Ex-soldier Joe Glenton welcomes that Jeremy Corbyn does not cash in on soldiers, sailors and airmen. Reprinted from April 2017
Joe Glenton was court-martialed and jailed in 2010 for refusing to fight in the Afghanistan war he had come to see as unjustified and immoral. His acclaimed book Soldier Box describes the reasons for his decision.While his opponents attack the Labour leader on many fronts, it is on two that they feel their hand is strongest.
One method is to weaponise identity politics – race, gender, sexuality – and try to cast him as a bigot of sorts. These attacks are not hard to debunk, given Corbyn’s record and the fact that they are most often carried out via comment pieces dripping with mock outrage and written by Blairites or their natural allies – Conservatives and Liberals.
The other front, through, which Corbyn (and by Corbyn I mean both the man and the membership) is attacked, is on security, defence and foreign policy issues.
We should be clear, that coming from Blairites and Tories, these attacks are not being made from a position of authority, especially given these two closely aligned groups have gifted the world the failed wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and dubious interventions in Libya and Syria respectively.
Yet these attacks do have bite, not least when laced with the brand of ‘our brave boys’ jingoism which has become so popular these days as a cover for deflecting criticism and colouring the news.
The problem with all of this is that in power, Corbyn would be a better friend to the Armed Forces community than anyone else in Labour, or indeed, in parliament.
He would also better serve their interests than most senior military figures – none of whom, to my recollection, criticised the wars until they had a book to sell.
I’ll take one issue here in the form of veterans’ military mental health and tell you a few of the reasons he is a better bet than anyone else in parliamentary politics when it comes to Britain’s former soldiers, sailors and airmen.
He doesn’t separate the PTSD epidemic from civilian mental health
Another veteran and myself questioned Corbyn on veterans’ mental health at a small meeting held by Unite the Union in August 2016.
Both of us have PTSD as a result of service; thousands of other do as well. Both of us feel iffy about the web of gravy train military charities which many working class ex-servicemen are forced to rely on alongside a struggling NHS.
In response, Corbyn recognised that there is a mental health epidemic in society and set out his plan to deal with it. It is particularly notable that he did not appear to separate military from civilian mental health.
His answer, it appears, is proper publicly-funded treatment for all those in need. Those who are serving in the military get this as part and parcel of being in the military – though there are a lot of improvements to be made to in-service medical care.
Veterans, as I said, rely on charities and the NHS. But it is my firm view that the charities exist, in part, because the NHS has been pared back to a privatised skeleton of what it should be.
One cannot help but think a properly funded NHS would eliminate the need for the over 300, often highly political, military charities in Britain today.
Which major figure in progressive mainstream politics is most stalwartly and meaningfully defending the NHS with a view to reinvigorating it? I can tell you that their name is not Theresa May.
Corbyn doesn’t hero-worship the armed forces
Corbyn is not in love with the military. He does not appear to buy into the trend of gushing over soldiers as heroes whenever he is in front a camera as so many parliamentarians seem to enjoy doing.
Likewise, he does not precede every comment he makes on a military issue discussed in parliament with a giddy spiel about how grateful we must all be for our ‘brave servicemen’ for blowing up pick-up trucks in Syria on our behalf.
Why is this good?
Well, apart from how distasteful and outdated this kind of creaking nationalism is, the hyper-masculine lionisation of soldiers is bad for their mental health because it puts them on a pedestal.
The ‘hero thing’ dehumanises veterans and obscures the fact that they can face serious mental health issues because of trauma and distress as a result of their service.
Dealing with PTSD, adjustment disorder or depression brought on by military service should require – as all illness ought to – a grown up approach to treatment, care and transition and at no point should it include a cynical politicisation – of ‘hero-isation’, if you like – of psychologically-damaged military veterans.
Corbyn does not cash in on soldiers by trying to sound nationalistic or patriotically appreciative. I, for one, appreciate that fact.
He has taken responsibility for Labour’s role in Iraq
Corbyn has taken responsibility for Labour’s key role in the ethical black hole that was the Iraq occupation and in doing so took responsibility for the damage done to all participants.
This, for many veterans of that war whom I have spoken to, means something. In the military you are told to take responsibility for your comrades; to be responsible for your actions; to be honest and frank. In practice this is mostly just wind, but the sentiments are powerful.
Corbyn is the first major political figure to put his hand up and say that the war should not have happened: a view which is as widely held among Iraq veterans as among civilians.
The architects and major backers of the war have mostly since sloped off into the shadows or are fighting a deluded defence of the 2003 invasion based on their suddenly discovered love of the Kurds or opposition to dictatorship or similar.
He is extremely cautious about thrusting troops into armed conflict
What is mistaken for or slurred as a ‘pacifism’ from Corbyn is actually an understandable caution about the idea of going to war. It should be a prerequisite for anyone wielding executive power because, believe me, war is a very messy business.
This is a trait effectively unheard of in Blairite circles where, with the possible exception of Dan Jarvis, there exists in buckets that kind of war horny blood lust for armed conflict reserved for those who will never, have never, been a part of it.
Corbyn’s attitude is precisely what it should be when considering armed conflict: gravely serious and rational.
His views on defence, on which I also briefly questioned him at that recent meeting, appear to reflect a lifelong view that the exercise of violent military force should be a last resort. It is a view shared by many ex-servicemen and women.
Much can be said to recommend a Corbyn defence policy and indeed much will be said when his shadow defence secretary, Clive Lewis – the first man in the role to have worn uniform since Nicholas Soames in the 2000s by my calculations – completes his defence review.
But what we can say right now is that keeping unnecessary foreign wars like the one I served in in Afghanistan to a sensible minimum is a good way to safeguard soldiers’ bodies and minds.
The right-wing of Labour are the quintessential long-range patriots, willing to spill other people’s sons’ blood for US foreign policy goals while they clap at the back. Until such time as they get a handle on this issue, they can’t be allowed to have responsible positions of power…such as control of the military.
Think of them as the clumsy cousin who has to drink from a beaker instead of a glass.
Jeremy Corbyn apologises on behalf of the Labour party for the Iraq War
In 2016, Jeremy Corbyn took the unprecedented decision to apologise for his party, under the leadership of Tony Blair, taking Britain into the illegal and unjustifed war in Iraq. In this video, he explains why this apology is owed to the people of Iraq, the families of those soldiers who died or returned home injured or incapacitated, and British citizens who feel their democracy was traduced and undermined.