Joe Glenton: ordinary soldiers should be heard


2:54 pm - October 28th 2009

by Dave Osler    


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It took  a bollocking administered in person by Billy Bragg to teach me the lesson, but these days I know better than to make the automatic assumption that anyone serving in the armed forces is necessarily a braindead reactionary.

At a small business meeting in London attended by some prominent lefties about a decade or so ago, I did make a contribution to that general effect. The man who famously bought himself out of the Queen’s Royal Irish Hussars and went on to become a fully fledged rock star angrily turned on me and rightly put me in my sorry little ultraleftist place.

Attitudes such as those I expressed then are deeply rooted on the far left. In my case, they go back to my teenage years as a member of Youth CND in the late seventies. Some of the lads I was at school with signed up to the services, and in the small town in which I lived, I used to bump into them in the pubs when they were back home on leave.

I couldn’t help noticing that they appeared to have been brainwashed, and had notably been inculcated with hatred for the Soviet Union. On one occasion, I came close to getting my face filled in for my support for unilateral nuclear disarmament.

Thirty years later, I speak regularly to ex-military types in the course of writing about security issues as a journalist. Many of them are good company; and believe me, none of them are stupid. It takes all my book learning to keep up with the conversation on international relations.

Even the former officers are not identikit Colonel Blimp rightwingers. I’ve had intelligent discussions with a Canadian who was stationed in Rwanda during the genocide, and a Brit who served in Kosova.

Whatever the average leftie thinks about those conflicts, these men were convinced by the official explanations for their deployment, and sufficiently small-l liberal honestly to believe that what they did was intended to make the world a better place.

All of this brings me to the case of Joe Glenton, the soldier currently facing court martial for desertion, who spoke at the demonstration against the war in Afghanistan last Saturday. The Daily Telegraph relates:

At the rally L/Cpl Glenton told the crowd of 10,000 in Hyde Park: “I expected that the need to defend this country’s interests would be legal and justifiable. It’s now apparent that the conflict is neither of these and that’s why I must make this stand. The occupation in Afghanistan is at best dubious in terms of legality and morality.

Tory defence spokesman Liam Fox has been quick to make capital from Glenton’s appearance. Fox has written to my old International Marxist Group comrade Bob Ainsworth – a man who has made the reverse political journey to Billy Bragg to become defence secretary – to argue that Glenton should not have been allowed to speak:

“At a time when we are launching the Poppy Appeal to acknowledge the sacrifices of our armed forces, to have someone awaiting court martial, to appear in public saying ‘I’m here today to make a stand beside you because I believe great wrongs have been perpetrated in Afghanistan’ is appalling. All the more so when his appearance was trailed on television yet nothing seems to have been done to stop him …

 “Free expression is a right to be cherished but what does this episode say about the need to maintain military discipline and protect the morale of our serving soldiers.”

Socialist Worker carries an interview with Glenton, who is still lives in barracks with other soldiers. According to him, his opinions simply state out loud what most of his fellow soldiers privately think.

To blame any poor morale among British troops in Afghanistan on a speech to a handful of Trots in Trafalgar Square is ludicrous beyond belief. I rather suspect that a pervading sense of pointlessness, allied to a lack of everything from boots to helicopters, provides a more plausible explanation.

What’s more, the armed forces have a sizeable 24/7 media operation dedicated to putting forward the official stance. Does Fox really have so little faith in the strength of the case for a continued British presence to truly believe it can be eroded by the words of single individual?

Gone, perhaps forever, are the days in which the military needed only to issue the occasional communiqué which the press and broadcasters proceeded to relay uncritically to a nation where support for our boys was axiomatic.

Much as Ainsworth and Fox alike will hate the idea, in a modern democracy, soldiers can and do have political opinions. Even those of a lance corporal must be allowed an airing.

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Dave Osler is a regular contributor. He is a British journalist and author, ex-punk and ex-Trot. Also at: Dave's Part
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Reader comments


and had notably been inculcated with hatred for the Soviet Union

A hateful regime in those days as I recall.

Yes, his views should not be censored.

“these men were convinced by the official explanations for their deployment, and sufficiently small-l liberal honestly to believe that what they did was intended to make the world a better place”

Reminds me of Mark Curtis’s point that the very heart of the web of deceit that envelops all British foreign policy is the lie that Britain is essentially an altruistic force for good in the world.

“a speech to a handful of Trots in Trafalgar Square”

Careful, or you may get another bollocking. Stop the War isn’t all it could be, but it’s more than that.

Good piece, Dave.

As a young flowering mind, politically that is, I once smacked a bloke in the face for saying that all soldiers were morons. Braindead they were, morons and sheep, worse than ordinary sheep because they went out and killed people.

After sitting him up and buying him a pint and apologising I told him about an old man who hated war with a passion – was a Labour man through and through and could make most MPs cry – the latter I didn’t believe until I saw him in action with Kinnock.

That man was me ol dad, ex-Army warrant officer – and far, far from stupid. He would have bollocked Glenton for doing that. It was something ‘you just didn’t do’. That may be wrong in the eyes of the general public – and personally I can see their point. What the old fella would have thought about the wars today – well, he would have been disgusted with the way squaddies are sent in, how they are equipped. Morale would be and is, obviously, low within the forces – but that is down to civilian incompetence rather than the squaddie doing his/her job.

I’ll bet he is turning in his grave at the shower of shit who are in government now.

Even those of a lance corporal must be allowed an airing.

Some soldiers disagree.

Anybody who associates themselves with the Socialist Worker is barking. I’ve often wondered whether it’s written by right-wingers taking the mick.

Unbelievably, there are still some on the far left who believe our soldiers are brain dead reactionaries. ( I sat next to one at the Labour Conference this year.)

Brain dead they certainly are…in cemeteries all over Europe, where they gave their lives for the parents and grandparents of those intellectual giants who now disparage them.

No, this is wrong. You cannot have serving soldiers either disobeying legal orders or participating in politics. Both are specifically barred by military law. And rightly so. We have to have a military subordinate to civilian authority in a democracy: and you can’t have that if serving soldiers are taking part in political campaigns.

Furthermore, Glenton isn’t facing a court martial for speaking out against Afghanistan, but for leaving his regiment without permission and spending two years travelling round Australia and South-East Asia.

I’m a military reservist who was called up for Afghanistan last year. I can say what I want about Afghanistan or Iraq when I’m a civilian, provided I don’t give away details of military operations or equipment- and I do so.

For the record, I think the invasion of Iraq was utterly wrong, and that there is a very strong case for withdrawing British troops from Afghanistan (Dave Osler made the case very honestly on his blog the other day). I can say those things as a civilian. I can’t say them publicly when I’m a serving soldier: and quite right too. We can’t have a democracy if every soldier can turn round and tell the democratically elected Government which orders we are or aren’t following.

That applies not just to lowly Lance Corporals like Joe Glenton, or even lowlier Privates like me- but the officers who command units, Colonels, Brigadiers, and Generals. We cannot men in charge of armed troops messing around in politics and putting themselves above the democratically elected government: that gets dangerous very quickly.

Dannatt, in my opinion, pushed the convention of a non-political army as far as it could go- and I’m furious about his antics in accepting a job from Cameron. The one thing that excused it was that lives really were being lost by a lack of resources for the troops in Afghanistan- and saying it privately had got the Generals nowhere.

The one exception to the duty to obey orders is that a soldier has the right and the duty to refuse to obey an unlawful order: for example, no officer can tell me ‘Private Hardie, murder that prisoner’. If one tries to, I have to say ‘No, Sir’. That’s made clear to every Army recruit. We have to obey lawful orders- and if we stop doing so, that’s democracy gone.

There are very good reasons to support a withdrawal from Afghan- but the war itself is not unlawful. The government is pretty shocking in many respects but it’s internationally recognised as legitimate and it has requested the presence of NATO troops.

I have considerable sympathy for Glenton: if he was in the RLC, it’s likely he was on Combat Logistics Patrols (CLPs- big desert convoys). I was on these myself, and they are a favourite target for the Taliban- I saw some RLC guys blown up by an IED and had to treat them, and I also had to treat civilian victims of both NATO bombing and Taliban suicide attacks. What I saw horrified me, and it’s likely that Glenton saw far more- which is probably one reason why he left the Army without leave for two years.

He’s probably a very shocked man, and I suspect he is also entirely sincere in his antiwar views. But you can’t have an Army where people just leave for two years and then come back. The Army’s actually okay about young soldiers who wake up hungover on a Monday and delay their return to barracks for a few days or weeks: it calls them ‘Absent Without Leave’ and hands out minor administrative punishments. Taking two years off is another matter.

A number of the Regular soldiers I served with in Afghanistan decided that enough was enough, and handed in their year’s notice to leave the Army while they were out there, or as soon as they got back. Glenton could have done the same, but we all make mistakes- particularly when we are in a stressed condition, which after combat he almost certainly was. The Army has to court martial him, but it ought to treat him leniently, given the circumstances of the case.

But we can’t have an Army that messes around in politics. There are lefty soldiers like Joe Glenton, but there are plenty of rightwingers too, and we don’t want either kind deciding that they can second-guess the civilian government.

Btw, all credit to Dave Osler for the way in which his post is written, and well done Billy Bragg for setting him right about soldiers. I’ve had the ‘Fascist squaddie!’ – or, even more disgustingly, ‘rapist squaddie!’ – nonsense hurled at me by some of the stupider commenters here on LC. It is utterly contemptible stuff.

The men and women in the Army I saw in Helmand were overwhelmingly working class and usually very young, and I was so impressed by how they coped with responsibility and danger. We need an argument about this country’s war in Afghanistan, but we need to have it as civilised human beings.

I agree with Dan on all the points above.

I have just written a piece for Cif about this morning’s attack. I am fairly forthright in making my political disagreements about what is happening in Afghanistan known, but that is because I am not under contract to any organisation there right now. Every time I go and work somewhere I sign a confidentiality contract about and there have been times – most recently in Sri Lanka – where I would love to have written more, but was not contractually able to. If you join the army or work for an aid organisation you have to accept a certain amount of discipline as there is no other ways in which organisations that deploy in conflict zones can function.

Obviously, I agree all the other points that Dave makes about the British army. Coming from a strongly Irish republican background it has also been a long journey for me, but I have actually found it very interesting comparing and contrasting their views and experiences of Northern Ireland with mine down the years.

One more point before I go: I was amused to see Claude Carpentieri, who wrote a frankly disgusting piece saying that it was okay to publicly insult soldiers if you were anti-war, recently declaring himself in favour of fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Does this mean that Claude wi

Ooops, that got snipped. Full version:

One more point before I go: I was amused to see Claude Carpentieri, who wrote a frankly disgusting piece saying that it was okay to publicly insult soldiers if you were anti-war, recently declaring himself in favour of fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Does this mean that Claude will be revising his earlier opinions?

Because insulting people and then saying that they should go out to risk their lives for you is a very shabby way to behave.

13. dwarley 151

Dan, you all have my full respect for your efforts in theatre but as an old Cold Warrior (mid-1980s) I find some of what you say unfamiliar in terms of my knowledge of military law.

“You cannot have serving soldiers either disobeying legal orders or participating in politics. Both are specifically barred by military law.”

As I recall soldiers are duty bound _not_ to obey orders that are illegal. To attack a country or people for any reason other than defence is illegal under various international laws and treaties (no expert on the details). I’m not aware of any convincing evidence that the people or government of Afghanistan were complicit in helping that guy in a cave attack the USA. Hopeful I don’t have to explain the illegality of the Iraq war on this forum.
Any soldier taking part in an illegal war is guilty of war crimes. “I was only obeying orders” as a defence went out the window a long time ago. If the army were sure of their case he would already have had a Court Martial for disobeying a legal order and be banged-up. The fact that he is still serving suggest the army aren’t too convinced of the legality of the war either.

I’m not sure that you can call making a statement on your reasons for refusing to obey what you believe to be illegal orders can be classed as “participating in politics”. if that were the case then we must apply the rule across the board and deny forces personnel the right to vote as voting is also participating in politics.

That aside if he was so clearly in breach of Queens Regs. then again why is he still free rather than banged up for getting political?

” We have to have a military subordinate to civilian authority in a democracy”

I quite agree but unless there has been a major change since I signed on the roll members of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces are just that. They swear allegiance to “The Queen, Her heirs and successors” etc. Not the civilian authority, whatever that may be classified as at any given point in time.

I have no opinion on the worth of Glenton’s defence against his charge of AWOL (don’t have access to the facts) other than to say that if he genuinely believed, and can demonstrate his belief, that the order to deploy was illegal then he is very brave. If he bogged of ‘cos he didn’t fancy getting shot at anymore then he’s a git for no better reason than some other poor sod had to go in his place.

“One more point before I go: I was amused to see Claude Carpentieri, who wrote a frankly disgusting piece saying that it was okay to publicly insult soldiers if you were anti-war, recently declaring himself in favour of fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Does this mean that Claude will be revising his earlier opinions?

Because insulting people and then saying that they should go out to risk their lives for you is a very shabby way to behave.”

Dan, but that’s not what I said. I’m sorry you found what I wrote disgusting and I never meant to offend or insult people who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan as such.

My point was never that it’s “okay to publicly insult soldiers”- that would be wrong, especially if coming from people who actively preach in favour of terrorism like Mr Choudary. My argument was about something else (i.e. the importance of condemning without ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ the episodes of torture that took place in Iraq, which I’m sure you will agree on), but I’m not sure this is the right thread for this. It wouldn’t be fair on Dave Osler.

I think pulling out of Afghanistan right now would be wrong for a long list of reasons.

However, (but this is a different thing), I also must put my hands up and humbly admit that, after researching more about the ‘people’ who demonstrated in Luton back in March, I was quite wrong in the way I judged the whole thing. And for that I’m sorry.

Hope that clarifies it.

Just out of interest is a soldier of Gleton’s rank (or below) considered competent to determine whether or not a particular war is legal?

He said it was at best legally and morally dubious.

His rank is immaterial.

This is the politest thread I’ve ever seen on Lib Con. Actually the only one. Maybe it’s the affect of military standards ……

Good post – enjoyed reading it – but I also think Dan Hardie’s objections @8 to the conclusion are convincing.

‘Just out of interest is a soldier of Gleton’s rank (or below) considered competent to determine whether or not a particular war is legal?’

I’d suggest that criticisms from higher ranking officers could more legitimaty be regarded as ‘interfering’ with politics. Gleton’s speaking as a soldier, not on behalf of the army.

Similarly, I’d be less concerned with a low-ranking police officer voicing his or her concerns than a chief constable challenging the Home Secretary.

‘This is the politest thread I’ve ever seen on Lib Con. Actually the only one. Maybe it’s the affect of military standards ……’

Try quoting Jimmy Carr, see how long your post stays up.

@ 19

ARRSE is interesting on Jimmy Carr too.

Yes, like this one:

‘Oh no I am outraged on behalf of people I have never met.’

Posters there seem to see Carr’s comment as either true but not funny, or else just the kind of thing soldiers are saying themselves.

And getting back on topic, Osler’s article is right to argue that soldiers are not a homogenous mass blindly obeying orders without commenting on them; nor are they generally hypersensitive souls who need us to tippy-toe around their feelings.

Oh, and isn’t ‘Stolen Valour’ ‘interference’ in the political process, albeit one we can get behind?

If we accept the right of military personnel to voice a political opinion in principle, the response to Gleton’s protest is must be based upon whether we agree with him or not, and for once, there are ‘Left-wing’ supporters of the war as well as the usual ‘Imperialists’.

“I couldn’t help noticing that they appeared to have been brainwashed, and had notably been inculcated with hatred for the Soviet Union.”

You don’t need to be brainwashed into hating the Soviet Union. You needed to be brainwashed NOT to.

Other than that, interesting post.

From someone who comes from an army family, and with brother too having joined the army (neither dad nor bro are right-wingers) I agree with the first half. Ultra-lefties who constantly and blindly criticise the army piss me off.

But I disagree with the second half and agree with what Dan Hardie and Conor said above: soldiers are there to fight and not have political opinions I’m afraid. That’s the nature of the job. And the Afghanistan war was perfectly legal and there are very strong reasons to stay there.

Any soldier taking part in an illegal war is guilty of war crimes. “I was only obeying orders” as a defence went out the window a long time ago.

A soldier is obliged to disobey knowingly unlawful orders or orders that are manifestly unlawful. The defence of following superior orders can be used in mitigation. As usual, it depends on the circumstances.

I do not believe I am competent to determine whether a war is legal or not (in the general case). If a war or order is not manifestly unlawful, and a soldier’s superiors are giving every impression it is lawful, do we expect him to read reams of legal opinion on the Internet, or seek legal advice from a lawyer expert in this area of law, or go to the Citizens Advice Bureau, or what?

26. dwarley 151

@25

I don’t consider myself competent to determine whether a war is legal or not either. I also doubt most soldiers are. That’s why we rely on higher authorities such as the UK Gov.

But what is a soldier to do if they come to realise that the judgement of that higher authority is at best flawed and at worst deliberately misleading? I don’t have an answer to that one.

I think one of the problems we have is that the obligation to disobey illegal orders was drafted with the intention of giving serving soldiers a means to refuse to kill non-combatants and surrendered enemies rather than to prevent them being deployed in wars of aggression.

Perhaps there is a place for a forces equivalent of CAB (if there isn’t already).

But what is a soldier to do if they come to realise that the judgement of that higher authority is at best flawed and at worst deliberately misleading? I don’t have an answer to that one.

He must follow his conscience, disobey the order if he believes that he should, and face the consequences of doing so. Of course I hope that any court would be fair and just to him. It’s clear that this isn’t a great position for a soldier to be in.

But this isn’t quite Glenton’s situation. He simply went AWOL for two years – and is now making his dispute very public.

And I’m unaware of any serious comment that the Afghan war is illegal – unlike the invasion of Iraq where there is heavyweight opinion on both sides.

Dwarley, I said at some length that ‘The one exception to the duty to obey orders is that a soldier has the right and the duty to refuse to obey an unlawful order.’ So when you reproach me for not saying that, you simply haven’t read my comment.

Very interesting thread. I don’t know enough to have an informed opinion about most of it, but I find Dan Hardie’s argument compelling.

Nonetheless, unless him disobeying an order by speaking at a StW rally constitutes a criminal offence (and possibly even if it does), I think the Secretary of State was right not to get involved in this (might banning him from speaking, presumably with the threat of arrest if he didn’t, even prejudice a court hearing?), so I think Liam Fox is wrong.

Claude: thank you very much for your comment above, and your apology. I could quote chapter and verse from what you wrote to support my view of it, but that wouldn’t be very generous after you’ve had the guts to apologise. I will pull you up on one comment you made: you asked if soldiers who stayed in the Army after 2003 thought they were playing a video game. No, they didn’t, because having a go on Playstation doesn’t risk getting your legs or arms blown off.

As for torture, Claude’s entirely right that I think it’s disgusting: I blogged twice on the killing of Baha Mousa by British troops back in 2007, and I think that was an awful crime. I actually participated in the ‘processing’ of suspected Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan, and as far as I can see it’s now a humane and safe process. But there is always a chance that troops in a war will commit atrocities, and for that reason citizens, media and the government should keep a very close eye on how the Army behaves in a war. Once more, I respect Claude for publicly saying he was wrong, which is not an easy thing to do.

On Jimmy Carr, I thought that joke was pretty funny, like most of the soldiers who posted about it on ARRSE. As one of them said, he probably nicked it from some of the limbless troops he met at Headley Court. Soldiers make much blacker jokes to each other.

Dwarley: ‘Any soldier taking part in an illegal war is guilty of war crimes.’ This is wrong, and there’s a very important reason why. But I really need to write a post for Lib Con on this, rather than sticking everything in comments. This thread has really impressed me, because it shows we can all discuss a pretty horrific subject without abusing each other.

#30
Cheers Dan,
I will also admit that my comment about ‘Playstation’ or similar may have sounded rash and tactless. Especially to those who actually risked their life in Iraq or Afghanistan.

One thing though I must ask you. And it’s something I don’t quite understand which will explain my old comment about Playstation you referred to.

On several occasions I read in the papers and watched on telly of families who were utterly supportive of what their sons were doing in Iraq. But then the moment their son lost their lives out there, the very same moment, they’d turn on Tony Blair and call him a liar and start saying that it’s a futile, unjust, illegal war (and in some cases even campaigning it, we’ve seen it time and again).

I hope you can see where I’m coming from. I mean…I’m no fan of Blair, as you may have gathered, but this is what I meant with my wrongly worded comment from 6/7 months ago. I respect people’s feelings and who the fuck am I to judge, but I’m just asking…How does it work? Is it a just war that needs supporting until the minute your son dies in it?

@Dan

“Dwarley, I said at some length that ‘The one exception to the duty to obey orders is that a soldier has the right and the duty to refuse to obey an unlawful order.’ So when you reproach me for not saying that, you simply haven’t read my comment.”

So you did. That’s what happens when I read lengthy posts and respond before digesting the points properly.

Promise to pay more attention in future.

Claude, those families weren’t supporting the war: they were supporting the person from their family who was out there.

My mother probably thinks troops should be pulled out of Afghanistan, but when I was out there she supported me: wrote me letters, sent me biscuits, was always cheerful when I phoned her. Above all, she was desperate for me to come home safely, but she knew she couldn’t burden me while I was out there.

I honestly think it’s harder in some ways for soldiers’ families than it is for the troops. Some Army families supported the Iraq war, some opposed it, but none wanted their sons or daughters coming home dead or crippled. Now it’s the same with Afghanistan.

@30

” ‘Any soldier taking part in an illegal war is guilty of war crimes.’ This is wrong,”

Sorry again Dan, the word “knowingly” should have been in there.

I accept that I may still be wrong on this point but that was the situation as it was explained to me when I was square-bashing, ’84 – ’87, so things may have changed.

dwarley 151, @ 34 war crimes are distinct from launching an unlawful war, which is itself a crime against peace.

War crimes occur during wars, lawful or not – war crimes are violations of the laws and customs of war.

36. dwarley 151

ukliberty @ 35

thanks that makes the it much clearer.

You seem to know your stuff so perhaps you could help clear up my questions as to why glenton is wandering around at liberty to make speeches when in my day any squadie who went AWOL for 2 years, regardless of the reason, would be held in detention awaiting Court Martial. Defence argument would only be presented at Court Martial.

Seems a very odd set up to us old ‘uns hence my scepticism about the MOD’s handling of the case.

37. Cheesy Monkey

I agree with the article and I also understand Dan’s points above, but is there/should there be an outlet for serving soldiers to be able to air their concerns without them becoming directly involved in politics of whatever kind? This outlet wouldn’t facilitate such soldiers from cherry-picking orders, but might be better than the current situation where other groups with different priorities claim to speak on behalf of the soldiers, like The Sun claims to.

dwarley 151 @ 36,

You seem to know your stuff so perhaps you could help clear up my questions as to why glenton is wandering around at liberty to make speeches

I have no idea I’m afraid.

39. dwarley 151

A think the penny’s dropped.
it’s the conduct of soldiers that may constitute war crimes rather than the reasons for the war.
So regardless of the legality of the war, so long as Glenton did not commit war crimes he had nothing to fear. His decision to no longer partake in the war was there therefore, based on his apparent reasoning, closer to conscientious objection. Many conscientious objectors have served in non combat roles with great courage and distinction. I think young Joe is on a very sticky wicket with his line of defence.

Back on topic, Dan is absolutely right when he says serving soldiers are entitled to air their political opinions. Though some codes of conduct might be a good idea. In this case I fear Glenton is being used by Stop the War as a means to highlight their cause.

This whole case raises issues that should be attracting the attentions of politicians but one speech, by a soldier facing a serious charge is not one of them.

Thanks to all who’ve contributed here, it’s been an education for me. And all the best to those in the forces.

Dwarley: No, it’s Dave who thinks serving soldiers who are entitled to air their opinions. It’s currently military law that serving soldiers can’t participate in political campaigns or stand for Parliament, and I’m afraid I think that’s a law we should obey. (Retired soldiers can do what they want, hence the ‘Stolen Honour’ campaign. Reservists can say what they want when they are civilians as long as they don’t disclose operationally sensitive material or talk in detail about the operations they were on.)

As to why Glenton hasn’t been detained prior to his Court Martial, the guys on ARRSE say the regulations have been revised and don’t permit that to happen unless he’s suspected of being about to commit another serious offence. As every generation of old soldiers says ‘This would never have happened in my day…’

Cheesy Monkey: soldiers are expected to talk to their mates, their commanders, their unit Padres and advisors like the Women’s Voluntary Service (who do pretty good work in keeping an eye on vulnerable young troops). I’ve heard troops have very intense discussions of the politics or say some scathing things about the killing of civilians- although that was usually when we were about to leave Afghanistan and had time on our hands. I remember one corporal saying furiously over a pint, when we were about to be demobilised, ‘of course we have to talk to the fucking Taliban! What are we going to do, make them have democracy and be Western and watch TV?’

But there isn’t really an internal forum for soldiers to discuss the political and ethical issues around a war like Afghanistan- at least not one that I know of. Quite possibly that will have to change: I don’t think British troops will be withdrawn for at least another five years, and I suspect a lot of soldiers will be asking questions about why they are going out there. But I still think everything will come down to the principles that ‘if it’s a lawful order, you have to obey it, and if you don’t want to fight, then give notice to leave the Army’.

41. dwarley 151

One day I’ll post on this place without making a complete arse of myself.

Thanks for the correction Dan, tip of the hat to Dave O who meant to say I agree with re right to expression. Trouble is I also agree with Dan re soldiers obeying lawful orders and not getting involved in political campaigns. Guess it boils down to what is meant by “involvement”, but I must say that the more I think about it the more I think Glenton is just digging himself deeper into the muck.

I recall that over many years since the late ’80s onward there have been discussions about forming a “Forces Representation Association” or some similar name, along the lines of The Association of Police Officers to act as an advocacy and mediation body. Always seemed to get knocked back when comparisons were made to trade unions.
Maybe it’s time to float the idea again. That would give forces folk a voice without them getting involved in political activity at an individual level.

And for what it’s worth Cheesy Monkey Dan is spot on about support for troops. In my experience squadies are very supportive of each over, they have to be, their lives depend on each other. The Padre’s are also a bloody good source of support. Civvies tend to think of them as just priests but they are closer to being the military Social Services and they can work absolute wonders (nearly said miracles). WVS & NAAFI are great and civvies don’t realise that they turn up in theatre. Internal support is there and someone will point you in the right direction if they’re concerned.
Now what have I F’d-up in this one?

No, not at all. It’s good when people have strong views expressed with clarity, but it’s also good when people are willing to explore a topic and refine their views while they’re doing it.

What you say about padres is important, I think. The one for my area came to speak to my church a couple of months ago. He clearly had a multitude of different duties, from potato peeling (even though technically he’s an officer) to leading services to welfare support to talking with men who thought they might be pacifists & exploring issues like just war theory with them, then getting them out of there if it turned out they were.

43. dwarley 151

Nothing technical about it Tim f, they are all commissioned officers. it’s their willingness to muck in, way beyond a token gesture, that endears them to the troops. they are truly unsung heroes and I suspect they would hate to be recognised as such. Top blokes one and all.

44. dwarley 151

@43 just checked. Top Lady’s as well.


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