Joining up.....the dots
One of the ironies of the peace process in Northern Ireland is that it has made recruiting easier and more open for the British Army. Thus the young people of wherever – north, south, east, or west, armies don’t usually mind who joins them as cannon fodder – can be inveigled into killing people abroad instead of at home. Is that progress? In a twisted kind of way, a bit, in another way no, because of the difficulty of persuading people that joining the British Army is Not A Good Idea whereas persuading them killing people At Home is a bad idea is not quite so difficult. Like schools on open days, the army in question puts on a show but, even more so than with schools, it is what they don’t tell you that matters most.
What are the issues? A lot. The leaflet we use to give potential recruits puts some of the points. Firstly it is more likely to be a life of dull routine than excitement – and if you do get excitement it may not be quite the kind you want. Your life will not be your own; following orders is obligatory rather than optional. You can be sent to fight in illegal, immoral wars like Iraq and Afghanistan which have made the world a more dangerous place. You and your family can be uprooted and it may be difficult to put down real roots and that may lead to problems for you or your family. You may have a major adjustment to make when leaving – institutionalisation is a real danger and it is surely no accident that a disproportionate number of the UK’s homeless are former members of the armed forces.
At a recent army recruitment fair in Holywood, Co Down a couple of INNATE activists again went leafleting potential recruits with just some of these points. Situated right as cars drove in to a park and ride facility opened specially for the army fair, there was an opportunity to give people leaflets but not really to engage in conversation. Part of the point is simply saying – Look, this is contentious, some people don’t think joining the British Army is a good idea – because some may never have even considered that. If even one young person thought more seriously about joining, or was more aware of what they were getting into (and how they could get out if they changed their minds) then it was well worth it. Unfortunately with unemployment, and especially youth unemployment as it is (c. 20% youth unemployment in the UK at the moment) those opposed to recruitment have a tough job. But we owe it to the young people to make them aware of what they could be getting into. If you’d like to join in with INNATE the next time we’re doing this, you know where we are.
Oh, and the UK is one of around 20 countries who recruit child soldiers – the British Army takes people at 16 and international law defines child soldiers as anyone under 18. Army cadet forces meanwhile work away in Northern Ireland, some in Protestant schools, as a means to work on young people to join up (that is the whole point of Combined Cadet Forces who typically have activities on Saturdays). Some people may look askance at photos of young boys dressed in paramilitary uniforms posing with military trappings in Northern Ireland, and we do too. Far more organised is the insidious British cadet force system which does exactly the same job, persuading young people that violence is the way to go and they should join the British Army. A bit of perspective is necessary and a bit of joining up – the dots and not the army! This force is responsible for far more deaths than the paramilitaries in Northern Ireland have or could ever manage.
Up the Shankill
As you know, I occasionally share something from what I have been reading. Well, I’m currently most of the way through Tony Macaulay’s “Paperboy” (Merlin Publications) though I just bought it a couple of days ago, a memoir of being a paper delivery boy on the Shankill Road in Belfast in the 1970s. It is atmospheric, lightly written and very readable, and brilliantly funny – referring to himself as the only ‘pacifist paperboy’ on the Shankill is evocative of an awareness of seeing things differently even if the uncertainty of adolescence is the prevailing factor, often told with self-deprecating humour. For the humour, take this description of the activities in his week;
“Every week followed a well-trodden path too, like an experienced paperboy doing his rounds. School started again every Monday, Scouts was on Wednesday, Top of the Pops was on Thursdays, the Europa Hotel got blown up on Fridays.....” While he does have to tough it out with the toughs, it is much more about everyday life, admittedly around the height of the Troubles, and good at it.
Curse – and effect
I don’t know and I probably never will. My speculation may be way off. A short news item on the Guardian website caught my attention: A 12 year old boy in Colorado, USA, had shot his parents and critically injured some of his siblings by knifing. “Locals say the family appeared outwardly to be normal.” So why did it happen? I hesitate to suggest the answer might have been in the news item, and though a thousand kids might be unaffected, maybe the thousandth or ten thousandth would be; ‘The boy's uncle said the tragedy was beyond understanding. "It's a mystery to me. I don't know if anyone can explain it at this point and maybe never will be able to explain it” .He told reporters in Denver that he had not noticed anything untoward about his nephew. "He's a typical kid, probably liked to play video games, that kind of thing........” ‘ So what kind of video games was he playing? Shoot ‘em ups? If so then perhaps that might be part of a clue as to what went wrong – that and having guns and knives about the place. But then the right to bear arms and shoot people is enshrined in the US Constitution, right? And the US and Chinese, among a dwindling band of others, still believe in the death penalty, killing people to prove that killing people in wrong. Oh, and killing people abroad, well that doesn’t even count.
Plus ça change....
Good to see the Council for Justice and Peace of the Catholic Church in Ireland issuing an International Women’s Day statement on sexual violence against women in war internationally (see news item this issue). The Council for Justice and Peace took up from where the Irish Commission for Justice and Social Affairs (ICJSA) left off and some time before that (with a gap) the Irish Commission for Justice and Peace (ICJP). Only bishops were members of the ICJSA (a commission) but there was an advisory group most of whom are now members of the Council for Justice and Peace; the Council has 4 episcopal members and 16 others from a range of different backgrounds: priests, members of religious orders, academics and others working in the area of social justice, including a number of women. Bishop Raymond field is chair and the vice-chair is Dr. Ethna Regan CHF (Holy Faith Sisters) who was a key contributor to the statement for International Women’s Day. Info on CJP is available at http://www.catholicbishops.ie/2008/09/11/icjsa/
But what made me think was the link, 1314 years later, yes, 1314 years later, to the Synod of Birr in 697 AD/CE which led to Cain Adomnán, Adomnan’s Law, ’The Law of the Innocents’, offering protection in war to non-combatants, to women, children and clerics. Adomnan, who was Irish but abbot of Iona, had a concern for this issue dating back to when he was young and with his mother, and saw the slaughter in war. His mother, Ronnat, made him promise that he would do something about this – and he did.
The best source of information on the Law of the Innocents is “Adomnán at Birr, AD 697 – Essays in commemoration of the Law of the Innocents” which came out of the 1300th anniversary celebrations in Birr. It is edited by Thomas O’Loughlin, Four Courts Press, 2001. ISBN 1-85182-538-X. Incidentally, INNATE has a piece of street theatre available on request linking violence in Adomnan’s day with violence today, easily adapted to different situations. 1300 years later, after arguably the first law or convention on the topic, there is still a struggle on the issue.
- - -
Well, that’s me until May, I’m now seeing what the cold weather has killed off in the garden, a number of things either dead or severely knocked back. But since January the weather has, on the whole, been pretty reasonable and we can once more look forward to a tropical summer (that people will enjoy in Spain but not here). Will summer be a rainy season again? If we just got that Atlantic ‘blocking high’ for a few weeks in the summer......we can dream can’t we. Anyway, spring is well sprung and it’s great to feel it. See you soon, Billy.
is Billy King? A long, long time ago, in a more
innocent age (just talking about myself you understand),
there were magazines called 'Dawn' and 'Dawn Train'
and I had a back page column in these. Now the Headitor
has asked me to come out from under the carpet to write
a Cyberspace Column 'something people won't be able
to put down' (I hope you're not carrying your monitor
around with you).
Watch this. Cast a cold eye on life, on death, horseman
pass by (because there'll almost certainly be very little
about horses even if someone with a similar name is
found astride them on gable ends around certain parts
of Norn Iron).