A hospitalised Royal Marine has become the 300th British soldier to die in Afghanistan. Thus, according to David Cameron, “it’s a moment for the whole country to reflect on the incredible service and sacrifice and dedication that the armed forces give on our behalf.” Taking his advice, however, we don’t think my reflections will be quite what he had in mind.
He rightly points out that “the 300th death is no more or less tragic than the 299 that came before.” But it does show that, although pushed out of the headlines and public consciousness by (amongst other things) the spectacle of the World Cup, nothing much has changed.
The war is still an illegal act of aggression, in violation of the Nuremburg Principles (Principle VI), the UN Charter (Article 2, Paragraph 4) and General Assembly Resolution 3314. The soldiers fighting it are still inadequately equipped for their own safety. The regime we’re propping up is still as corrupt and repressive than the one before it. And the goal of the endeavor is still control over strategic markets and resources, not democracy.
Not to mention the Afghans. As Channel 4’s Alex Thompson points out, they “are getting wiped out and injured far, far more than any foreign soldier or insurgent mujahedeen.” But they also “remain resolutely ignored in what is being forced upon them and their land from the foreign occupation.”
To mention this, though, is to show disrespect to “our” troops as they apparently fight in “our name” or for “our freedom.”
Leaving a side the point that the only effect of the war on terror upon our freedoms has been to diminish them (or that freedoms are won by civilians fighting against the state, not soldiers fighting for it), this is quite clearly an ideological and political position. Anybody who claims otherwise is either ignorant of this or complicit in it.
Dead soldiers are being used as totems to detract from criticisms of the war. Like dead children, they are easy to exploit for the cause of subduing reason.
But, if we are to be honest when we “reflect,” we must be highly critical of the military and of this illegal war. And if we genuinely want to honour the soldiers, then we need to agitate for them to be pulled out of that same reprehensible endeavour and brought home.