Death Is No Man’s Pawn

18 01 2008

Regular readers will know I’m a big fan of Andy over at Political Friends. Few political blogs can avoid heated arguments but Andy manages to keep a lid on things, cultivating an excellent discussion (which I always try to be a part of but often find I can’t follow-up on). Not only that but his posts have a way of cutting through the nonsense that the media often throws our way to push their own agenda.

One area in particular where we’ve always found we agree is support for our fighting men and women (and by “our” I mean both US and British troops, because we fight side by side, as one, against the forces of evil that seek to threaten our way of life). We’ve both been vocal in saying we think people ought to be thankful for their sacrifices.

Andrew Olmsted is a soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice, and it was Andy who brought his story to my attention. I’ll leave you take a few moments to read that and digest it because I have no desire to paraphrase his words. Not only are they the words of a man now dead but they need no editorial from me, nor will they get one.

However one of the things Andrew’s post raises is the increasing politicisation of the deaths of our soldiers. Some may argue that what I’m about to say is going against his dying wishes but I’d like to make it clear that this is nothing of the sort. For quite a while now I’ve felt that both sides of the argument have used our soldiers as pawns in their own partisan arguments and Andrew’s post just brought all those feelings to the surface. I’m not seeking to politicise his death, I’m using his words as inspiration.

When someone dies people often say things like “that’s what he would’ve wanted.” For my own part I’ve always felt that such platitudes, as well as being cliched, rest on incredibly fragile foundations. Who’s to say what someone now departed would have wanted? They’re not here to tell us. Assuming anything based on how they lived their life or things they said is a fool’s errand. What makes it worse is that often these words come from outsiders and are intended to soothe the family and close friends, the very people who might be able to claim that something is “what he would’ve wanted.”

In the most part these words, though, are well-meaning, there’s no hidden motive or agenda at play, it’s simply our way of trying to make those left behind feel a little better. In that respect it’s hardly a cardinal sin and, it could even be argued, it’s actually a positive thing to say. What harm is there if it actually works and makes them feel better? The same cannot be said of the situation where the death of those fighting for their country is used by politicians to further their own agenda.

Not only are these people callously taking advantage of someone’s death for selfish purposes (a political career) but they’re so far removed from the soldiers. How can they claim to know what they would have wanted? They have no clue, yet there they always are, preaching on whatever media outlet will give them a platform, saying how this terrible tragedy shows we must clearly stop fighting/carry on.

The one exception to this for me has been when soldiers who fought alongside the dead soldier, especially those who were friends as well as comrades, speak about “what he would’ve wanted”. They of all people, even more so than the deceased’s family perhaps, would be most likely to know. Not only were they up close and personal but they actually saw the how the deceased behaved under the pressure of conflict, where all those nice “theoreticals” are destroyed by harsh reality.

For example, that post by Andrew talks about the steep price of war, something that I suspect only really hits home when you see it up close. I wouldn’t be surprised if soldiers who supported the war going in changed their mind when seeing the horrors they’ve seen out there. Likewise (and in the interests of balance) I wouldn’t be surprised if soldiers who went in sceptical of the war have changed their mind when seeing children rush out to greet them, grateful for their new-found freedom.

War has its good, and has its bad, and only those who have been there can truly say if it was “worth” it. Ironically these are often the people who rarely speak on behalf of their fallen comrades out of respect. Instead of talking about “what he would’ve wanted” many talk about trying to ensure that their death wasn’t in vain. That could either mean staying in Iraq and seeing it through or it could mean pulling out before more men have to die. Whereas “it’s what he would’ve wanted” assumes something, ensuring their deaths aren’t in vain doesn’t. It lets you draw your own conclusion.

What do you think? I urge you to read Andrew’s words and share your thoughts.


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