A question of honour

Indeed, if you were to poll that statement, I think the resounding majority would be in agreement. However, does that necessarily mean it is right? Should we as a community admire those who commit acts that, at least in times of peace would be criminal, even if they are committed on our behalf?

I think now would be an appropriate time to clarify a few things. Firstly, I don’t doubt that some wars are necessary. Indeed, we’d all be in a worse position if our state, on the grounds of morality, were unprepared to retaliate in the face of an aggressor. 

The relationship I call into question is that between the state and the soldier. The profession is based around the acceptance of payment for resolving differences between two agents by means of violence, irrespective of the individual soldier’s relationship with those two agents. From this perspective, there is little but state subsidy between soldier and mercenary. This is a boundary blurred even further when the United States hires 240,000 of these mercenaries to supplement their armed forces in Iraq.

So where does this perceived honour come from? Traditionally soldiers would fight for King, Country and God. This was both legitimised and seen to be honourable. In a world in which few monarchies still exist, with those that do holding no real political power, it is easy to dispel the former of the three. It is easier still to dismiss God from the equation. After all, did not the belt buckles of the most notorious Nazi officers embellish the slogan “Gott mit uns” (God with us)? The honour in being a state sanctioned mercenary must be grounded in the protection of those unable to defend themselves. But this raises an unexpected connotation. By this logic, it appears that in wars of aggression , Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam to name but a few, it was, and is, the guerrilla fighter (the Taliban, the insurgent, the Viet Cong) that are worthy of honour.

Afghanistan is a fitting example of this. It must be understood that there was, prior to the invasion, really very little threat to British citizens from Afghanistan. There were terrorist plots, but I ask you, did this threat increase or diminish as a result of the 2001 occupation? The immediate danger Afghan civilians were placed into by this conflict, however, was tremendous. Estimates sit between 17,000 and 39,000 civilian casualties since the war began. Although it’s likely that even these are bothunderestimates. Now the plight of the Kalashnikov wielding farmer (remember, whilst they might hold their faith more dearly than we do in the West nowadays, not all Taliban are religious zealots), armed to protect his land, his family, and his chosen way of life, seems more noble, more so than the state sanctioned mercenary (whose sole interest is financial anyway).

Of course, the way of life this militarised farmer fights for is not one I would condone. That is, a society in which women are subjugated by their husbands and stoning is an acceptable form of punishment. Indeed I would reject any form of theocratic rule in much the same way as I would renounce any form of dictatorship, celestial or otherwise. The point is, that while it may be a necessary evil and we ought to be grateful, killing and those that kill ought not to be idolised and celebrated, irrespective of circumstance.


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