Monday 28 January 2013

The problem isn't with one man

Harry Windsor came in for some criticism last week for the terms in which he described his role in hunting down and killing members of the Taliban in Afghanistan.  He made it all sound like a bit of a game.  I’m not normally one for defending members of that wealthy and privileged family, but it did seem to me that personalising the criticism in this way was more than a little unfair.

Is his attitude really any different from that of the rest of the military?  I doubt it – it’s simply that, because of his family background, he’s the one who got interviewed.  Much of the terminology used is in widespread use in the military; euphemisms such as “taking out” are the norm not the exception.  Why pick on one man for that?
Use of euphemism isn’t really surprising anyway.  Seeing the whole war thing as some sort of game – with its red team, its blue team, and its green team – is simply a way of translating theory into practice.  It makes the actual killing more similar to the exercises and war games.  And depersonalising it – dehumanising it even – makes it easier for people to kill each other without too much moralising or hesitation.
The problem is not that one individual – whoever he may be – displays that attitude openly or honestly, nor even that it is widespread in the military.  The problem is that “we”, as a society, allow, and acquiesce in, a world order which makes the training of young men to kill or be killed “normal”.  As long as we allow that, then the military will inevitably seek out ways of making the task an easier one to perform – an army whose members stopped to moralise before pulling the trigger would hardly be an effective one.
For sure there are “bad guys” out there, but the one lesson of human history that we seem unable as a species to learn is that war rarely solves anything.  Short-term victories merely sow the seeds of subsequent conflicts, and until we collectively break the cycle, we are merely perpetuating the behaviour of the past.  If we are seriously concerned – and we should be – about what Mister Windsor said last week, we need to address the causes, not attack the individual.


maen_tramgwydd said...

I think that criticism of the individual (in this case) and attacking the 'root causes' are both in order.

This individual is in a privileged position in which can influence others. He has recourse to advice, which if he bothered to seek it, he doesn't appear to have taken note of it.

If criticism of him, and the undemocratic elitist system which he represents, is muted, how then is the issue of that system to be properly addressed?

How many of these conflicts/wars have the interests of privileged elites as their root cause?

Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

Rwy'n cytuno, John.

Captain Wales was interviewed because he's the Queen's grandson, and any comments he would have made would have been ignored otherwise.

In fact, I believe a young soldier such as Harry *must* use euphemistic language in order to detach himself psychologically from what he's doing. The enemy has to be dehumanised before anyone can think about killing them. Killing has to be made as normal as possible.

I hate the very thought about what Harry Wales and his mates get up to, but blaming the individual who is simply getting on with his dirty job is not the way to solve things. He's out in Afghanistan in my name, and I need to change my representatives' minds, so that all the troops can come home now.

John Dixon said...


"If criticism of him, and the undemocratic elitist system which he represents, is muted, how then is the issue of that system to be properly addressed"

It's hard to disagree with that, but you're raising a much wider issue than the narrow one I referred to. Emlyn Uwch Cych clearly understands the point that I was making - which was that criticising soldiers for their attitude to killing and the language they use to describe it is blaming them for doing what 'we', in the widest sense of the word, have asked them to do. It doesn't matter who the soldiers are; they're just doing what's asked of them. The problem is with the 'what' they are asked to do, and with the 'who' who's asking them to do it. And as long as we aquiesce and allow it, that 'who' includes all of us. Blaming the soldiers - even just the rich and privileged ones - is letting the rest of us off the hook.

Anonymous said...

When this boy is on, and still on active service, you do not go blabbing to the press about what you have done, or to who or when or where. This is because it affects other servicemen, good or bad, and provides sustenance to the enemy. Officially, that's the roll of commanding officers, of which is not. Without official sanction this boy would be up on a charge, which he's not. So he's officially speaking on behalf of the Air Chief Marshal. Bit of a strange set up if you ask me, or is the RAF now commanded directly by the spouse of HRH? His comments are above his rank as a Pilot Officer, and he has blurred the chain of command. If he's not making statements of opinion or recounting events on an existing theatre of combat on behalf of the RAF then he's speaking on behalf of the monarchy. He should first remove his wings before opening his mouth. That applies to all other pilot officers.

Anonymous said...

Anon 00:38 refers to Harry and the RAF.
The same principle, of course, would relate to William in the Army.

Glyndo said...

Anon 30th

I think you'll find you have mixed up the services.