Socialist Worker

You're in the army now

Issue No. 1826

'THE BEST army in the world.' This is how the New Labour government and right wing papers like the Sun describe the British army. As Britain gears up to back George Bush's planned attack on Iraq they will be piling on the pro-war and pro-army propaganda. Through the media they promote the image of 'our brave boys' putting their lives at risk to defend democracy.

Recent TV adverts have tried to sell a dream to young working class men that joining the army will give decent training, develop skills and increase their chances of getting a better paid job. The reality is very different. The deaths of four young soldiers at the Deepcut barracks in Surrey have shone some light on the real British army.

James Collinson, 17, was found shot dead on March 23 this year. Geoff Gray, 17, was shot dead on patrol in September last year. Cheryl James, 18, was found lying dead in woodland in November 1995. Sean Benton, 20, was shot five times in the chest in June 1995. Four of the shots were from long range.

'I had the unfortunate privilege to spend time at Deepcut,' Trevor Hunter, a former soldier, told a recent press conference attented by the Deepcut families. Trevor spoke about 'the brutality of the officers'. He said, 'It is very hard to come through training with a smile on your face. Lives have been taken away.'

The military has refused to investigate the deaths properly. Its claim that all the men committed suicide is clearly ridiculous. Family campaigners have forced Surrey police to reopen the investigation into the deaths. These tragic cases have uncovered how the army treats soldiers. The harsh, bullying regime destroys many of those who enter the army. The soldiers are put through back-breaking training sessions and mindless tasks like polishing boots to teach them to obey orders without question.

They face the wrath and punishment of brutal officers. Most of these come from privileged backgrounds. More than 120 out of the 180 officers graduating from the Sandhurst army officers' academy went to public school. British soldiers are 15 times more likely to kill themselves than be killed in combat.

Some 1,784 soldiers have died in non-combat situations in the last 12 years. These include accidents, suicide and murder. When squaddies leave the army they are not treated any better. Some 25 percent of homeless people have served in the armed forces, according to a report released last week by the housing charity Shelter. The army, government and much of the media have abandoned the many soldiers who have contracted Gulf War syndrome.

They treat with contempt the same young men they send out across the world to kill and be killed.


'A certain number have to die'

'I WAS in the infantry between 1984 and 1993. From the start the army want to change your mentality. You go in as a young boy and they take every civilian trait out of you. They train you to be someone who is willing to kill. The commanding officers bully the lower ranks - you have to take what they dish out. It's part and parcel of what the army is about. You can't think for yourself. They give you an order and you do it.

A certain percentage of soldiers have to die on exercise before it's stopped. We were all called together on exercise once and told that one of our mates had died. We were stunned but we just had to get on with it. He'd become one of the 'honoured dead'.

I served in Northern Ireland. I fell for it all. I was overtly racist. When you join the army at 18 you don't realise you're being used. You're proud of your country. You believe all the nationalistic crap. It's all pushed into you. Since coming out of the army I've realised what I was being used for. The army isn't there to defend the country. Who'd want to invade us? There's an ulterior motive behind everything Bush and Blair do. George Bush owes a lot of people - the arms manufacturer McDonnell-Douglas and the oil companies. That's why he wants war on Iraq.'
Paul Barbour


'They were in control'

'I ENLISTED in 1983. In a funny sort of way I enjoyed it. You're not educated to appreciate what war's about and why you join the army. I saw it as an adventure. You're really there to keep British imperialism going.

Training is very strict and disciplined. On one occasion I saw this officer block a guy's windpipe until he fainted. I was slapped in the face and pushed over. It was brutal. You were always aware that they were totally in control. You had no chance of putting your viewpoint across. They verbally abuse you, frighten you.

They strip you right down - physically and mentally - to build you up to be a person who takes orders and questions nothing. They change you as a person. Everything is in their favour. It's you against a machine. When you get out you start to question what's going on.

When I left the army didn't help me at all. I had to integrate back into civilian life by myself. I'd given them eight years of my life. The army is there to keep Western interests intact across the globe. The army is the means by which the world's elite guard and control their assets. Blair doesn't send his sons off to fight in the wars he starts.
Simon Boardman


Given a chemical cocktail

'I JOINED the army in 1987. Unemployment was skyrocketing. Everyone I met joined for economic reasons. The bullying is so high and the quality of life is so low that most of the guys I joined up with left in three years. There are no real support services for people. The divorce rate among squaddies is immense.

I was in the medical corps out in the last Gulf War in 1991. The Gulf War was one big chemical experiment. We were given many different vaccinations together in one trial. We have this chemical cocktail rolling around us now.

I still don't know what they injected me with. The injection was not voluntary. The soldiers who were out in the desert were exposed to the depleted uranium weapons that the allies used. Gulf War syndrome has caused worry and misery for thousands of ex-soldiers and their families.

I have never received a letter from the army about the concerns we have. There has never been any official charting of Gulf War syndrome. It shows the hypocrisy of the way that the government and the military treat 'our brave boys'. In times of crisis it's all rally together, but when people leave the army they're abandoned.

The same propaganda that we got will be meted out to today's troops - that this is a war for freedom against evil men. The same racism will be dished out to the Iraqis, and even the Saudis. The officers called all the Arabs who came through my hospital 'ragheads'.

The 'war on terror', just like the last Gulf War, is a smokescreen for the US economic and strategic interest. They're already talking about the oil carve-up.'
Andy McConnell


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Features
Sat 16 Nov 2002, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1826
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