By Jack Peat, Editor of The London Economic
The British army employs more than 400,000 people to protect our small island, almost two people for every square kilometre in the country.
Compared to say, jobseekers’ allowance (£4.91 billion) or housing benefits (£16.9 billion), the cost of fielding our soldiers abroad in conflicts we started is huge. It costs $60.8 billion to maintain the UK’s armed forces; only Russia, China and the US spend more per year. A damming study entitled Investment in Blood found the Afghanistan War has already cost more than £37 billion, which equates to £2,000 per UK household. Ask when your next payslip arrives, what are we really funding?
Justification of our own army and others around the world (most notably the US army, which costs $682 billion a year to fund) is that they are here to protect the country. What atrocities lay waiting to justify a total world spend of $1,836,564,000,000 (per year) is anyone’s guess. Are we awaiting Romanian dragons to awake or the next instalment of Alien vs Predator to materialise on earth? Or are we grinding ourselves into a self-perpetuating human death while we could be saving the millions that starve, battle poverty and fight (no pun) inequality?
Britain’s perverse attitude towards the necessity of an army is driven by the media and fear. A few years ago Channel 4 Dispatches commissioned the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies, to examine reporting of Muslim issues. Analysis of some 974 stories found that approximately two-thirds of all “news hooks” for stories about Muslims involved either terrorism (some 36 per cent of stories); religious issues such as Sharia law, highlighting cultural differences between British Muslims and others (22 per cent); or Muslim extremism.
This issue was brought to my attention once again by coverage of the Lee Rigby trial involving Michael Adebolajo, one of the two men accused of his murder. In stark contrast to the trial involving Sgt Alexander Blackman – first British soldier to be convicted of murder on the battlefield since the Second World War – media attention on the Rigby trial has been intense, and intensely focused on one issue; Islam. I have arranged the below headlines to demonstrate coverage of Adebolajo (first) and Blackman.
Adebolajo admits killing but says he was obeying Allah – The Guardian
Commanding officer’s letter defends Sergeant Alexander Blackman – BBC News
‘Killer’ of Lee Rigby speaks of how he converted to Islam at university – Daily Mail
Sgt Alexander Blackman: Marine backed by 60,000 people over killing of Taliban insurgent-DailyMirror
Lee Rigby accused tells court ‘I love al-Qaeda’ – Channel 4 News
Thousands sign petition to release Royal Marine who murdered injured Taliban fighter – The Metro
Michael Adebolajo: ‘I killed Lee Rigby because I am a soldier… of Allah’ – The Metro
Adebolajo the dragon
We have an unremitting need to identify enemies. What was once Hitler and the Nazi Party has evolved into Communism and then Islam. The unknown is ultimately what scares us the most, but as the world becomes more interconnected and multicultural, surely visions of ‘Adebolajo the dragon’ will fade.
On Christmas Eve and Christmas Day of 1914 a messenger come over from the German lines and said that if we did not fire at them on Christmas day, they (the Germans) wouldn’t do so in the morning (Christmas day). Soldiers independently ventured into no man’s land, where they mingled, exchanging food and souvenirs, as well as starting games of football with one another. The temporary cease-fire agreement was a reflection of how we perceive our enemy when buried in trenches – in a cage of the unknown – and how we actually find them to be.
On Christmas day this year, perhaps we can reflect on how we perceive our enemy, as we have a temporary cease from the British media, and their trenches of fear-driven rhetoric.
The Christmas Blessing
Below is a short bit of verse I wrote based on the Church Of England’s Christmas day blessing. The original verse can be found here.
May the eagerness of the authorities, the rumble of the tank
The preservation of the opposition, the crushing of a land
The obedience of the soldier, the firing of his gun
The peace of the aftermath, and the death of a beloved son
Be yours this Christmas
And the blessing of the west,
The culture, the civilisation and the incessant greed,
Be upon you and all whom you love,
Now and forever