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Sound bites and soldiers

Recently there have been a number of sound bites, profiles and coverage of NATO soldiers in Afghanistan and US soldiers in Iraq on CNN and BBC. Rank and file at 19/20, sergeants at 23/24 and officers in their late 20s /early 30s. My first response is generally emotional and angry – look at them, boys, just boys and young men.

What are they doing? Who are they doing it for? And then, simmering, I turn to the same old questions, trying to rationalise, to find the answers to stop the terrible slaughter going on around the world in the non-stop battles for resources and/or control.

How is it that year after year, war after war, the military establishments around the world are able to either conscript or (even worse?) persuade volunteers to join up? Young, impressionable, mostly male, suckered in by the projected macho image of recruiting videos and sophisticated video games. You’ve
mastered the game, now how wonderful to be part of a non-virtual, real-life, grownup skirmish, battle, war! Are they really appealing to the sense of excitement, adrenalin rush, the biggest rush of your life? Even at risk of your life? And then, how is it, whatever you stand for, there’s always an enemy ready to fight you? An enemy with recruits just as passionate about their cause as you are about yours? Can you always be in the right and your various and varied enemies always in the wrong? It’s not statistically possible, is it?

Being a volunteer, i.e. choosing to join up, presents several other questions. Is it for the pay? To learn a trade? Because father and grandfather did it before you? Because there’s nothing else on offer? As a show of patriotism? Or is it support for a particular cause? If the latter, then what if you agree with the current engagement but are opposed to the next? The main business of the leaders of the armed forces of all sides is that of instilling a sense of morality, justice, rightness about the fight, of invoking patriotism, nationalism and a whole lot of image building and supporting myths.

Aside from numerous combatants, willing or not, civilians, innocents, young, old, male, female continue to be killed both deliberately and accidentally as collateral damage on most continents of the world on a daily basis and there is absolutely no indication that this can ever change under the capitalist system.

The sound bites are part of the business of convincing the general public to support or have sympathy for the troops in achieving the capitalists’ goals. For me the sound bites succeed in reinforcing the socialist principle that all warfare is destructive of human values, simply pitting one section of the working class against another with the sole aim of furthering the capitalist cause. The young men of the world are worth more than that, much more.

They are part of a world society which collectively could choose to work for peace, justice and prosperity for all in our time, putting aside the divisive issues of capitalism and recognising at last that with socialism unity is strength.

JANET SURMAN