According to a report in the Sunday Times on March 30, two British service men
were sent home from the Middle East after refusing to fight in the war against
Iraq. The two, a private and an air technician) face a court martial and up to
two years in jail for disobeying orders. The two soldiers belong to the 16 Air
Assault Brigade which has been involved in heavy fighting in the south of Iraq.
The cases were confirmed by Justin Hugheston-Roberts, a solicitor advocate who
chairs a group of law firms representing service personnel and their families.
Another lawyer who specialises in military affairs said of the private from
16 Air Assault Brigade that: "He told his superiors that he wasn’t prepared
to enter into a conflict that involved the killing of innocent civilians". The
two soldiers were immediately sent back to the Brigade’s barracks in Colchester,
According to the Times report, a third soldier, who was in reserve refused to
travel to the Middle East despite orders from his commanding officer to do so,
has also told his lawyers he fears prosecution.
Gilbert Blades, a Lincoln-based lawyer, said the Ministry of Defence was
trying to hush up the cases because it feared a public relations disaster.
On Monday, March 31, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence confirmed the
two soldiers had been sent back to Colchester, but on "medical and/or
compassionate grounds". Major William Mackinley, with exquisite military "logic"
said that: "Neither was sent home for refusing to soldier. It happened at
the end of February, before any military action began, so how could they have
been sent home for refusing to fight?"!
The participation of British troops in the war against Iraq has been marred
with problems from the very beginning: boots that melt in the desert sun,
assault rifles that jam as soon as a grain of sand gets into them, whole units
without enough ammo, lack of food, toilet paper, showers, etc., which forced
British soldiers to borrow from their US colleagues…
The latest example is that of a female soldier who found out that two plates
were missing from her body armour. She was ask to fork out 85 pounds from her
own pocket or go to the front without.
All these little details, together with the mood of massive opposition back
at home before the war started, the splits in Parliament, and above all the
increasing difficulties of the military campaign which refute all predictions of
a "short and clean war" in which imperialist troops were going to be received
with open arms, must be having an effect on the morale of the soldiers.
To this we must add the increasing strains caused by several incidents of "friendly
fire", another one of those horrible military euphemisms, all of them by US
troops against British soldiers.
On Sunday, British survivors of one of such incidents described their horror
at being attacked by US anti-tank aircraft. Three British soldiers were wounded
and one was killed in the incident, 35 miles north of Basra, in which two
armoured vehicles were destroyed.
One of the survivors, LCoH Gerrard, commented from his hospital bed: "All
this kit has been provided by the Americans. They’ve said if you put this kit on
you won’t get shot. We can identify a friendly vehicle from 1,500 metres, yet
you’ve got an A10 with advanced technology and he can’t use a thermal sight to
identify whether a tank is a friend or foe. It’s ridiculous.
"Combat is what I’ve been trained for. I can command my vehicle. I can keep
it from being attacked. What I have not been trained to do is look over my
shoulder to see whether an American is shooting at me."
Another one of the survivors criticised the American pilot for showing "no
regard for human life" and accused him of being a cowboy who had gone out on a
LCoH Gerrard criticised the A10 for shooting when there were civilians so
close to the tanks. He said: "There was a boy of about 12 years old. He was no
more than 20 metres away when the Yank opened up. There were all these civilians
around. He had absolutely no regard for human life. I believe he was a cowboy."
He added: "I’ll never forget that A10. He was about 50 metres off the ground.
He circled, because he can turn on a ten-pence. He came back around. He was no
more than 1,000 metres away when he started his attack run. He was about 500
metres away when he started firing. On the back of one of the engineers’
vehicles there was a Union Jack. It’s about 18 inches wide by about 12 inches.
For him to fire his weapons I believe he had to look through his magnified
optics. How he could not see that Union Jack I don’t know. It was like Platoon.
I was stood there on a little bank 25 metres away from my tank waving."
The danger for the military commanders is that if the war goes on and the
number of dead and wounded in the imperialist armies increases, all these
incidents could combine to create a mood of open mass opposition to war amongst
the soldiers. Let’s not forget that a key factor in the defeat of US imperialism
in Vietnam was the refusal of US soldiers to continue fighting, reaching a
situation of open rebellion against their superiors.