Sunday, 19 December 2010

The Death of Heroism - The Final Taboo

Iraqi child killed in white phosphorous attack in Fallujah by American soldiers.

Is it time to re-evaluate the relationship the public has with members of the armed forces? As heroic and brave as some of them are, why does it feel like the ultimate taboo to question the heroism of the rest?

Earlier this year Pte. Johnson Beharry of the Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment was the first person to be awarded the Victoria Cross since 1982 and the first living recipient since 1965. He twice saved his crew from ambush in Iraq – The second time, due to damage to the periscope on his Warrior armoured vehicle, he was forced to open the hatch to see where to steer, exposing his face and head to withering small arms fire. He would later require brain surgery, but he got his crew to safety first. He then refused to shake Gordon Brown's hand at the presentation ceremony. Both actions making him unquestionably a hero in my book!

But are all serving military personnel heroes?

Many people find even the question deeply offensive, and I can understand why; especially if they have friends or relatives either serving overseas or worse know people who have lost their lives in action.

But I just don't think they are all heroes. Some, like Pte. Beharry undoubtedly are, but definitely not the majority. And this may seem shocking but I don’t even  think all the dead ones that come back to Wootton Bassett in boxes are heroes. Moreover, the sooner we recognise this, the sooner we stop encouraging our young people to sign up to a military that has in recent years invaded other people's countries under some very dubious pretexts and is arguably therefore getting them killed for no good reason.

Anyone who knows (or has bothered to look up) their history will know that as always British and American imperialism (the grab for valuable natural resources in other people’s countries) was the reason we sent troops into Iraq and Afghanistan. Our sons and daughters are out there bombing the crap out of poor people so we can keep hold of their oil which ought to be helping them out of poverty!

And I know that western imperialism isn't the fault of the soldiers on the ground, but all the facts about why we started these wars are in the public domain. If you plan on joining the military where you'll likely be asked  to go to one of these places and start killing people, don't you think you ought at least to know why you're killing them? If you don't even bother to look this stuff up then on what moral basis are you involved in their slaughter?

But soldiers just get ordered to go and fight, it's not their moral decision to make. Surely you can't blame the soldiers on the ground for simply following orders?

Well, actually since 1948 of course you can.

"Superior Orders" or the "Nuremberg Defence" as it's more commonly known was banned under the London Charter which set down the terms by which the Nuremberg Trials and all subsequent war crimes tribunals were to be conducted. For the last 62 years no military personnel, regardless of rank can follow an order that contravenes international law (like the Geneva Convention for example).

But the Nuremberg Trials were about the Nazi's. They committed war crimes. You're not suggesting that our soldiers are committing war crimes are you? Where's your evidence?

Mainly the hundreds of mass graves marking the places where women and children have been killed by British and American troops in Fallujah, Aaytha, Khataba, Bagdhad, Shibarghan, Kunar province, Khost Province, Marja, Basra and al-'Amara' and so on. I urge you, by the way to follow each of these links to learn more about these atrocities. In each case the military have claimed the civilian body count was ‘accidental’ but that’s an awful lot of ’accidents’ don’t you think?

During the first wave of "Shock and Awe" in 2003 the Americans used BLU-82 "daisy cutter” bombs in down town Baghdad. Each one capable of 'clearing' 3 square miles. White Phosphorus bombs were deliberately used in urban areas during the Fallujah Massacre, and the persistent use of depleted uranium and cluster bombs has lead to untold civilian casualties and death. Untold in some of the smaller villages because no-one survived to count the bodies.

The Geneva Convention (IV, 1949) specifically outlaws "the wanton destruction of cities, towns and villages, and any devastation not justified by military, or civilian necessity"

Is dropping bombs carrying 6,800 kg of explosives each into a crowded city against a few of Saddam's Republican Guard armed only with rifles and pistols “justified by military, or civilian necessity?”

Is the use of White Phosphorus bombs against unarmed civilians “justified by military, or civilian necessity?”

If the answer to these questions is no, and these acts are, therefore in contravention of the Geneva Convention, then I ask again; are all serving military personnel heroes?

But, not all soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan are involved with the fighting. Some are involved with reconstruction. They build schools, dig wells, train local police and army personnel to take over when they’re gone. Surely that’s a bit heroic?

Really? The same soldiers who blasted Iraq and Afghanistan to pieces in the first place are now putting some small bits of it back together again are they? That doesn't sound like heroism to me, that sounds like a tiny down payment on the enormous mountain of reparations we owe to these people.

So yes, a few real heroes, like Pte. Beharry are born in battle. But many more ordinary men and women are burdened with this often unwanted and yes sometimes unwarranted moniker that seeks to justify the blood we have all collectively placed on their hands by supporting them.

Stop it today and save the life of a young person tomorrow who instead of hearing yo
u call the Wootton Bassett fallen 'heroes' and joining the army, becomes a doctor or a teacher instead.

Anyone interested in learning more about the Fallujah Massacre can do so by watching the Sigfrido Ranucci and Maurizio Torrealta film here

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