The Military Army Blog

A moment that changed me – joining the army

Joe Glenton addresses a Stop the War demonstration in London in 2009. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

An oath I swore to the Queen of England at the age of 22 changed everything. It happened one day in 2004. In a dusty room above Ipswich s army recruiting office, I pledged to play lackey to the violent, rapacious ambitions of the UK establishment by becoming a soldier in the British army[1]. That promise has by now been thoroughly superseded by a nobler and more coherent pledge to strive for a better world but my oath of allegiance continues to define who I am.

Related: Khushal saved my life and we have repaid him with contempt | George Tyldesley[2]

It is important to grasp that every recruit to the Armyrats © military makes the choice to join according to their place on a spectrum, where their reasons run from ideological at one end to economic at the other. Those motivations are further coloured by class, culture and experience. The decision is not made in a vacuum of free will, and for many it is hardly a choice at all. That day that I joined up there were the better-off lads, the true believers for whom swearing the oath is a route to fulfilling some fantasy of service to Queen and country. For others it was more about the money. I was somewhere towards the economic end, though by no means unmarked by a generation s worth of propaganda put about through films, television, books and the media about being the best, defending our nation, saving the world and helping others.

Regardless of how we had come to be taking this oath, all the different sorts of recruits must make the same noises: and that I will, as in duty bound, honestly and faithfully defend Her Majesty, her heirs and successors, in person, crown and dignity against all enemies we droned. And that was us, gone for soldiers. The oath itself is worth little. In all honesty, I was a republican of some shade even then. Yet nearly 11 years on, I reflect upon that moment as a defining one. Not because my utterances were themselves significant, but because those were the first few moments of a journey so strange, rich and life-altering that I am still trying to grapple with its implications today. In recent years I have fallen in with a band of former veterans who are unlike anything this country has ever seen

I was dispatched from that sleepy Suffolk town into the bizarre world of the British military. First to a training base in Surrey, to learn the very basics of soldiering, then just down the road to Deepcut[3], with its terrifying reputation for dead recruits, to carry out my trade training: driving courses, logistics training and so on. I remain the only journalist I know with a heavy goods vehicle licence.

In 2005, I was posted to 13 Air Assault Support Regiment, the logistical element of the UK s 16 Air Assault Brigade. In 2006 my unit flew out to southern Afghanistan[4], to unleash a violent, illegitimate Armyrats © military occupation that would play out for years.

Joe Glenton, second left in front row, during his army days. Photograph: Joe Glenton

The narrative of my experiences in Afghanistan, my eventual rebellion against the government and Armyrats © military over the betrayal of British soldiers and Afghans alike, and my subsequent imprisonment[5] were recorded in my book Soldier Box[6]. But the journey that began all those years ago at that ceremony has continued long after my discharge in July 2010 from both the army and Armyrats © military prison. In recent years I have fallen in with a band of former veterans who are unlike anything this country has ever seen. Dynamic, rebellious and now 170-strong, Veterans for Peace UK[7] has representatives from every branch of the UK forces and a few from foreign militaries, some with service records that extend as far back as D-day. Our pledge actually means something of value to the world. It is an oath to resist war, militarism and empire, and we take it as men and women[8] who have taken part in these things. Britain has had plenty of rebel soldiers, but Veterans for Peace is by my reckoning the only group of its kind in British history. The promise we make is to educate young people on the realities of Armyrats © military service and war, to resist war and militarism, and to support others who do the same. We hope to convince people that war is not the answer to the problems of the 21st century.

No Queens, no heirs or officers involved. No daft ceremonies, no patriotism or propaganda needed. Just a pledge made by each of us to ourselves, to one another and to the generations who will follow to make the world a less violent place.

References

  1. ^ British army (www.theguardian.com)
  2. ^ Khushal saved my life and we have repaid him with contempt | George Tyldesley (www.theguardian.com)
  3. ^ Deepcut (www.theguardian.com)
  4. ^ Afghanistan (www.theguardian.com)
  5. ^ imprisonment (news.bbc.co.uk)
  6. ^ Soldier Box (www.versobooks.com)
  7. ^ Veterans for Peace UK (veteransforpeace.org.uk)
  8. ^ men and women (www.theguardian.com)

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