Friday, 5 July 2013

Book review: Soldier box - Joe Glenton

Joe Glenton 
(Verso Books, £12.99)
Big Issue in the North article by Mark Metcalf 
Accused of desertion, and threatened with years in prison, Joe Glenton refused to remain silent on the reality of the war on terror. In his new book he explains why he became disillusioned during active service in Afghanistan.
Why did you write this book?
I think there was a story to be told that could counter the vast amount of hero-worshipping Boys Own literature that is written by the likes of Chris Ryan and Andy McNab. There are too many books called things like Apache Pilot and Sniper, which are very jingoistic.
Why did you join the army?
The usual two reasons: economics – the need for a regular job – and cultural. British people have very specific ideas of what the military is all about and how it conducts itself. Those things are ingrained in us. British identity is one that is connected with war and it is an imperial identity, so when we think about troops we think of plucky Tommy Atkins, and that’s part of the appeal.
What did you believe you were being sent to achieve?
We were never really given a solid line from above and so we drew ideas from the media that we would help the Afghans build schools and infrastructure, provide security, take on the Taliban and build peace. All good, wholesome things.
What made you turn against the war in Afghanistan?
The reality there. I remain quite keen to go to places like Iraq and Afghanistan and help improve such places, but in contact with reality I came to the conclusion that that is not why we are there. There was no specific moment when I turned against the war and I held my views privately but over the course of seven months my views changed. They crystallised when I arrived home. I didn’t feel we were helping.
When you were sent to prison for going AWOL did you get much support?
Lots. I had the respect of most of the guys in prison as well as most of the rank and file from my regiment. Some of the screws were also helpful. I had many supportive letters, peaking at around 200 a day, and every few weeks there was a demonstration outside which disrupted the regime, which was nice.
Why do you describe those in prison with you as “vulnerable young lads”?
Many guys were 18-20-year-olds back from tour. They came back traumatised by their experiences and it had not been recognised by the army. They quickly exploded on drink, drugs and domestic violence or by going absent without leave. Because a lot of regiments are regional you could work out which batch of soldiers would arrive next.

Surely if we root out the bad soldiers then Britain’s military can help make the world a better place? Whenever you send men to war they will be brutalised and they will be brutal. That is what soldiers do, they kill people. If they don’t they are helping others to kill people. War makes people do excessively bad things. You could root out bad apples in a different way by getting rid of the bad apples who send the soldiers to war – sort of flip it on its head.

October 2010 article with Joe Glenton 
Wikileaks founder is ‘hero’ says ex-soldier
Joe Glenton, the soldier drummed out of the army for refusing to return to Afghanistan, has praised WikiLeaks for releasing thousands of US files revealing the truth behind the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Part of the new intake of students at Leeds Met University, where he is studying global development and peace studies, Glenton nevertheless believes the alleged military, government and corporate misconduct revealed will not be enough to prevent coalition forces being deployed in Iran.
Glenton joined up in 2004 after seeing the army’s adverts about its peacekeeping role. When he was posted to Helmand province he hoped to help build up the country’s infrastructure. He returned home disappointed, having seen “very little being spent on economic development”.
Yet plenty was being spent on prosecuting the war, according to Glenton, an ammunition man. “Weapons were being doled out indiscriminately, such that at one point we ran out of shells because so many had been used,” he said.
Desertion charge
Despite his misgivings Glenton may have stayed in the army. But five months after returning home, and having had treatment requests for post-traumatic stress disorder ignored, he went absent without leave when he found the rule under which there should be a gap of 18 months between tours was to be flouted.
On his return two years later he was charged with desertion, which can carry a ten-year prison sentence. With the support of his wife Clare and his mother Sue he decided to speak out, and regular platform appearances at Stop the War events followed.
Pleading guilty to a lesser charge of going absent without leave, he was sentenced to nine months. On his release from Colchester Prison, where he spent much of his time “trying to reply to the hundreds of support letters I got every day”, Glenton left behind the army to study for a degree.
Moral war ‘lost’
“It’s a very different way of life,” he said. “But I am enjoying it and I’d like to think that I bring something different to the debates that take place on the course. I am not the only ex- military person and there are also students intending to go into the military afterwards, which is fine as I am not anti-military, simply anti- establishment.”
Glenton dismisses arguments that WikiLeaks has placed those still serving in additional danger. “They’re in danger by being there unnecessarily, supporting foreign policy objectives that are flawed,” he said. “America and Britain had lost the moral war even before the conflict started in 2001.
Redeeming acts
“It isn’t about liberation, the aim being to exploit the oil resources in former Soviet Bloc countries such as Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan by using Afghanistan to transport it through. Also, by being in both Iraq and Afghanistan it means that in military terms Iran is ‘bracketed’ – surrounded on both sides and vulnerable to attack. I fear it’s only a matter of when, not if this will happen.” Glenton is sympathetic to the plight of another imprisoned soldier, US private Bradley Manning, who is facing a sentence of up to 52 years for allegedly leaking military documents. The 33 year old also faces accusations of passing on a video showing US forces shooting civilians, including two Reuters news agency employees, from a helicopter in Iraq three years ago.
“We must help him,” said Glenton. “I regard Manning and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as heroes as what they’ve done is one of the redeeming acts of the reign of terror, the truth of which has been hidden by the mainstream media that generally toes the government line.”

Piece from July 2010 
Sue Glenton’s son Joe is in a military prison for refusing to serve a second time in Afghanistan. The Yorkshire woman tells Mark Metcalf why she’s proud of his stance and how they’ve been buoyed by local support
Her son might be serving a nine-month prison sentence but York’s Sue Glenton has no difficulty backing the actions that put him there. Especially when she can hoist aloft bags containing the 400 supportive letters a week Joe Glenton is receiving from members of the public following his refusal to serve once more in Afghanistan. And certainly not when the 27 year old has just been informed he can start a degree in global development and peace studies at Leeds Met University when he is militarily discharged in September.

“I am proud of my son,” she says. “It takes a different kind of bravery to stand up and speak out against the establishment rather than go to war. He is currently locked up in a military corrective training centre and seems to be coping quite well alongside younger soldiers he’s helping out with letter writing. He’s not in a position to reply to the thousands of letters he’s received but I know he would like to thank everyone for their wonderful support.”
For the last three years Sue has worked as a personal adviser in an insurance company. This marks a significant change in direction for a mother who lost her eldest son, James, to septicaemia last year, as for the previous five years she worked at the Refugee Council and similar organisations in Ipswich. It was there that she met a number of refugees from Afghanistan. Although they rarely wanted to catalogue their experiences she did overhear enough to understand their plight.
“You know from being involved with refugees that no one leaves their home and families to travel thousands of miles to get £37 a week, if they’re lucky, in benefits in an alien land. Refugees are desperate people who are often fleeing torture or even death and you quickly realise the places they are escaping from are not nice places. So I was glad to help those Afghanis who had escaped to Britain.”
Her son too was also happy in 2006 to be getting what he felt was his own chance to help Afghan nationals when he was posted to the country as part of the 9,000 strong British force stationed there in support of the 2001 US-led invasion.
“Although Joe had talked about joining the army for a number of years what tipped the scales were what proved to be false promises, during his discussions with Army careers officers, that he would be engaged in peace-keeping duties. He joined in 2004 and was sent to Helmand province two years later.”
For the next few months Sue froze every time she heard the word Afghanistan on the television but was partly reassured by regular calls from her son, in which he made light of being regularly mortared.
Yet when he returned home following his nine- month tour of duty she knew something wasn’t quite right. “He was very withdrawn and was having real trouble in sleeping. As it was clear that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder he asked for help but his request was ignored.”
Worse still, just five months after his return Joe was informed that guidelines on the need for an 18-month gap between tours of duty were to be overlooked and he was being sent back to Afghanistan. When he then complained to his superiors about serving under an officer he felt he couldn’t depend on, he found himself branded a coward and faced harassment.
Unwilling to go back to Afghanistan Joe went absent without leave for over two years. During this time he journeyed to South East Asia and Australia, from where he was in regular touch with his mother. After initial Ministry of Defence enquiries Sue rarely heard from the military, who know that the vast majority of the 2,000 serving personnel who annually go AWOL eventually turn up.
But there was a shock when, after turning himself in, Joe was told he was to be charged with desertion and faced a ten-year prison sentence. A solicitor who he never met or even spoke to was allocated to his defence. If the military felt this would cower Joe into submission they badly miscalculated and with help from his mother in finding a legal team he made clear his intention to call an international expert on the legality of the Afghan war.
Sue had gone on the two million-strong March 2003 demonstration in London to try to prevent Tony Blair sending British troops to Iraq. Now it was the turn of her son and in October 2009 he joined 10,000 others on a Stop the War march through London and spoke at the rally afterwards, saying he was proud to serve his country but couldn’t obey orders when “Britain follows America in continuing to wage war against one of the world’s poorest countries... Politicians have abused the trust of the Army and the soldiers who serve. That is why I am compelled and proud to march for Stop The War Coalition.”
Joe later handed in his own protest letter to Gordon Brown at Downing Street and continued to speak out.
With just two days before his trial was set to begin the ex-logistics man was offered a compromise deal if he would agree to plead guilty to going AWOL. Sue has little doubt why the MoD was suddenly so keen to change direction.
“It was because his defence was going to bring out the fact that most serving British soldiers don’t believe their role in Afghanistan is achieving very much. He was lied to in the case of Afghanistan. It isn’t a peacekeeping, nation building exercise but is simply Britain following behind America, as they have done in Iraq. Blair was up Bush’s backside and has sacrificed all those young men’s lives that have died as a result, and it’s Blair who should be in prison and not Joe. His legal team felt he should accept the compromise and that’s what was agreed.”
Instead of ten years Joe was sent down for nine months in March this year. Although his appeal was dismissed a month later he is due out in the not too distant future. While Sue and Joe’s wife Claire await his release they have been buoyed by local support.
“It and the letters Joe has received demonstrates the vast majority of British people want to see our troops being brought home from Afghanistan as soon as possible, and I am sure the same is true of Iraq.”

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