Nov 23, 2009
Joe Glenton, a corporal in the British army’s logistics corps, was court-martialed in November. The charges against him are desertion, inciting to desertion and disobedience. He could face 10 years in prison.
It’s hardly the first time a British soldier has deserted rather than be sent off to Afghanistan or Iraq. But until now, the army handled these protests discretely by offering those who opposed going to these wars a rapid way out of the military, or at least a reclassification, in exchange for their silence. As a result, the only public opposition to these wars within the military has come from a few families who lost their sons in doubtful conditions, such as “friendly fire.”
The case of Joe Glenton has broken the wall of silence that hides the real morale of the troops. Volunteering in 2002, at age 22, Glenton was sent to Afghanistan in 2006. After coming back to England the following year in a normal troop rotation, his unit was ordered to return to the war without the required 23 months between tours. Glenton decided at that point to join the ranks of those called AWOL (absent without leave) and to disappear into another country.
Two years later, Glenton decided to return to Britain to make known his opposition to the war. While awaiting trial, he spoke out in public against the war. On October 24, he marched at the front of a demonstration against the occupation of Afghanistan. During the rally in Trafalgar Square, London, that ended the march, Joe Glenton was the main speaker to address the crowd.
Glenton declared, “To disobey orders is not simple. But when Great Britain follows the United States to carry out a war against one of the poorest peoples in the world, I see no other choice. The war in Afghanistan does not lessen the risk of terrorism. And far from improving the lives of the Afghans, it brings them only death and destruction. Great Britain has no business to be there.”
For the army, this speech was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The next day, Glenton was arrested and put in prison to await trial. The military reaction was all the stronger because opposition to British engagement in Afghanistan continues to grow. A majority already opposes the war, due in part to the record number of British soldiers killed in action there.
That’s why the position taken by Joe Glenton, covered by part of the press, with the Daily Mirror supporting Glenton, irritates the Army and the government. Prime Minister Gordon Brown already has difficulty justifying the recent deployment of hundreds of special forces soldiers to Afghanistan. Nor has Brown figured out his response to Obama’s call to send more combat troops there.
Perhaps this courageous example of Joe Glenton will encourage other soldiers to publicly express their disgust with this dirty war, in which their role is to terrorize the population.