Blackman: The Other Veterans’ View

Outside the Royal Courts of Justice on Tuesday there were jubilant scenes from his supporters as Alexander Blackman (formerly Marine A) had his murder conviction for shooting dead a man wounded in a helicopter attack in Afghanistan reduced to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility due to a ‘combat stress disorder’.

Among those celebrating were Royal Marine veterans vocal in their support for Blackman, ecstatically rejoicing at his probable imminent release and outraged that he should have been prosecuted in the first place. But this gluttonous, thrilled response becomes distasteful in the extreme when viewed as a symptom of the grave disease of ‘soldier hero’ worship, the mythos propagated relentlessly by the state/corporate war machine and their stenographers in the corporate media, and we can then see how Blackman himself becomes mythologised under the umbrella of the ‘we are the good guys’ doctrine, his actions embedded into the facile landscape of  ‘good versus evil’.

Joe Glenton points out (below) that Blackman’s lawyer deliberately immerses his client in this mythology, employing rhetoric such as ‘right-thinking’, ‘our values’, ‘courage and sacrifice’ and ‘dark forces’ which all goes to prove that one need only use the simplistic language of a fairytale to give a common killer the sheen of a Spartan warrior. These bathetic and predictable motifs are wheeled out with depressing predictability to combat any suggestion that ‘our boys’ are anything less than the gallant guardians of our freedoms that the general population, after a good drenching in this propaganda, believe them to be.  Blackman had, you see, momentarily and tragically (for him, not his victim) fallen short of the chivalrous standards exhibited by all our soldiers in their humanitarian endeavour to protect us all from the bad guys.  And despite his quite understandable faux pas, Blackman still embodies the values which we in the civilised West hold so dear.

There has been no shortage of this unchallenged evangelism on our TV’s in recent days, not just in the inflection of the language used in supposedly unbiased reports – a BBC reporter announced that Blackman had been ‘continually provoked’ by the Taliban’ – but with Blackman’s friend who served with him (and now aspiring actor), Cassidy Little, being given a platform by both Good Morning Britain and This Morning to minister us all with his sermon on how ‘Al Blackman’s situation is an individual situation that does not bring shame to him... the men that I served under are LEGENDS!…WARRIORS!. And anybody who wants to say otherwise, I’m nervous about their agenda’. 

Really Cassidy? Well, I’m nervous about your agenda; the same agenda that has resulted in way, way! over a million innocent dead in countries you and your ‘warrior’ comrades have marauded into without being troubled by a flicker of conscience: ‘now, what are they? Men at all? or small movable forts and magazines, at the service of some unscrupulous man in power?’ Henry David Thoreau.  ‘Why has every man a conscience then?’ Thoreau went on to ask. Why, indeed. What is it that differentiates a soldier who can plough on through a furrow filled with the blood of innocents and remain loyal to the psychopathic architects of his mission and those who find the courage to delve deep within and salvage their own humanity? And not only this, but in the case of some, like Glenton, face up to the might of the state and be willing to endure imprisonment?

You may well ask any member of Veterans For Peace UK this question, because every one of them has been on this most profound of journeys. And if you were to talk to them about the Blackman case, you would hear what is simply unsayable in the corporate media because it departs from the only narrative we are allowed to absorb: the one which reassures us that our country is a force for good in the world. Yes, we may make ‘errors’ – like killing multitudes of innocent men, women and children –  but our intentions are good. I often wonder how long this bullshit would persist if the public was exposed, for even a single week, to the real consequences of our military’s handiwork. If we could see the faces of the people we are encouraged to think of as a faceless mass; hear them talk, listen to their pain.

When I first watched the stunning 1974 documentary Hearts and Minds, I pondered about the consequences for the warmongers had it been given a prime-time airing on US TV even during the latter stages of the Vietnam War. This clip sums up for me precisely what we are not shown in news reports from Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, and brings the crimes of the corporate media in shielding us from this truth into sharp relief:

So then, let’s listen to the unsayable shall we? Because you’re not going to see it on any corporate news outlet. Below is a discussion held on facebook between Veterans For Peace UK members Daniel Lenham, Joe Glenton, Tim Harvey, Charlie Bird and Mick Atkinson which raises crucial issues we all should be thinking about when considering Blackman’s case. Can you imagine anyone! in the corporate media asking Daniel Lenham’s opening question?:

Daniel: ‘Can anyone tell me the name of the person executed by Marine A? Thought not. When trying to justify acts of barbarism you have to reduce the other to something lesser than human.’

Joe Glenton I don’t think the body was even recovered. The guy is framed as Taliban, without ever having been identified. A dubious assertion given the accepted breakdown of the insurgency. One part Islamist, twenty parts angry young men with rifles.
Charlie Bird It is as we discussed at the annual meeting in November. the concept of substitution; one enemy can be substituted for another. They are faceless, nameless, with no personal history or character. Just one figure in the sights…….We, however, are not substitutable. We have names, faces, personality, family, mothers, fathers, siblings, lovers, children……….
Joe Glenton I think this chimes with Griffin‘s hierarchy of hate. Civvies and other soldiers are hated more than the enemy. Because the ‘enemy’ is, at most times, just a hypothetical figure.
Phillip Clarke  Part of the indoctrination for soldiers is to make the ‘enemy’ nameless, make the ‘enemy’ appear almost non/sub-human. The targets used on ranges are a good example, as is the phrase ‘targets will fall when hot.
Tim Harvey Did it even come out in the CJS?? Blackman was also called Marine A….
Daniel ‘Lenny’ Lenham Whilst Blackman was referred to as Marine A, that offers him an air of legitimacy to his actions. I think that’s the distinction to be drawn here. Thoughts Tim?
Tim Harvey I actually can’t get my head around the whole incident…But whilst serving in Afghan on Herrick 10 (2009) I was surprised when talking/describing the enemy /Taliban location, I was corrected by an officer to refer to them as enemy, insurgents…The latter is an also confusing term..
I was in Afghan, were the high echelons trying to determine that most enemy/Taliban were insurgents or just flipping the coin?
Daniel ‘Lenny’ Lenham The interesting dynamic about any of the current conflicts is that it’s far more layered and complicated than a binary definition of warfare. The actors aren’t simply defined as ‘Us’ and ‘Them’. There’s many involved parties, all with their own agendas and not necessarily associated with one of only two perceived players. Syria is a good example of this right now and the same was and can be said about Iraq and Afghanistan.
Joe Glenton  David Killcullen, who is far from a lefty, and many other COIN (counter-insurgency strategy – editor) bods seem to think that most of the people we fought in Afghanistan were not ideological Taliban. They were military age men with weapons resisting occupation for a range of reasons. Kilcullen argues they could be understood as as antibodies responding to a foreign object. Like if a load of Afghans turned up in Brixton and started kicking doors in, the locals would shoot back.
Tim Harvey Making us the insurgents… 
Mick Atkinson That is a very good point Daniel ‘Lenny’ Lenham. The other guy is always anonymous, but evil all the same in our militaristic culture.
Joe Glenton Blackman’s lawyer knows his audience. His summing up was a case study in reactionary fantasy:…/marine-a-alexander…
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 Daniel ‘Lenny’ Lenham Was he referring to UK Imperialism and hegemony when using the term ‘dark forces’?
Joe Glenton From this you would think the Taliban (if the victim was Taliban in the sense we understand it) were some kind of expansionist imperial force, rather than a pretty strictly Pashtun movement with local interests.
Joe Glenton  I think he was playing on deep, racial Orientalist tropes to make his case. It seemed to me he was communicating with Blackman’s supporters as much as the judges. I just re-read The Man Who Would Be King. He smacks a little of Kipling in that quote.
Daniel ‘Lenny’ Lenham That’s exactly how I read it. Like a nationalistic war cry of sorts. It just reinforces this ridiculous notion that the groups in question pose a significant and all encompassing existential threat to the UK. It’s ludicrous.
Joe Glenton Exactly. And it bungs the Taliban in with all kinds of transnational groups for no good reason. Taliban care about Afghanistan. ISIS etc are a different kettle of twats. 
Alison Banville is co-editor of BSNews

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