It is almost the new taboo in the United Kingdom. To question ‘our troops fighting for our country’, and anything, anyone or any institution attached to ‘our troops’. By doing so, you open yourself up to being branded disrespectful at best, traitor at worst.
The Military Wives Choir, with their primetime BBC 2 programme, ended up outselling the rest of the top 10 combined on Sunday to win the coveted UK Christmas No. 1 spot. The nation celebrated the success of the women in the choir, women whose partners serve in the British Army in countries such as Afghanistan. However maybe this ‘groupthink’, this unconditional support for anything attached to ‘our troops’, is not in the benefit of those who fight for ‘our country’; the Military Wives Choir is a case in point.
And yes the single was for charity, but that charity is one that fills in the funding gaps and moral responsibility of the government. The Royal British Legion is a charity which is based on fine ideals, but its very existence gives legitimacy to Westminster ignoring the basic needs of returning soldiers from combat. In essence the UK can send its young men and women to a conflict zone knowing that when they return, the welfare of ‘our troops’ can be pawned away, knowing that the pieces will be picked up by charities like the Royal British Legion. And yet the public embraces this, and the government revels. After all, soldiers can be sent abroad to fulfil a governments political aims, with that government in full knowledge that they do not need to pick up the pieces. Parliament’s behaviour should be changed and lobbied against, not given legitimacy.
Since 2001, British troops have been fighting an unjust and immoral war. In 2001 Al Qaeda did not have its base in Afghanistan; it didn’t even have a stronghold in Afghanistan. In fact Al Qaeda was a lot stronger in countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, both countries however are American allies and so their terrorist contingent can be ignored. Instead Afghanistan is a scapegoat, the Western World (read: America and its subordinates) needed a target after 9/11, and the X was drawn over Afghanistan. A (very) conservative estimate puts civilian deaths at 35,000. To put this in perspective, just under 400 British troops have died since 2001 in Afghanistan; 1500 civilians have lost their lives (not insurgents or ‘potential terrorists’ but instead civilians) in the first 6 months of 2011. Any death is of course a regrettable one; however the statistics on the deaths of unarmed civilians are painful. These facts must be remembered and not ignored in any discussion of serving British soldiers. These facts have been conveniently forgotten in recent weeks during dialogue involving the Military Wives Choir.
I have heard many people, those on the street and those on the small screen and radio, promoting the Military Wives choir with rhetoric that is frankly empty and untrue; a favourite example is that serving soldiers ‘are making Britain a safer place to live’. This is frankly false.
British soldiers are taking part in a brutal military occupation which is not just to the detriment of innocents caught up in the mess, but also to Britain’s overall long term security. Afghanistan, Iraq, Western support for what frankly amounts to apartheid in Israel/Palestine, all of this does not give Britain a good name; it tarnishes the country – which has a dodgy record in the Middle East anyway due to its colonial past. Instead this fuels anti-Western feelings, and no wonder. This has the ability to manifest into extremism within a tiny minority. Putting it simply, if we want to make Britain a safer place to live, then the way we are currently going about it, will do the opposite.
Where does the Military Wives Choir come into this? Well it deflects attention from what the public should concentrate on, that of government policy and whether it should be backed or not. And although I have no doubt the Military Wives have a tough time, I am sure they would rather their partners back in the UK instead of overseas. However the enthusiasm and downright clambering to be part of the ‘support our troops’ brigade, which has been partly fuelled by the Military Wives choir and their BBC programme recently, will do nothing to bring any British soldiers back home. Instead it further distances the public from the reality that it is not OK to send young men and women into a conflict zone. Never mind the fact that these conflicts are not even ‘necessary evils’, as the two World Wars have been described. Young Brits are sent to fight in conflicts that kill horrific amounts of civilians under the pretence of what is a frankly Islamophobic ‘war against terror’, that has scary connotations of Samuel Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’.
Westminster creates this situation, which will only make Britain more of a target for extremism in the future; this situation being created because of political reasons rather than moral ones, while in the full knowledge that returning soldiers can be treated by charities which shouldn’t need to perform such a function. This should be an outrage to the British public. Yet it is not, it is embraced, with popular symbols and slogans, used to galvanize the public to show pride in their nation’s role in war; while ignoring the ugly reality of war and whether it is necessary.
The Military Wives Choir achieving Christmas No 1. shows that an unwavering commitment to embracing war without questioning war, is strengthening. Well done to the Military Wives on their success, but in the long term, this success is hollow. It is just a smokescreen that clouds the public’s knowledge and perception of war. This will not help the Military Wives, it will not help soldiers fighting in the name of Britain, it will not help Britain’s security and it certainly won’t help civilians increasingly caught up in the horrors of conflict.