Abergavenny Left

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Richard Hunt was not just a statistic


John Sidwell recalls a well intentioned and honest young man

On Saturday August 15, my good friend Richard Hunt became the 200th British casualty since the initial invasion and subsequent occupation of Afghanistan. Inevitably a shock to all his friends and family, his death brought home to me the fragility of thousands of working class lives in the shape of troops sent to fight the latest imperialist war – always in the name of both the ‘national interest’ and ‘bringing democracy’ to whatever people are suffering under occupation. His death was all the more tragic in that it came in only his second week in Afghanistan (his first outing from base camp), when he was just a week short of his 22nd birthday.

Richard was a well intentioned and honest young man. Although I did not share his passion for all things rugby, we got along very well and spent many an hour in the pub discussing the question of the war and the validity of British involvement. Whilst he was committed to whatever function his position as a private in the British army would entail for him, he was always clear that his main allegiance on the battlefield was to his fellow soldiers, and not to some grand political agenda. But that is fine by the top brass – however it is achieved, the unquestioning carrying out of orders is the aim. The more far-fetched and unjustifiable the apparent reasons for such conflicts are, the more vital this becomes, and Richard told me this was the attitude prevalent amongst the majority of lower-ranking troops he came into contact with.

Because Richard’s death was the 200th in Afghanistan it received more than the usual publicity – I doubt whether The Guardian would have felt it necessary to feature it on its front page had it been the 201st. But the Stop the War Coalition was correct to call for it to be marked with demonstrations and pickets. It is our duty to stop the slaughter – of both innocent Afghans and the occupying troops.

The fact that I felt this as a personal loss emphasised for me how grotesquely misplaced it would be for anti-imperialists, anti-war campaigners and working class partisans to express satisfaction at, still less celebrate, the death of British troops. We are for the defeat of the British state’s imperialist operations in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and defend the right of the Afghan people to fight back using any means at their disposal, but that does not mean we relish the deaths that result. Rather we fight for the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all occupying troops.

We have to recognise that the military rank and file are overwhelmingly working class. Forced or encouraged into the armed forces for a variety of reasons – often the lack of any viable alternative – they are persuaded to carry out the agenda of an enemy class by the prospect of a ‘decent’ wage, training or perhaps escape from a dead-end life of unemployment and alienation. They are denied even the most basic right to speak out or exercise the slightest control over their working environment.

The case of Joe Glenton – court-marshalled for desertion after refusing to be sent to Afghanistan – is clear evidence of a level of discontent within the armed forces. While we would criticise the terms of his condemnation of Britain’s role in Afghanistan – such wars must be opposed whether or not they are technically “illegal” – his rebellion is to be welcomed and could easily be replicated and generalised if the left took agitation amongst troops more seriously. Labelling all British troops as imperialist butchers is hardly going to help in such a task.

It is understandable that Richard’s family have called for any donations in his name to be given to the Help for Heroes organisation. But it is an utter indictment of the British state that those injured in a conflict supposedly waged in ‘our’ interest are dependent on Rupert Murdoch-backed charity handouts to provide them with the most basic of needs.

As communists it is vital we seek to build a mass anti-war movement equipped with both the political and practical means to challenge the state. Both in order to apply as much pressure as possible on the government for the immediate withdrawal of troops from the Gulf region, and to make its pursuit of further imperialist projects increasingly impossible. That is the way to defeat imperialism.

While Richard never came to agree with all my criticisms of the British state’s role in the ‘war on terror’, our discussions on the issue were certainly worthwhile and, I would hope, informative for both parties – they certainly were for me. Although my time with Richard was too short – it was certainly far too short for me to be able to persuade him to take a different course – the memory of him will be with me forever. He was warm and friendly and always up for a laugh. His needless death, whilst deeply personal for me, was another wasted life in a barbarous conflict

August 30, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment