Around and about X
Sitting in a local café nursing a cup of coffee, I found myself tuning in to the conversation of two women, writes HOT’s Zelly Restorick, discussing their young relatives’ experiences of the armed forces, beginning with one mother expressing pride in her daughter’s awards for Best Marching and Best Turned Out. Another mother then joined them, speaking about her revulsion of the abuse and insults hurled at young squaddies: “They humiliate them and insult them… and their families too”, which, she felt, was entirely unnecessary. Her own son – “he’s not a wimp” – had been unable to submit to the abuse and had left whilst he still had the chance. The third woman, whose son is currently an enlisted army man, said: “If they can’t deal with being yelled at and insulted, how would they deal with the person next to them being shot?”. Not them. The person next to them.
The women then spoke about how the people “at the top” were never on the front line, but just gave the orders from a place of safety, expecting to be obeyed without question, thought or doubt. The mother of the army son said that, by avoiding the lures of on-site fast food joints and his refusal to participate in alcohol-fuelled R&R, he had already managed to save a few thousand – and by the time he left the forces, he’d have enough to buy a house outright. And maybe, she continued, when he was 30, he would extend his tour of duty to become one of the upper echelons himself, no longer subject to the dangers of the front line, but giving orders to others from a safe distance.
However, the talk then took a different direction, turning to one of their nephews, who had recently returned from a second tour in Afghanistan: “He’s just not the same man anymore”, now being a person filled with paranoia and anger. “Things he’s seen and done… it’s changed him. He’s not said much… but he talked about how sometimes he had to go into buildings that’d had been bombed and he wouldn’t find any men had been killed, only women and children.”
(Why is it okay to kill men? Are they not individuals? Husbands? Fathers? Sons? Lovers? Livers of life? I am always puzzled by this emphasis on how it seems terrible to kill women and children, but acceptable to massacre men.)
“The women shelter their children…”, the woman continued. “When they’re being bombed and attacked, they put their bodies over their children… and when the soldiers go in and find a woman that’s been killed with a baby in her arms… well, they can’t take the baby, so someone’s nominated to shoot it.”
Nominated to shoot a baby?
The women then talked about how, if people knew more about the realities of war and what happened behind the scenes, there just wouldn’t be so many of them.
Come and join us!
Years ago, when I lived in America, the TV Armed Forces recruiting advertisements extolled the opportunities for travel, education, good pay and advancement, aimed, I was told by people in the military, particularly at young, poor men and women with low employment prospects.
Watching the television now with my father, I notice that the advertisements are much the same here. No mention of being wounded, killed, maimed, blown up or doing the same to another human being – male or female, young or old. And no mention of being willing fodder or guinea pigs in someone else’s glory agenda or political campaign.
Teaching at a local primary school and hearing the young boys of eight and nine years old talk about playing ‘Call Of Duty’, [designed for those over 18] and other military games, I wondered if they were being prepared as the next generation of recruits? Would they be on the front line – or sitting behind a console, bombing a targeted human enemy thousands of miles away, visible only as images on a computer screen?
The echoes of war
Growing up as an only child in a family of adults, who had all experienced either one or both of the 20th century world wars, where everything in their lives was described as being ‘before’, ‘during’ or ‘after the war’, I heard and experienced first hand the long-term repercussions of surviving war and living in peacetime. The echoes do not neatly stop when victory for one side or the other is declared; they continue to reverberate throughout the individual’s life – winner or loser – and affect their perspective on everything.
Friend or foe
To me, it seems best to endeavor to have no enemies. And certainly not to have our passions whipped up against someone else’s enemy or the current enemy of choice chosen by the media or government. Follow no-one. Think for ourselves and beware the propaganda machines, stirring us up into a state of hatred against our fellow man, woman and child.
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