There is an old saying which goes: “If you stand up and say something, assume half the people listening will disagree with what you said, regardless”. Today, it seems that half will disagree, but the other half will violently disagree. So why bother putting your head above the parapet in the first place?
The recent furore about a bunch of young recruits talking to Mr Tommy Robinson at a motorway service station raises all sorts of challenges for a journal such as The Military Times. Our immediate reaction was to steer clear of it as it is bound to create problems whatever we say. And yet, if we do nothing, then those whose one aim is to “bash the military” are allowed to spread their unopposed and toxic message.
What finally got us off the fence, however, was the reporting in a mainstream paper by a journalist called “Joe” who claimed to have served in the military and who used the opportunity to go onto the attack over a range of issues. According to him, the recruits incident is proof that the Army is a right-wing, reactionary, colonialist institution, and that regiments perpetuate feelings of racial superiority by virtue of their cap badges, uniforms, battle-honours, traditions and respect for historic medal awards. He particularly cited a regiment that had recently celebrated the return of a VC awarded at Rorkes Drift as being an example of all that is bad about the British Military.
In fact, that action was the second phase of a major Zulu operation. Isandlwana and Rorkes Drift were fought within a matter of hours of each other when a large Zulu force attacked a much smaller British contingent at Isandlwana, killing almost all of them. A contingent of Zulus then moved on to Rorkes Drift to finish of the much smaller British force there, which, as history relates, held out – just.
It is unclear why “Joe” feels the actions of the British were less honourable because they were fighting the Zulus, a tribe whose military prowess is legendary. “Joe” might disagree with the politics of colonising or conquering other nations, but he cannot deny that the desire to control more land, assets or indeed people have been a fact of historical life since man walked the face of this planet. Indeed, the Zulus were quite adept at doing so within the land-mass we now call Africa.
So is he (Joe), saying that the actions themselves were undeserving of recognition? Possibly not, since presumably even he, Joe would hesitate to question the truthfulness of a citation some 140 years later. Is he saying that individuals ordered into action (in the 1870s), should have refused to obey that order? Or perhaps that, having been put in the frontline they should have refused to fight? What would Joe have done, faced with an enemy force to his front and advancing in a seemingly invincible wave? As was said of the young Argentinian soldiers in the Falklands (many of whom were barely trained), the threat of imminent death turned them into good soldiers in a matter of seconds.
The threat of an early demise is also reputed to cause individuals to find a religion where previously there have been none. However, it is to be regretted that a religious organisation decided to get involved as it inevitably starts to drive the arguments into the camps of those who wish to foment division and unrest. Far better to have left the Army to have commented in a neutral manner by saying that extreme political or religious loyalties are not consistent with everyday life in the Army – and to have left it at that.
But of course, the modern way is for journalists to try to exploit a story in any way they can for commercial gain – and so we have to accept that some of the mud slung around will be almost impossible for the Army to clean up.
That awful crash a few years ago on the M5 at Taunton was attributed to the smoke from fireworks and a bonfire lit by a local club, which was roundly vilified as a result. Even today, and after various official inquiries, it is still hard for those accused of negligence to get people to accept there was never any fire in the first place and that smoke from the fireworks was not the cause; it was local mist and fog that covered the road, not smoke. But of course, Joe probably knows that his cause is furthered even if just a small part of his comments stick.
And what of the recruits; are they really to blame? Yes, in a way they are – though if any individuals should take the rap then it should be their instructors (if they were present), for allowing the situation to have arisen and then got to the point that videos were taken of young lads cheering a politically-extreme person of any persuasion. But that having been said, why are we surprised if a bunch of young soldiers are enticed by the likes of Mr Robinson? He has been an outspoken supporter of the British Army and his social-media appearances have made him something of a folk-hero amongst some sectors of the population.
Perhaps all those who are so quick to condemn those young lads should wait a year or two and go back and talk to the soldiers involved and see what the Army has turned them into after they have been trained and declared ready to go and defend our country against any and all threats. They might be surprised at what they find.
More MoD Articles: