In July, Lance Corporal Joe Glenton became the first serving British soldier to speak out publically against the Afghan war.
British soldier refuses to fight in Afghanistan
Joe Glenton, who was posted to Kandahar in 2006 for seven months, told a meeting organised by the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) on 23 July that he came back ashamed and disillusioned. He said the army and politicians never explained why they were there or what was going on, only that British troops were helping the Afghan people. When he found that the Afghans were fighting against him, it came as a real shock.
When his regiment then wanted to deploy him back to Afghanistan, Joe felt his only option was to go absent without leave (AWOL). He now faces court-martial proceedings.
No cooperation with war crimes
At its national conference in April 2009, the StWC overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for ‘No cooperation with war crimes’. The comrade proposing this resolution said: “Despite our apparent weakness, working people really do have the ability to veto the war. Not by demonstrations alone – important as they are – but by our refusal to cooperate with the daily industrial, logistical and military operations necessary to launch and sustain it.” He continued, “If our soldiers follow the example of SAS Refusenik Ben Griffin, and refuse to fight, will the bankers fight and die in their own demoralising and unjust criminal war? Of course they will not and cannot!” (‘Anti-war movement calls for non-cooperation with war crimes’, Proletarian, June 2009)
As the death toll of war mounts, and the devastation wreaked on Afghan civilians continues, the honourable actions of the likes of Joe Glenton and Ben Griffin will reinforce the need for others to follow in their path, and further show that one can take a stand against this war.
As well as the hundreds of thousands of civilians dead in Iraq and Afghanistan, the death toll of British soldiers increases daily. The total number of British soldiers killed in the Afghan war has passed the total of 179 who died in Iraq, and is drawing close to 200. The deaths, along with the severe physical and mental injuries (one in eight soldiers are severely injured), makes the British population increasingly keen to wash its hands of the bloody Afghan war being perpetrated by the imperialist Labour government, along with US imperialism.
Army recruitment problem
In the last decade, British imperialism has been unsuccessfully seeking to bring its total army strength up to 102,000 regular personnel, recruiting those aged between 16 and 26 (Britain is the only EU state that recruits 16-year old child soldiers, with an astounding one third of recruits being under 18). Merely to maintain its current level of troops, however, the army must recruit some 20,000 new soldiers each year to replace those who are leaving. The army’s appalling retention rate is shown, for instance, by the fact that for every two 16 to 22-year-old recruits joining the army, one is leaving, and one in five recruits wants to leave at the earliest opportunity. (‘Informed choice? Armed forces recruitment practice in the United Kingdom’, Report for the Rowntree Trust by David Gee, January 2008)
And the retention rate would be even worse if soldiers were not expected to sell themselves for years: new recruits may opt out in the first three months, but the option to leave is then closed for nearly four years.
Even senior army commanders expressed fears that the increasingly vocal anti-Iraq war movement in 2004 was discouraging thousands from considering a ‘career’ in the armed forces, and “according to military sources the high media visibility of bereaved parents, such as Rose Gentle, whose 19-year-old son was killed, and the unpopularity of the war have made recruitment and retention a problem, exacerbating an already acute recruitment crisis in areas such as Scotland”. (‘UK Army blames Iraq for drop in young recruits’, Lorna Martin, The Observer, 19 December 2004)
In recent years, the army has been 3,200 down on its recruitment targets, in spite of increasing the upper age limit for recruitment from 26 to 33 in 2007; relying on Commonwealth recruits (Fiji, Jamaica, South Africa, Ghana, etc provided 10 percent of British recruits in 2008); using literature that “glamorises warfare” (D Gee, op cit); wide-scale use of ‘recruiting’ stalls in schools and at student Fresher’s Fayres (apparently, military organisations even got a reduced rate at last year’s ULU Fayre); and a website that avoids mentioning death but prefers to state that “In the Army we’ll not only uncover your strengths, we’ll provide the role that helps you put these strengths into practice. Think of it as just doing what you’re good at”! (See ‘Soldiering through the recession’ by Symon Hill, The Guardian, 13 May 2009)
However, just recently, there has there been a significant increase in the number of young people visiting recruiting centres and army websites, and the reason for that is purely economic – the unemployment and misery that faces the working class as the capitalist crisis wreaks havoc with their lives.
Recession boosts recruitment
Unemployment in Britain, even according to official massaged figures, is now well over 2 million, with young people being especially hit; people under 25 account for almost 40 percent of the unemployed. It is therefore no surprise that army websites and adverts offering young people a job with rent and bill-free accommodation, a pension and tax-free cash at the end of the month are increasingly difficult to resist.
Recent data illustrates this fact. Unemployment in Scotland has reached a 10-year high, with 179,000 out of work. Scotland on Sunday reported that military recruiters are talking of a “breathtaking” 366 percent rise in recruitment in the first three months of this year – an increase from 27 in 2008 to 99 in 2009. (‘War “lures new recruits to the army”’ by Stephen McGinty, 19 July 2009)
And in London, the head of army recruitment, an excited Paul Meldon, told The Times, “All of a sudden in January, all these people started to come into the offices … We noticed a 20-25 percent increase over the same week the previous year.”
Joining the army to escape poverty is no new phenomenon. Research by David Gee also found that “non-officer recruitment draws mostly on young people from 16 years of age living in disadvantaged communities, with many recruits joining as a last resort”. (Cited by Symon Hill, op cit)
For our part, the targeting of vulnerable youngsters doubly enrages us, since they are being used to fight for the needs of the financial system, which is anyway the cause of their impoverished lives. Already disadvantaged working-class youngsters, particularly from poor regions of the country with high unemployment rates, are being deliberately groomed to be the much-needed forces for doing the dirty work of the imperialist system.
New types of recruitment centres are opening up in poor boroughs across the UK. In March, the first of these glitzy ‘showrooms’ was opened in the shopping parade of Dalston Lane, Hackney. Boasting a ‘virtual battlefield simulator’, it encourages visitors (from 14 years old) to shoot their friends with replica AF80 handguns and test-drive virtual tanks. It is no accident that this ‘shop’ has been set up in one of the poorest boroughs in London (37 claimants for every new job), so that it can ruthlessly prey on those who already feel they have no future. Fortunately, local anti-war activists have joined together to maintain a high-level protest against this obscenity.
Stop grooming our kids for imperialist carnage
Opposing the cynical manipulation of our children by the imperialist warmongers must be an important part of our anti-war activity. Campaigning to stop army recruitment in schools, on university campuses and in shopping centres must be stepped up. Not only teenagers are being affected but even kids “as young as seven are targeted”. (D Gee, op cit)
Brigadier David Allfrey, head of the 51st Scottish Brigade, who had been “astonished” at the “breathtaking” increase in recruitment in recent months, claiming that “We must be the only employer anywhere in Scotland doing that sort of level”, also admitted to running an army “contact point” in the Shettlestone and Easterhouse areas of Glasgow, which, he said “was not a recruitment office but was a place where you go and get a jaffa cake” and “a cup of coffee”[!]. When asked if this amounted to “grooming” potential candidates, he replied: “Yes … I suppose it is.” (Scotland on Sunday, op cit)
Intensify our activities
The Afghan war, being fought, like all imperialist wars, to enforce subjection and servitude upon another nation, is morally abhorrent; to fight and die for such a cause is demoralising, corrupting and meaningless.
We must do all in our power to promote a movement of industrial, political and military non-cooperation with all of imperialism’s criminal war preparations and actions among the British working class. We must use our united strength in our communities, schools, colleges and workplaces to prevent our youngsters being recruited and dying for the benefit of the ruling class, and to support those true heroes like Lance Corporal Joe Glenton, who has been prepared to break with ‘our’ government’s predatory warmongering and destruction in Afghanistan.
No more cooperation with war crimes!