regime change, liberation and the rest -- have collapsed under the weight of their own stupidity.
To counter this - and if it wasn't so cynical it would be tactically admirable -- the war-waging clique have portrayed soldiers as heroes beyond criticism, and in doing so they have tried to blur opposition to the wars with opposition to the troops.
For the most part the project has been a failure; opposition to the wars has continued to grow and people have no particular problem rejecting the Terror narrative and still seeing that the people who join the military -- a choice informed largely by poverty -- are in part also victims of those wars.
But they are not heroes, not shining fantasy warriors motivated by duty to queen and country or -- and for me this is the funniest one --loyalty to 'The Lads'.
My view, as a veteran, a view shared by many others, is that even if there could conceivably be a 'heroic' war (a long shot, I'm aware) then the War on Terror sure as hell ain't it.
There is no doubt in my mind that there have been acts of heroism, that individuals have done brave things -- helping comrades and even local people in the occupied countries. And there's no doubt that much propaganda is derived from these acts and from the regular doling out of medals.
I recall one recipient of the Military Cross -- a natural soldier, by all accounts born as hard as a coffin nail and not remotely prone to bullshitting -- telling me about what he called a culture of 'Morale Medals', the doling out of awards for public relations and to boost motivation among the troops.
That said, even if every single soldier, airman and sailor won a Victoria Cross, this would not change the reasoning behind the wars, which are fought for power, resources and influence. And logically even such an outburst of courage could not elevate the wars to heroic status.
As for arguing that ALL soldiers are heroes-- statistically that seems as unlikely as saying that all bin-men are tall or all postmen are jolly.
Of course if you take the flaky argument that 'they' join up to 'defend us', then you might be able to delude yourself into thinking there is some heroic motivation behind it all. But, for me, that idea is dead in the water.
I served in the British army for six years, with various regiments on three different continents. I met hundreds, perhaps thousands, of soldiers and I can't recall anyone talking seriously about Queen, Country, Duty or any of that tripe. At least not past the third week of basic training. On the contrary, we would joke in withering terms about the jingoistic stuff and Her Majesty.
What then were the motivations for joining and serving in the British army? The list included getting a job with decent pay and some security, getting away from whatever sink estate you'd lived in, maybe a bit of travel, getting some life experience, impressing girls. And sometimes there was idea of doing something that gave you a sense of self-worth, however contrived.
In other words, just normal, recognizable motivations which any person might have if born into the wrong end of a class system. And nothing to do with being a hero or fighting the big, nasty, turban-wearing bogeymen.
This should not surprise us. Even the men fighting the 'war on terror' are conscious that at its very core is a global program of kidnapping, torture, drones, indiscriminate bombing, irradiated cities, an irritating lack of a legal or moral mandate and, of course, the cynical milking of soldier's deaths for propaganda.