Sunday 2 September 2007

Britain's Hired Killers

This post has partly been inspired by a discussion that took place over the weekend regarding someone who was a part of our group many years ago, but has now burned his bridges with many people.

Fact is, he's changed. And not in a nice way.
He has lost all ability to use people skills.
He is now a compulsive reactor- in a violent way.

The oddity is, he is one of the few people I know who is EXACTLY where they planned to be in this stage of their lives.
He is a Major in the Royal Marines.

I liked the guy I knew many years ago. Nowadays I would respectfully decline an offer to go for a drink with him.
Not because I dislike him, but because he is no a longer a person I could feel comfortable with.
The fact is, I've never killed anybody. Nor has anybody I know. I don't know how many people this guy has killed in his life, but bearing in mind he served in Afghanistan and Iraq, I suspect it's quite a tally. He has an exemplory service record, which means he is very good at his job.
But let's not escape from the fact, that his job is as a career killer.
Soldier, Mercenary, Hitman- all paid to kill.

I understand that we need the services of such people, but just because it's done in our name doesn't mean I want to be around them.
I have never yet come across anyone who left the army capable of readapting to life outside.

That's understandable. When you have spent twenty years in the company of others who regarded killing people as part of a days work, it's got to change you.
It cuts you off from ordinary emotional understanding of the rest of humanity.

Sometimes, we are not particularly honest with ourselves about the British Armed Forces.
It's true that the British Army is very good at what armies are supposed to do- win battles, and ultimately, wars.
It's record of victory is almost unparallelled.
As an example of how a fighting machine should work, it's highly impressive.

Sometimes we in this country are blind to the fact that though the Empire has gone, this is still a very powerful country- the only European nation to be in both the top five Economic powers AND the top five Military powers.

Put bluntly, we have one of the highest shares of wealth in the world, and spend one of the highest figures on armamaments. It doesn't cost that high a percentage of GNP, because contrary to what we like to think, we have a lot of money to spend, period.

Most countries have armies to protect their borders, hardly ever used, unlikely to see real combat and ineffective against a serious attack.
Only a tiny handful of countries possess armies capable of invading countries in far off regions of the globe.

Ours is one of them.

British Troops are pretty much always involved in conflict situations somewhere.
Whereas the soldiers of many countries can serve a whole career without killing anyone, the majority of British soldiers will.

In one sense, while armies exist anywhere at all, I'm glad ours is still one of the best.
In the same way, while nuclear weapons exist, I'm glad we have one of the larger stashes in the world.

I think both are thoroughly dangerous to world security- and potentially to our species in the world we live in now.
World War Three will not last six years- possibly not much more than six hours.

But there is a social side too, one we ignore.
There are two countries in the Western world which stand out as markedly more violent cultures than all the rest.
The United States and the UK.

The UK doesn't have the gun crime problem the US has, but only because we try to disarm everybody here. This is a sad sign really- we can't trust anybody with guns, although our constitutional theorists all agreed that the people should have the right to bear arms if their government did.
If the forces of the state have all the guns, it is a threat to liberty.

But in our society that needs to be sacrificed because it is just too dangerous to allow too many weapons out there.
In spite of this, you have more chance of being shot here than anywhere else in Europe.

As regards fighting, people are much more quick to turn to blows here than in most countries, we have a murder rate, high robbery rate, high burglary rate, in fact we have a high rate of most violent crimes.

There is a reason for this, in my opinion.
British culture- like US culture- has to be ambivalent towards violence, to a degree other countries don't have to be.

We need to ensure that a certain proportion of our young, usually those with sad upbringings who yearn to go off and be a hero, will buy the dream of soldiering, will join the army to become trained killers.
Because don't forget, unlike soldiers in other armies who only need to learn about about defensive tactics, British troops need to learn a lot more. They are unlikely to ever need to defend their homeland from attack- most will go elsewhere to fight.

We need an army of people, who didn't join to defend their home, but actually really want the chance to go abroad and kill people for the Crown.
We glorify it.

We classify our films much more stringently than our fellow Europeans when it comes to Sex, but much more relaxedly when it comes to violence.

And the Army is a fairly aggressive recruiter. It is impossible to watch the TV for long without an Armed Forces recruitment advert popping up.
It goes into High Schools to promote the option of serving the Crown.

It allows boys of seventeen to enlist, even though the state doesn't trust them to buy a drink or vote.
It trusts them, however, to really think about what they are signing up for.

We see them as heroes, but most of them end up human tragedies, spat out with a pension and no real life skills to serve them in the community at large.
But they retain their conditioning and mentality- rabid wolves let loose.

Few leave the British Armed Forces unscathed.

That's the reality.

If we had any sense, the permanent members of the UN security council, four of whom also happen to be amongst the leading military powers would announce a definite commitment to Total Universal Disarmament, certainly removing Standing Armies and Nuclear Weapons.
I'm not saying it would be easy to acheive, it would take a long time, but we need to at least commit to it.

We cannot any longer retain War as an ultimate resort in International Relations.
It is too dangerous for all of us, and the cost to society is too high.

Postscript; Just noticed, this is the two hundredth post here!


Anonymous said...

I agree with a lot of this - with some knowledge of what I say... We do indeed glorify military violence in films and censor such offensive things as a stiffy... bizarre aint we?

Anonymous said...

Wish your dreams came true;
fear they won't.
Interesting thoughts, though.

Anonymous said...

Labelling people in the Armed Forces as "killers" is absurd. Many are specialists who never fire a gun in anger, and even of those who do, they hardly kill people every day. Members of the armed forces can, and do, "rehabilitate" themselves. Living in a garrison town for four years, i knew several soldiers, and found them all to be interesting, entertaining, and engaging people. And yet they had all been to Iraq or Afghanistan [or both] and probably killed someone. But that hasn't made them not people.

I think what has happened with you and your friends is that you've both changed. You and the rest of your group have been together and had similar life experiences. he has gone elsewhere, done different things, and thus developed differently. I doubt that he has changed any more than you, just in a different direction. And markedly to you primarily because the rest of your group have changed with you, whilst he hasn't.

Anonymous said...

200! Good job!

I think calling soldiers "killers" is a bit harsh...but I can see where your coming from.

Anonymous said...

I say thank you to the military and the guys that go off to do service - and I do feel worried for them that they can't always re-adjust to life back home. Especially if they've seen trauma.

But they put their life on the line for us - the people back home who can make judgements about them from the safety of their living room.

I know what you were saying though, but it's too easy to make sweeping generalisations.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the policies of our governments and the jump to use force is questionable.

I agree that war as a technique in international relations is crude and the cost is unacceptably high.

However, I support the individuals who choose to soldier and put themselves in harms way on our behalf.

Indeed they may be recruited by questionable means and a particular personality may be targeted and attracted to the job but, to label them as killers is unfair and a generalisation.

We may not like the result that a military life or exposure at the front line has on individuals but I think we owe it to them to accept responsibility for their rehabilitation and re-integration into society.

Anonymous said...

it is a scary thought, since most of the countries look up to teh US & UK and seek guidance...

... and what messege are the sending out?

Anonymous said...

Mutley is right.
I'm sorry to piss on your parade but our armed forces are in a fairly dreadful state just now. No government has the right to deploy troops that are badly equipped and badly cared for. NuLabour has been doing just that for the past 10 years. They have been consistently running down the size of the armed forces for years.The Army's current strength is 101,000, about 10,000 less than when Labour came to power.The situation is even worse in the Navy, where the number of sailors has fallen from 46,000 to less than 36,000, while the RAF has seen personnel numbers drop from 57,000 to 48,000.

We've had our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for years, they still haven't got the kit they need, vehicles are wearing out, the training and leave programmes are in tatters, we can't look after the injured properly, there are very few reserve troops left.
There has been massive profligacy and inefficiency in defence contracts. Journalists can see the effects on the ground only too easily: soldiers in Kosovo and Iraq were/are forced to use mobile phones because their communications system fail;troops in Basra have reportedly used eBay to replace shoddy gear, almost a quarter of Britain's Joint Helicopter Command is either unusable or under repair, leaving commanders in Afghanistan dependent on the US helicopter fleet. The top Army men have warned the government, but the fuckers from NuLabour won't listen.
If you have lions under the political leadership of former social workers and trade unionists, we probably shouldn't expect anything else.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I agree with some of what you say but I too think to label them all as "killers" is harsh. In the Michael Moore film "Fahrenheit 9/11" he suggests that in the US younsters from underprivileged backgrounds join the armed forces to be trained for a career. I think this is true in Britain too. You have only to listen to some of the bereaved parents when a soldier is killed to realise they probably didn't expect their offspring to be sent onto a "real" war - and neither did the poor child. I think the violent culture we have mostly stems from the glorification of violence in films, etc., as Mutley says and the wrong sort of role models.

Anonymous said...

In one sense, while armies exist anywhere at all, I'm glad ours is still one of the best.

This is true. Without the British Army and other forces too, Britain would not ahve the lifestyle it once did but which is now being sold down the drain by the pollies.

Anonymous said...

Congrats on the 200 too.

Anonymous said...

Mutley- I think this position is becoming harder and harder to maintain. With films such as Nine Songs being mainstream, it is only a matter of time before we see genuine sex taking place on television after the watershed. And if it IS after the watershed, I don't see the problem.

I wouldn't want my children seeing it, but I CERTAINlY wouldn't want my children watching much of what is shown after 9:00 anyway.

Sean- There is only one way anything is ever going to change.
When the people of the world decide.
And that moment will only happen by people seriously looking at the reality and discussing it.

I want my descendants to live in a future of glass, concrete and steel, with colonies on other worlds.

Not a nuclear wasteland.

Thunderdragon- I didn't call them MURDERERS (as in, unlawful killers), I called them KILLERS.

This IS what they are trained to do. They are specialists, yes, and so is a hitman.

I never said they were not people, merely that they have been trained- and trained very well- to very different thought patterns to the rest of us.

When I was much younger, I did actually have this romantic ideal of the army, even briefly considered joining.

I can think of occasions where I would take up arms without a problem, if the cause was worth it.
Sometimes unpleasant things do need to be done.

Yes, it's certainly that most of my friends- those i see regularly are similar in thought to me- that doesn't mean we don't have some very interesting debate, but we are able to think in the same terms.

Let's just put it this way- he has poured a drink over one friend, and threatened real violence to another.
I don't want people like that in my social circle.
It's nothing personal.

Jenny- It may be a bit harsh, I'm not known for euphemisms.
It's not meant in a derogatory way, but we must accept- their purpose is primarily, to kill.

Betty- I'm not making a judgement on them- I'm saying that they become highly institutionalised and are spat back out.
I've known several ex army people, some of whom have coped with life, becuase they have real strength of character, high intelligence and all the other qualities which enable someone to get through that.

I also know many who seem incapable of letting go of the army and finding happiness outside.

Josh- I would agree, I support them for what they do, but society needs to look at the cost to society as a whole of maintaining this approach to diplomacy.

Up until the twentieth century, I think war was not only unavoidable, it was a very useful social dynamic.
Not any more.
That was shown in the last real war .

Crashie- This is where it gets complicated, because in many ways, there aren't that many credible alternatives. There are very good reasons why the US and the UK ARE the countries trusted in this role.

If SOMEONE has to be the world's policeman, then however wrong the US and the UK might be about Iraq and the terror threat, then we probably have the best ones.

The idea of trusting France, for example, doesn't bear thinking about.

It's the best answer in a world of armed camps, but that doesn't make it the best answer.

Stan- I admit, some of these realities are cause for concern.

I think the reality is, if the choice is between technology and saving troops lives, the choice is generally the former.
Blair has shown very little competance with army spending, true.
Yes, i think in the current situation, we probably do need to spend more on it. As I said, WHILE ARMIES EXIST, I'm glad we have one of the strongest.

Welshcakes- Joining the Swiss army and expecting never to go to war is realistic. It's less realistic with our armed forces.
The British army has gone to five wars abroad in my lifetime, leaving the six counties aside.
If people do join the British army expecting never to see action, they are being severely lied to.

It's interesting to look at what films offer us as role models, as a child mine was James Bond- a man who has a license to kill from HMG.

Sir James- This is true, the world at large DOES owe a lot to our troops.
But the sacrifice they made 1939-1945 really should have made people stop and think.
The world changed forever in that war- when it ended, another such war would be the last.

Anonymous said...

i have a few friends in the armed forces. though they have changed some after years in the service, they did not become cold, heartless killers. after all, we all change, but our moral being doesn't necessarily become altered for the worse. a couple of these fellows are guilty of murder, but they still remember the moment they did it, and how they will never forget each and every victim. it's actually sad that they are called to perform a noble duty, yet carry the burden of its darkness.

Anonymous said...

I think, now quite a few people have stated either good arguments, the discussion is getting / could get interesting.

There was a similar discussion in Germany some years ago. The contentious issue. A Tucholsky-citation: "Soldiers are potential murderers."
Most interesting for me was that loudest outcries came from members of the Christian Democrats Union(CDU).

And I wondered why they? I mean members of a C-party should not only know the fifth commandment, but live it, shouldn't they? :)

This said I do admit that I do have an idea of utopia but observing the world as it is, I doubt that any country could afford transforming swords to ploughshares in an unilateral act of good will.

Following what happens in Afghanistan, Irak etc., I wonder, though, if "Ministry of Defense" in some cases is not rather an "Orewellian" term.

Anonymous said...

They expressed your closing sentiment during the cold war and were proven wrong.

One way or another we have to live with the danger. Strength is always the key - this is because negotiation is always an illusion; one of the parties brought to the negotiating table has a weakness, that's why there is 'negotiation' - never be the weak partner if it is your way of life you value.

The genie is out of the bottle and WMDs are here to stay, the only way to go is to ensure you have the best armoury available.

Anonymous said...

Having said that I think our position at the top table is fucked for exactly that reason - where are our boffins going to come from ? Our grade inflated examination system ? What about the offloading of Qiniteq to the Americans ? As well as the underfunding that Stan describes.

None of this bodes well for your freedom, Ingsoc.

Anonymous said...

Re: We cannot any longer retain War as an ultimate resort in International Relations.

Sounds good but… If we don’t, someone else will - and then we will have no choice but to do what they tell us.