2:54 pm - October 28th 2009
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.
Dave Osler is a regular contributor. He is a British journalist and author, ex-punk and ex-Trot. Also at: Dave's Part
· Other posts by Dave Osler
Story Filed Under: Blog ,Foreign affairs ,Media
Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.
Reactions: Twitter, blogs
Liberal Conspiracy » Joe Glenton: ordinary soldiers should be heard: About the author: Dave Osler is a regular .. http://bit.ly/DYmNR
- Carnival of Socialism- Halloween Special! « Ten Percent
[…] possessed our brave boys™ they admire and agree with war resistor Joe Glenton, it’s a liberal conspiracy!. And like a bad sequel what have we done to Pakistan? Analysis by Muhammad Idrees Ahmad. And […]
Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.