A somewhat primitive experiment in mixing down a read poem and a musical soundtrack. The poem records early childhood memories of going to bed at my grandmother’s cottage amongst the apple orchards on Hockenden Lane, Swanley, Kent. The music is from Boy 1904 by Jónsi and Alex.
I’ve had an item from the BBC website rattling around my Potential Post Material folder for four years now. It’s a feature by Lucy Rodgers under the header ‘What attracts people to army life?’ I had intended to write a piece around it as the British presence in Iraq drew to a close. Since I started blogging at the outset of the Iraq invasion and the swift flow of events in and around the conflict inspired a substantial part of the material that I posted in those early days, it seemed fitting to mark the passing of direct British military involvement with some kind of commentary. But the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq and the transference of the theatre of operations to Afghanistan shifted the focus of the content and it remained undeveloped.
Now with the military and civilian death toll in that fractured nation still climbing steadily and operations in Libya slithering ever closer to the limits of the United Nations brief, the question seems even more pressing now than it did in 2007.
What attracts people to army life?
Excitement. Travel. Opportunity. This is what the British army says it can offer new recruits joining its ranks in the 21st Century.
However, those signing up in the post-9/11 world also have to consider the reality of possible deployments to the ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the dangers they involve.
179 UK service personnel lost their lives in Iraq [with 369 having fallen in Afghanistan to date.]
So what is it that attracts young men and women to a life in uniform in 2007? And does the chance of deployment to conflict zones put them off?
According to Staff Sergeant Helen McChlery, The Army gives them the chance to experience and gain skills all over the globe, and they have the opportunity to get qualifications through the Army.
Lucy Rodgers’ report continues: The Army is keen to emphasise that life in the armed forces is not just about combat. Its latest campaign details opportunities from vet to army chef - just two of the 140 different trades and 1,000 jobs.
A series of films about servicemen and women in different roles, taking part in cliffhanger scenarios, are being shown on television and a new recruitment website will assess applicants' personalities to help assign them to suitable positions.
But with conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan rarely out of the news, it is little surprise that the one question often asked by potential soldiers is: "Will I have to go into battle?"
Staff Sgt McChlery says many recruits pose the question and that the risk involved in being in the Army is explained at the start of the process.
"We explain that every soldier is trained to the highest level to deal with these situations and they would not be deployed until they are 18 anyway."
So as they sign on the dotted line and take the Queen’s Shilling prior to learning how to artificially inseminate a cow or cater for 500 hungry soldiers, they must draw comfort from the assurance that training to the highest level will protect them against rocket propelled grenades and mortar attacks, mines and car bombs, all launched by zealots concealed within and protected by their native communities.
And presumably they must experience a sense of relief that, for as long as they are able to remain below the age of 18, they will not be called upon to fire into an unarmed crowd or sack a house containing only nursing mothers, babies, children & the infirm elderly.
Lucy Rodger’s report indicates that during 2005/6 the number of personnel leaving the armed forces was pushing 2,000 more than those recruited during that period. Latest figures indicate that in excess of a further 2,000 quit the Army this year during the months of April and May alone!
Is it possible that at last, after 10 year’s exposure to the realities of the soldier’s lot in contemporary wars of attrition, those seeking skills training with a salary attached are beginning to see that there is a price to be paid for that training and that security?
The United Kingdom has been conscription-free for 50 years. To serve in the armed forces, the individual must make an autonomous personal commitment to a set term within the armed force of his or her choice.
And the individual must be entirely clear about the implications of the two words ‘armed’ and ‘force’. The clue is in those two words: the ultimate purpose of the armed forces is to use arms to force the enemy – whomsoever they are determined to be by the government of the day – into submission.
And since the armed forces of the enemy are also constituted in exactly the same way, it is reasonable to suppose that the requirement will be to kill them in large numbers.
And also it seems reasonable to suppose that while this process is being rigorously advanced, the enemy will be pursuing it too and with equal rigour. (More so, arguably, if you, the soldier, happen to be in their country and they know that God is on their side and hates you). So simple an equation: if you join the army there is a reasonable chance that you will end up either killing somebody or being killed by them.
Nothing can diminish the tragedy of a soldier killed in action. Most are very young; many are very brave. His or her brothers or sisters in arms lose a trusted friend and are made acutely aware of their own fragile mortality. Family and friends at home have their daily and nightly sense of dread confirmed absolutely. And now they must ask themselves constantly what purpose was served by the death and whether they might have done more to keep him or her out of uniform and here at home beside them on the sofa watching the news.
But that individual made a choice in the face of clear and graphic evidence of its ramifications. In a world saturated by media coverage of, and commentary on the British military presence in, first, Iraq and now Afghanistan, the man or woman (or boy or girl) who joins one of the armed forces must recognise the full implications of their act. In joining the armed forces you collude with your own fate.
In spite of plans laid 10 years ago, world domination is still outside my grasp. 12-hour stats have fallen steadily during the past week from 47 to 15 (with a number of these being search hits).
Then I reflect:
I've just got through a year's worth of post cancer op blood tests clean and green. The early morning sun is shining over the fields. An old friend is coming to visit today. Nothing is certain and we only have now. Out of the chair and through the door...