Sacked Soldiers

Thomas Jones

On the face of it, Defence looks like one of the more obvious departments in which to make hefty budget cuts. Until you realise it means 42,000 job losses, including 7000 army 'personnel'. What are all those sacked soldiers going to do instead: work for Marks and Spencer? As what – security guards to keep the sick, starving, homeless masses away from the overpriced ready meals?


  • 20 October 2010 at 9:49am
    A.J.P. Crown says:
    Why should I worry about the job prospects of hired killers?

    • 20 October 2010 at 10:04am
      Jason Kennedy says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      Agreed. It is hitting the right-wingers very hard to realise that the reduced capacity of the state includes, apparently, no more major combat operations of the Iraq / Afghanistan type.

      At last, something to celebrate. Equally, if Hillary Clinton wants to hire them and ship them to the US, fine.

    • 20 October 2010 at 10:12am
      Joe Morison says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      Are you a pacifist, AJ? Would you have let Hitler do his thing, accepted a fascist junta taking over the Falklands, stood back while Milosovic ethnically cleansed? Don't you think we averted something hideous in Sierra Leone and should have done the same in Rawanda? Don't blame the armed forces for the decisions of their political masters, and have more respect for people who in the past laid down their lives so that you and i can live in freedom, and one day may do the same again.

    • 20 October 2010 at 10:34am
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ Joe Morison
      Of course I'm a pacifist, but you don't have to be a pacifist to see that Britain spends an absurd amount of money on completely irrelevant so-called "defence" when in fact soldiers are being sent to kill bearded black men in foreign countries. Thank god you've got Trident to stop Hitler. How are you going to thrash the Vikings next time, thermo-nuclear warfare? You have to keep up with the times, Joe. It's like the Maginot Line: using contemporary technology (reinforced concrete, a French invention), & spending huge sums of money, to fight last year's strategic situation.

    • 20 October 2010 at 10:47am
      Joe Morison says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      Pacifism is an honourable position but one i profoundly disagree with (i think when Gandhi said there were no causes he would kill for, it was because he'd never imagined the possibility of the Holocaust - Nazism was not a movement that could have been shamed into defeat). As for your other points, AJ, i'm not arguing with them, i'm just saying that on the whole soldiers deserve our respect and admiration. I honour those who have fallen and are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan even tho' i consider the former a grotesque crime from the outset, and the latter a grotesque crime in the way it has been handled. The villains are our politicians.

    • 20 October 2010 at 10:51am
      Jason Kennedy says: @ Joe Morison
      Any British solider who enlisted once it was clear there was no legal basis for war and no WMD, they can not be considered free of culpability, in my opinion.

  • 20 October 2010 at 10:22am
    Jason Kennedy says:
    "... that you and i can live in freedom, and one day may do the same again."

    I read this the first time as meaning one day we may live in freedom again.

    • 20 October 2010 at 10:28am
      Joe Morison says: @ Jason Kennedy
      It's a matter of degree. If Hitler had won ...

    • 20 October 2010 at 10:37am
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ Joe Morison
      Stalin stopped Hitler.

    • 20 October 2010 at 10:42am
      Jason Kennedy says: @ Joe Morison
      Hitler did win. He accomplished his aim of a united Europe. The US took over the mission of conquering the planet (and outer space), making full use of Nazi scientific prowess. One photo on the wall of the Huntsville Space and Rocket Center really says it all, a group shot of the team, a 40-odd strong bunch of smiling Germans.

      "Wernher von Braun (March 23, 1912 – June 16, 1977) was a German-American rocket scientist, engineer, space architect, and one of the leading figures in the development of rocket technology in Germany and the United States during and after World War II. A one-time member of the Nazi party and a commissioned SS officer, von Braun would later be regarded as the preeminent rocket engineer of the 20th century in his role with the United States civilian space agency NASA."

      It's incompatible with the facts to suggest that the UK came out on the winning side. It went from being an eminent power to the present, dependent on the US for nuclear weapons, being lectured by Hillary Clinton on defence policy and still fighting in two wars that an unpopular alliance dictated.

      When I welcome today's proposals, it is because of the deep wish that the UK releases itself from the pursuit of foreign policies that are always attempting to arrest its decline that are actually counter-productive. There is, it seems to me, an instinctive wish in the hearts of many British people to live down this history of empire and find a more auspicious and less aggressive way of being in the world. We have an amazing multi-cultural society now, if the UK wanted to, that could be made the centre of national life (a truly Big Society, a world society) and the ceremonial drawing down of our armies could be a part of that.

      Here in Taiwan, there are lots of Indonesian migrant workers here, thousands of them. So last week, the Taiwanese authorities organised their own national celebration and laid on a concert of Indonesian pop stars and traditional musicians, all their own food and so on. To say thank you. There are other ways to be in the world. There are other ways for states to embody the will of their populations. Rather than more soldiers, more operations, more bombs, more tanks, more missiles, how about more friends? (And not friends like the US and Israel, that constantly lead one into trouble and infamy).

    • 20 October 2010 at 10:55am
      Joe Morison says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      Yes, the USSR did the most and paid the highest price; but all the Allies contributed and all paid. But the point is that Hitler was stopped by armed force not good intentions.

    • 20 October 2010 at 11:00am
      Joe Morison says: @ Jason Kennedy
      Hitler won? Tell that to my wife, who as a black woman would be a slave, and my brother in law who as a Jew would have been murdered.

      Jason, i cannot believe you think the world would not be a worse place today if Hitler had been ruling it until whenever old age would finally have taken him.

    • 20 October 2010 at 11:01am
      Jason Kennedy says: @ Joe Morison
      "But the point is that Hitler was stopped by armed force not good intentions."

      And who will stop us? Are we still 'good' because we are the same nations that fought the Nazis? Or do we become something else, over the course of time?

      Many WWII veterans have specifically spoken out against the present UK military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan to make that point.

    • 20 October 2010 at 11:06am
      Jason Kennedy says: @ Joe Morison
      That is not my point, Joe.

      The point is that many of Hitler's aims were accomplished, but without the Nazi ideology informing them, necessarily.

      Why the outrage when, during and after the war, an ideology seemingly so abhorrent, was not so abhorrent to the Americans that they did not organise their Operation Paperclip.

      American dominance flowed from Nazi scientific prowess (check out the photo there, it's the one I mention from the Space Center).

      And, while your wife and your brother-in-law enjoy one particular fate due to the path history took, there are millions in Latin America who had to die due to the US thirst for dominance. It really is the swings or the roundabouts.

    • 20 October 2010 at 11:08am
      Joe Morison says: @ Jason Kennedy
      Important questions, difficult answers. But, once again, blame our politicians not our troops.

    • 20 October 2010 at 11:10am
      Jason Kennedy says: @ Jason Kennedy

      Thank God the Allies put an end to all that war.

    • 20 October 2010 at 11:12am
      Joe Morison says: @ Jason Kennedy
      I fear that all powerful states do evil in pursuit of their interests, which is no excuse, but i do think Nazi Germany was intrinsically evil in a way that the US just isn't.

    • 20 October 2010 at 11:14am
      Joe Morison says: @ Jason Kennedy
      And what do you think he'd have done to South America when he'd dealt with everywhere else?

    • 20 October 2010 at 11:15am
      Jason Kennedy says: @ Joe Morison
      I've been there and felt the evil for myself.

      And from meeting rabid Zionists, I can't really see how a Nazi could be any worse.

    • 20 October 2010 at 11:18am
      Jason Kennedy says: @ Joe Morison
      My point is that history treats WWII as if somehow the world was spared some enormous quantity of suffering by dint of the Nazis being defeated.

      Look at the sheer quantity of death meted out by the US in the 60 years since.

      It looks very much like X million were going to die, whatever the outcome, the only difference being at the hands of who and with what particular propaganda justifying it.

      Or do you think that it matters a jot to a Guatemalan peasant whether their family was massacred in the 1980s by troops trained at the School of the Americas or, in a parallel universe, in Berlin?

    • 20 October 2010 at 11:20am
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ Joe Morison
      It's irrelevant, Joe. What about the Vikings, they would have raped and pillaged you to death. Napoleon would have had you eating croissants and weighing them in kilos -- oh, wait...

    • 20 October 2010 at 11:22am
      Jason Kennedy says: @ Joe Morison
      It's for the courts to decide in each case.

      From Nuremberg on. If British soldiers later find themselves facing a court on war crimes charges, so be it.

    • 20 October 2010 at 11:27am
      Joe Morison says: @ Jason Kennedy
      There's evil everywhere but i don't know of anything the US has done which compares to the Holocaust. And yes, the most extreme Palestinian haters in Israel arecomparable. Which is fine example of Auden's "those to whom evil is done, do evil in return".

    • 20 October 2010 at 11:29am
      Jason Kennedy says: @ A.J.P. Crown

      It doesn't matter if you're calling it Nazism or some other label. It is there in the world, still, and it is responsible, I believe, for those, to most, incomprehensible acts of mass destruction of life and property that most of us would call evil, but which, really, is just humankind seen from such an exalted viewpoint that the individual loses all significance.

    • 20 October 2010 at 11:31am
      Jason Kennedy says: @ Joe Morison
      In numbers dead, the US has killed far more than the Nazis.

      Are these deaths qualitatively different somehow?

    • 20 October 2010 at 11:32am
      Joe Morison says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      I admire pacifism, AJ, and i'd love to believe that in this deeply fucked up world there was some sort of hidden causality that will make things okay without us sometimes having to fight and do horrible things.

      But would you really never fight? Would you let them drag you and your family off to the death camps? Because that, in the end, is what comes down to. Perhaps you are right but i just don't have that kind of faith.

    • 20 October 2010 at 11:35am
      Joe Morison says: @ Jason Kennedy
      I agree with all that, but the question isn't 'Did the Allies victory make everything hunky dory in the world?' but 'Did the Allies victory make it better than it would have been than with an Axis victory?' I don't see how, apart from with the pacifist's mysterious causality, the answer can be anything other than 'Yes'.

    • 20 October 2010 at 11:41am
      Joe Morison says: @ Jason Kennedy
      Not at all, but how many would the Nazis have killed and enslaved if they'd been ruling the world for the last 60 years?

    • 20 October 2010 at 11:55am
      Jason Kennedy says: @ Joe Morison
      Maybe in the short-term it made a difference. Do you believe it is still making a positive difference now?

    • 20 October 2010 at 1:46pm
      A.J.P. Crown says: @ Joe Morison
      Joe, if you don't believe in pacifism because of the nazi final solution, then forget the word pacifism. Think of it another way, on a case-by-case basis: do you support fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, N. Korea, Russia, the Falklands, whoever the current bad guy is.

  • 20 October 2010 at 11:49am
    Jason Kennedy says:
    "Not at all, but how many would the Nazis have killed and enslaved if they’d been ruling the world for the last 60 years?"

    My estimate, about the same, after all, there are only a fixed amount of people to kill and enslave.

    • 20 October 2010 at 11:52am
      Jason Kennedy says: @ Jason Kennedy
      You're making my point for me. "The US, no worse than the Nazis." Catchy.

    • 20 October 2010 at 12:15pm
      Joe Morison says: @ Jason Kennedy
      No, Jason, because i reckon (and, as your 12.55 post is as nested as it can be, this is an answer to that as well) things would be massively worse today if the Nazis had won. Overwhelmingly massively worse. Think ancient Rome: tortured execution as public entertainment, whole communities slowly tortured to death for one person's act of rebellion, all non-aryans enslaved or murdered, all gays and 'deviants' and liberals and free-thinkers exterminated, all artists working for the state. Something that makes the hellish world we live in (tho' all that's hellish for us is the knowledge that so many are in hell) look like an impossible dream.

    • 20 October 2010 at 12:26pm
      Jason Kennedy says: @ Joe Morison
      I think, conversely, that a case could be made that the Nazi regime would've burned itself out far faster than this American empire, possibly with a German-led resistance at its heart.

      That you comfort yourself that the world could be in a considerably worse state, that's your right, but I see no compelling evidence that the planet is better off today as a direct consequence of WWII. It was, for a time perhaps, but the US is a non-signatory to many international treaties, has an asymmetric view of human rights, is torturing people and sending them to 'black sites' and so on. My point is that whatever gains were made, the US is now unmaking them at a rapid pace.

      (I won't say anymore, and I'm getting miserable anyway, because the outer rim of the megatyphoon is over norther Taiwan and I can't go out - it's been raining torrentially almost continually for three full days now).

      Best to you, Joe, I'd rather be having this conversation in person.

  • 20 October 2010 at 2:03pm
    A.J.P. Crown says:
    It's hard to believe that Thomas Jones REALLY thinks defence shouldn't be cut because of the job losses, so I'm wondering if this was a Nielsen blog-ratings exercise. Never in the field of human blogging were so many comments received so quickly. Coming next from the LRB: Save money, eat your children for Christmas.

    • 20 October 2010 at 2:08pm
      Jason Kennedy says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      I've taken place in an exercise that diverts attention from my own efforts.

      Damn that Thomas Jones, always two steps ahead. I hear his mocking laughter filling the skies above Taipei...

      Wait, no, it's the rain, still.

    • 22 October 2010 at 6:36pm
      Talulah says: @ A.J.P. Crown
      Surely his point is not that the defence budget shouldn't be cut, but that sacking 5000 soldiers when unemployment is already high is potentially a social disaster. Where are they going to go, and to do what exactly?

      You really want to meet a group of sacked squaddies coming out of the pub on a Friday evening? Because I sure don't.

  • 20 October 2010 at 9:20pm
    Martin says:
    They can do what so many ex-soldiers do: become mercenaries. I'm sure Mark Thatcher might want to hire a few, for example. And there must still be lots of work in PMCs and PSCs for highly trained soldiers.

    • 21 October 2010 at 8:34am
      pinhut says: @ Martin
      Amen. Killing people is a skill easily shuffled from the public to the private sector.

  • 21 October 2010 at 8:29am
    Geoff Roberts says:
    I missed all this yesterday. A great standup debate here. I tend to agree with Jason on the main point that there are no absolute 'good' or 'evil' states, and there are no good causes for which men go off to die for. In 1914, Germany sided with Austria-Hungary because they had just that one ally and the politicians feared that the Reich would go under unless it made a pre-emptive strike. So they attacked Belgium and then France. Why? Because the plan told them what they had to do.
    In 1940, the Germans attacked France (Norway as well, A.J.P) and showed that the military had learned their lesson.
    In 1945, the USA tried out that snappy new weapon on the Japanese. It really worked. They then went on to try out the World war II tactics in Vietnam, but they beat Grenada in 1983.
    Military powers always make mistakes and politicians still go on trusting their judgment. Are there any good causes? Why on earth do British politicians cling on to the so-called 'nuclear deterrent'? Who are they aiming it at? All cuts in military expenditure are good cuts.

  • 23 October 2010 at 1:45pm
    Joshua Mostafa says:
    Soldier are honoured, despite being, at best, a necessary evil, for pragmatic, not ethical reasons: as well as being dangerous, it's a really shitty, morally compromising job, and unless it's made out to be honourable, no one would want to do it. A bit like a hangman, but hangmen were never needed in such numbers that a whole culture of celebration had to be constructed for them.

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