Soldier, Soldier

“I would like to see every single soldier on every single side, just take off your helmet, unbuckle your kit, lay down your rifle, and set down at the side of some shady lane, and say nope I ain’t gonna kill nobody. Plenty of rich folks wants to fight. Give them the guns.”
Woody Guthrie

“The entire deaths of Vietnam died in vain. And they’re dying in vain right this very second. And you know what’s worse than a soldier dying in vain? It’s more soldiers dying in vain. That’s what’s worse.”
Mike Gravel

“The more I think about the problem of war, the more convinced I become that this problem can only be solved if people refuse to be soldiers. As long as every man declares himself prepared to kill those people his leader commands him to, there will be war, and it will be even more horrible than it is today.”
Leo Nicolayevich Tolstoy

“The US army is the biggest joke the world has to laugh at. It is the army of liars, backstabbers, fools, and bullies. The few good SGTs [sergeants] are getting out as soon as they can, and they are telling us privates to do the same.”
Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, quoted by Michael Hastings, ‘America’s Last Prisoner of War’, Rolling Stone, June 12, 2012

“I would say that I’m a nonviolent soldier. In place of weapons of violence, you have to use your mind, your heart, your sense of humor, every faculty available to you…because no one has the right to take the life of another human being.”
Joan Baez

“In war, there are no unwounded soldiers.”
Jose Narosky, speech on Veterans Day 2010.
Anyone who’s been tempted to join the military;
To swear loyalty to Queen and Country;
To put on a uniform that they may never get off;
To believe the promise ‘you’ll never go hungry’ –

Should look at what’s behind the Army’s recruiting ads
And see in further detail what’s on offer –
For when a career can end with a coffin lid closing
They may wonder if it’s worth the bother.













Throughout history soldiers have laid down their lives
Unappreciated by those whom they’ve died for:
Take the King of England killing pheasants at Sandringham
During the carnage of the First World War.












To the Duke of Wellington his soldiers were frightening scum,
And Napoleon jeered at his when their backs were turned,
“A soldier will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon
Then as soon as they were wounded they were spurned.

“If my soldiers were to begin to think”, said Frederick the Great
“Not one of them would remain in the army.”
And the soldiers’ worst enemy is often his own commander:
Power-crazed, or trigger-happy, or barmy.

Armies are hierarchical; they’re pathologically undemocratic
And throughout the centuries it’s been the same story:
To Montgomery and Churchill their troops were disposable –
There to serve the great cause of their leaders’ glory.

After Churchill had massacred his own troops at Gallipoli,
A. P. Herbert condemned him as a callous ignoramus,
“Roman emperors killed slaves to make themselves popular,
He is killing free men to make himself famous.” [1]

Just as one in seven homeless people are forces’ veterans
In the United States,
After the British Army has had its way with them
Nine thousand now share the same fate. [2]







You were persuaded you were in for a great adventure –
Not post traumatic stress disorder –
You believed you joined up for noble companionship
Not for a cold look from a prison warder.

For when you join you’re trained to be violent to serve the state
And yet you’re not trained to know when to stop,
So when you’ve killed once it becomes that much easier to kill again.
There’s guilt. You self-medicate. Quite a lot.

It soon dawns on you, you were part of a psychotic nothing;
You squashed strangers to death like flies;
A million people died in the Iraq war – women and children –
You ended lives thanks to a politician’s lies.

In ‘The Art of War’, Sun Tzu wrote,
“All war is based on deception.”
And the reasons which Britain’s given for its past wars
Have, historically, been no exception.

Take the ‘War of Jenkins’ Ear’ lasting nine years,
Starting when the English claimed the Spanish
Had captured a sea captain and then cut off his ear.
They made his ear appear to have vanished.

As proof Captain Jenkins was produced in Parliament
Displaying a stained bandage around his head.
Patriotic MPs present duly registered a storm of outrage,
Baying for vengeance at the sight of some animal blood.

They then voted through a massive war budget
While the facts were to remain unsuspected.
The war lasted nine years due to a flagrant falsehood
For the Captain’s ear was quite unaffected.

The warmongers of the American Empire
Were to make lying to their own nation
Just as acceptable as the British Empire had –
Cynically sacrificing their own population.

President McKinley informed the US Congress,
“The USS Maine, a ship in Havana Harbor,
Has been sunk by a Spanish mine.”
And this’d serve him as a pretext for murder.

The war had the United States’ whole-hearted support
Although the Captain of the ‘Maine’ later revealed
That his ship was really sunk by a coal-bin explosion
But this discomfiting truth was concealed.

Adolf Hitler lied to justify his invasion of Poland
Telling Germany that Poles had attacked them:
He had Polish corpses dressed up in German uniforms
To substantiate his grisly deception.

President Roosevelt said Pearl Harbor was a surprise attack,
But it wasn’t. It was deliberately provoked
By his Japanese oil blockades as he saw war with Japan as a way
To persuade America to join a war that America opposed.





















Likewise Churchill who saw war as the health of the state
Had lured the ‘Lusitania’ into U-boat infested territory:
The ship was carrying Americans and thanks to its sinking
Churchill tricked America into a global purgatory.













President Johnson had had reports of North Vietnamese
Torpedoing US ships in the Gulf of Tonkin.
Though the signals on US sonars turned out to be flying fish
He’d peddle fake stories of an attack without blinking.









Thus Johnson goaded Congress into passing vast war budgets
And he’d send thousands to Vietnam for millions to die:
Fifty eight thousand US soldiers and four million Asians –
All thanks to a President’s fraudulent battle cry.







A hundred and eighty British soldiers died in Iraq
Thanks to further US fabrications
The National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice
(Who was such a friend of the oil corporations

That Chevron named an oil tanker ‘The Condoleezza’),
Hinted that if Iraq wasn’t rendered less harmful,
“Mushroom clouds would rise above American cities”
Such was the scale of Saddam’s nuclear arsenal.














But her claim was untrue; no such weapons existed.
Yet the allegations that oil-rich Iraq
Had weapons of mass destruction was cravenly echoed
By the British Premier, another war-hawk.

The British Prime Minister, Tony Blair,
Would insist, in the cause of blood for oil,
“Saddam can attack London in forty minutes”
A lie to make soldiers’ widows’ blood boil.









Likewise at a United Nations Assembly
A US General waved an ‘Iraqi’ pillbox
Claiming its contents could kill all those present
And half the US as it “contained anthrax”.

But General Powell’s alarmist assertion was misleading:
His homegrown prop was filled with talcum powder,
Yet from then on the United States could bomb Baghdad
With its lethal lies getting bolder and louder.

Iraq was then turned into a wasteland
Enabling the US to make off with its oil
Driving tanks over its dead and its artifacts –
And with DU shells contaminating its soil.











Pashtuns who are fighting for an independent Pashtunistan
Are invaded by NATO drones killing their children –
Falsely accused by invaders of toppling New York’s twin towers
By invaders keen on their gas, gold, and uranium.

In order to justify imposing regime change on Libya
US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, tells the press
(And she was lying, Amnesty revealed), “Gaddafi gives Viagra
To his troops to rape dissidents en masse.” [3]










“Not only,” said Amnesty, “have we not met any victims,
But we’ve not even met any persons who’ve met victims.”
The US motive for lying was Libya’s proposal to ditch the dollar
So black propaganda was essential to protect the US system.












Politicians will trade life itself for political advantage
And thanks to Blair being Bush’s poodle,
And to Cameron being Obama’s simpering gopher,
They sell out their soldiers – kit and caboodle.













Every syllable of every lie that self-serving politicians
Are prone to passing on to the world at large
Can mean the death or the injury of soldier after soldier
Though no politician’s ever put on a charge.











Politicians will justify their endlessly causing disasters
Then proudly insist that they’d do it again
Although some of the soldiers they’ve sent off to take part,
Come back dead, or half-dead with damaged brains –

With neurological damage thanks to IED explosions
And genetic defects thanks to depleted uranium,
So when Johnny comes marching home and tries for a family
The damage is passed down through generations.

In 2012 and 2013 at the height of Afghanistan’s fruitless war
More British soldiers committed suicide than died in battle,
But what you hear from statesmen is of the war’s great success
Not of their Army’s suicides nor of their lonely death-rattle.

Lance Sergeant Dan Collins survived being shot twice in Helmand Province
And being blown off his feet by a roadside bomb,
But after he’d seen his closest friend, Dane Elson, killed in front of him,
PTSD would replace his habitual calm.

He’d been recruited for the Welsh Guards when he was sixteen
Having wanted to be a soldier since he was three,
But then his mother had to watch him disintegrate, as he confided,
“Mum, this is not all it’s cracked up to be.”

Flashbacks trapped him forever in Helmand, “he wasn’t his usual self.” she said,
“You’d be talking to him and he would go completely blank,
“His eyes would stare at nothing and I’d call his name until he came to.
“He had changed, although he tried to put on a brave front.”

She remembers calling the Army for help. “I spoke to someone high up.
I said, ‘he’s falling, he’s falling.’
“I asked him, ‘What can I do? He needs help.’ And this officer said to me,
‘Well, what do you suggest, Mrs Collins?’”

He’d suffer continual panic attacks but the Army had dropped him.
One evening when his mother was cooking him a hot dish.
“He was fine one moment and the next he threw the plate to the floor.
He cried out, ‘Burning flesh, burning flesh.’

“Then he curled up in a corner of the kitchen, rocking like a baby.
He made no sense at all.  His head was a muddle.
I couldn’t get through to him. The Army had abandoned him.
All I could do was give him a cuddle.”

Dan hanged himself in a disused slate quarry in the Preseli Mountains.
He made his mother a farewell video just before:
“Ever since I’ve come back from hell, I’ve turned into a horrible person
And I don’t like who I am any more.”

William Blake, the poet, once saw a soldier and shouted,
“Damn the King. The soldiers are all slaves.”
It was judged to be treachery and Blake was tried for sedition
However his verse has outlasted soldiers’ graves,

If everyone who was trapped in the First World War’s folly
Had said ‘no’ and if they’d boldly refused to fight
There’d have been no punitive treaty which led to the next War –
Hence no so-called ‘good war’ with its heartrending sights.

“I believe that a man is the strongest soldier,” said Gandhi
“For daring to die unarmed.”
Every weapon has to be a failure of the imagination
For the ideal life is lived free from harm.

Einstein believed “The pioneers of a warless world
Are the young men who refuse military service.”
He said a soldier had been “given a large brain by mistake,
Since for him the spinal cord would fully suffice.”

He went on, “He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file
Has already earned my contempt.”
As for militarism he said, “This plague-spot of civilization
Ought to be abolished.” It was passionately meant.

Before leaving his post, Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl told his father,
He’d seen an Afghan child killed and fellow soldiers gloating,
“I have seen their ideas and I am ashamed to even be American. The horror
Of the self-righteous arrogance that they thrive in. It is all revolting.”

“These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country
 In the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid…
“The future is too good to waste on lies,” Bergdahl told his father,
And then Bergdahl deserted before his life could be ruined.

Two and a half thousand years ago the playwright Sophocles
Knew all soldiers were play-actors as wars have to end.
His Ajax says, “While I hate my enemy the time will come
When he will be my friend.”

General Smedley Butler was a rare American General
In that he told the truth and he only spoke sense.
“War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest,
Easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious.”

Money’s the driving force behind this all-consuming farce –
The monstrous military-industrial complex –
Meaning every soldier is serving, whether they like it or not,
As a guinea pig who is sacrificed to big business.


















At Arms Fairs weapons can be sold much more easily
If they’ve already been field tested in a war zone:
‘Now, here, this little gem might be up your street, sir,
We find soldiers even wanting to take them home.

‘It’s very, very popular with the Ministry of Defense
And we sell hundreds of them to the Saudis.
One spray from this little fella will cut you right in half –
An assault weapon to decimate the Afghanis.

‘No, no, no, we’re not meant sell to anyone dodgy
And as a rule, of course, we don’t
But, in fact, we can get anything to anyone anywhere  –
Through middlemen, obligingly bent.

I mean, whoever stopped us flogging stuff to Saddam
Whilst he was gaily gassing the Kurds…?
And weren’t we selling the latest gear to the Argies
In the run-up to the Falklands? – stupid turds.

But a nod’s as good as a wink, eh? Ah, paperwork speeded up?
Oh yes, all done. You’ll be well pleased with your purchase.

I mean it’s down to us to make the world safe for democracy
And it’s only weapons that give you that sense of purpose.’

In the US the main news channels of CBS and NBC
Are both owned by major arms contractors.
“If it bleeds, it leads,” is the media’s favorite byword,
Turning soldiers into murderous bit-part actors –

Actors who glamourize the global arms bazaar
By pimping the most up-to-date equipment
That arms dealers describe deviously as ‘systems’
To disguise their abject and sordid intent.










The DESI exhibition was held in London in 2013 –
Defense and Security Equipment International –
Where delegates from 121 countries inspected 1,500 companies
And their mechanized homages to mistrust.

Hailed by Secretary of State for Defense, Philip Hammond,
As “a fabulous show” selling “fantastic kit”,
Their slick exhibition-stands and their lavish display panels
Hide flyblown bodies smeared with blood and with shit.

“Never think that war”, said Hemingway, “no matter how necessary,
Nor how justified, is not a crime.” –
A crime that turns soldiers into puppets who die for the interests
Of the arms dealers’ moral vacuum, time after time –

Puppets who die in resource wars posing as moral conflicts
Or as humanitarian interventions;
Puppets who die so that one nation can dominate another
In childishly territorial competitions –

Puppets given smart uniforms to enhance their self-esteem;
Puppets taking part in ceremonies with mawkish fanfares
To honor the dead whom, if the dead were still conscious,
Might regret their contact with the arms-dealers’ wares.








As every war is merely mass murder for profit
Every soldier must share in the guilt.
“Serving my country” and “obeying orders” are excuses;
Masks to cover up the blood that’s been spilt.

The very sight of a uniform made Shelley throw up in disgust
For human beings aren’t meant to be machines,
Nor State-sanctified bullies creating a vile pandemonium
And undermining humanity’s utopian dreams.

Yet Army recruiters visit the poorest schools with their PR,
To make ‘military ethos and skills’ a part of school life. [5]
‘Catch them young before the army loses them’ is their catch-phrase.
‘Be a celebrity hero, lads, and have a good laugh.’

Children sign their lives away from the age of sixteen,
Press-ganged by poverty and by poor self-esteem;
Seduced by the Army as it glamourizes obedience
And presents its foul killing machines as benign.

The Army organizes four thousand visits to schools each year [6]
And vulnerable young pupils are taken on military trips.
A recruiter confesses, “A seven-year-old sees a parachutist and thinks,
‘That looks great.’ Then the army builds interest by drip, drip, drip.” [7]

The Army’s brochures are full of “defending your country”
Though none will mention “kill or threaten to kill”.
They hold fetes, and parades and appear at sports fixtures;
They use Facebook and YouTube to sweeten the pill.

The seeds of war are sown in a schoolchild’s psyche:
Guns are introduced for target practice.
An Army coach calls out  ‘Bullseye!’ then hands out souvenirs:
Target-cards with holes in, and bullet casings.

A fourteen-year old boy died in the trenches in France. [8]
Who can say they’ve since felt the benefit?
Boy soldiers’ families would have preferred they’d lived
Without their brains being fingered by bullets.




















Whenever man has had the foresight to anticipate conflict
A fair-minded force for good needs no other forces;
A weapon and a uniform are the badges of lost innocence
Carried and worn by the understudies of corpses.


Heathcote Williams


[1] Nicholas Rankin, ‘A Genius for Deception: How Cunning Helped the British Win Two World Wars’, London: Faber, 2008, p 69

[2] Ben Glaze, ‘9,000 ex-service personnel homeless after leaving the military: They account for one in 10 rough sleepers across the UK’, London: Daily Mirror, July 21, 2013

[3] Dan Kovalik, ‘Seven Truths Inconvenient to U.S. Foreign Policy: Undermining Global Democracy’, Counterpunch, January 20-22, 2012

[4] Hayley Dixon, ‘More British soldiers commit suicide than die in battle, figures suggest’,  London: Daily Telegraph, 14 July 2013

[5]  cf. Emma Sangster in ‘Sowing Seeds: The Militarisation of Youth and How to Counter it’, War Resisters International, 2013

[6] Ministry of Defence, MoD (2008b). ‘Supplementary Memorandum from the Ministry of Defence’ [Memorandum to the House of Commons Defence Committee, 2008], in House of Commons Defence Committee. (2008).

[7] The former head of recruitment strategy in the British Army, Col. David Allfrey, cited in Stephen Armstrong, ‘Britain’s Child Army’, New Statesman, 5 February 2007.

[8] Barry Roche, ‘Memorial to youngest Allied soldier to die in First World War unveiled: John Condon (14) from Waterford killed in Flanders gas attack on May 24th, 1915’; Irish Times, May 18, 2014


By Heathcote Williams

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