20 February 2006

Selling War

Few years ago I was talking with an ex-soldier from United States. He had been fighting during the early nineties in the first Gulf War in Iraq and after that in Somalia. Regardless of anybody’s opinion of these operations, he was convinced that he and his troops were godsend help to the poor people of whichever country they were in at the time. I, being the anti-war person that I am, could not resist confronting him with one very basic question, “Have you ever killed anybody?”. I thought that the response could have been awkward but he had no problem with it. He just replied “I have never taken a soul”.

Immediately I felt that I am better off trying to convince a Jehovah’s Witness on my door to become an atheist than communicate with this person who is giving me some strange army rhetoric of not taking a soul of a man. What does that actually mean, I do not know and I was not too keen to find out. Maybe he had launched a missile that blew up a half of a village, caused the death of many and helped the recruiting of the resistance movement, which in this same discourse would obviously be called terrorist movement that hates “our values and way of life.. our freedom if you wish”. I am relatively sure that it did not mean that he has not actually killed a man. It would have been far too easy to just say no.

I have gone through a military training in a country whose forces are irrelevant in the global picture and which is not very likely to go to war at least in my lifetime. So I could not really say much about the actual training for men and women who end up on the frontlines. I hear its basic essence is to break down and then to build up. Take your identity and then give you a new one and I am not referring to a new name but a knowledge of self and authority. That does not sound very appealing to me.

Why does a young man or a woman join an army that will very likely take them into a battle? In UK military forces are in the middle of a furious advertising campaign that challenges young people to find their limits. Just like they challenge us to eat healthier, which means only to eat some certain morning cereal for two weeks. Just like that. Where is your limit they ask and I cannot help but feel many young people, frustrated with studying or meaningless life, thinking, that this could give my life some structure and purpose. Sure, at least it looks great, almost like an overland tour to Australia. What they forget to say is that it might also kill you and your friends, it does not mention that besides the fantastic camping-type of activities you also have to kill people. They might be called evil and terrorist and one may or may not question that, but all the same they are human beings, some innocent, some not but equally just like us, they are human beings. War in these adverts looks like that weekend I had once with a radio station I worked for, when we were trying to build a team spirit and ended up just getting really drunk in a forest. It does not look very serious, quite fun actually, you know get in shape, meet new friends and have fun in the nature. It is a good job that I am not a citizen here so I cannot join on my weak moment.

Besides not featuring any enemies or death these adverts are generally dubbed in some regional and rather working class accent. Somehow that does not surprise me. Did you really think they are targeting upper classes and posh people? Do you think they need this? Do they want to risk their lives? I doubt it. So in its overflowing generosity the British government sells death as an after school programme for the ones who cannot pay the increasing tuition fees or who need to find a new way to their lives. Great, I am not very fond our “freedom” either. War is not a game of football.

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