It’s been an embarrassing week for Britain’s armed forces. Following the news that soldiers were using Jeremy Corbyn’s image for target practice, 6 more have been arrested for an ‘alleged’ sexual assault against a teenage female soldier. I quote alleged because I believe her. In response to these events an army chief Sir Mark Carleton-Smith released a video in which he condemns such actions as “downright unacceptable”. He went on to say it was inappropriate to remark further on the individual cases but added:
“But I will say this: where serious allegations are proven against members of the army, including allegations of a violent or sexual nature, it demonstrates indiscipline that is wildly at odds with the values and standards that represent the fabric of not just our army but the nation’s army, the British army.”
I wonder the leaps one must take to actually believe the British army is a force for good that doesn’t routinely engage in sexual assault as part of their hazing rituals and only employs good decent non bigoted people to carry out their duties. The main objective of the British army is to keep the world prostrated to its superiority. They have outposts all over the world, during peacetime, and why? To remind the world the empire is still live and kicking. White people, without a single desirable trait, join the army to feel superior about themselves. All the domestic staff employed by the bases abroad are brown, they clean up after their white superiors and take orders, however small and so even the lowliest of personnel in terms of rank, feel like they’re the master.
For a short while in my late 20s I was engaged to a British armed forces man. Before he went on his first tour he was kind, or at least that was the impression he gave me. Coming from an army family myself (Pakistani) there was something of the familiar in him that I was drawn to although now I appreciate this wasn’t necessarily a good thing. He was from an army family too, going back at least two generations. He had fought it himself, didn’t want to join the forces because he believed it to be a mug’s game for people who didn’t have any other option. When his heavy metal band failed and he could no longer hold off the stern direction of his retired army dad, he joined the royal air force, unlike his younger brother, who had joined the paras as soon as he could (all he ever wanted to do was please his daddy).
What an eye-opening affair it was. Up until I met him I actually believed I was British and loved my country. I felt like I had a place here and white people on the whole were accepting of British born foreigners. It was he who put me straight. He said most white people put on a face for non whites, but the second our back is turned they switch. They’ll refer to us as the paki or coloured one, even if the person being referred to is a pilot in the royal air force. He came to me with a conundrum once, what to do when his staff sergeant refers to brown people as pakis? He felt a little put out because he felt it was personally disrespectful to him (because he had a paki in his possession?) but at the same time didn’t want to rock the boat. What could I say to this, I was still busy trying to survive well and didn’t want to draw attention to myself.
There were many things I let slide, or laughed off. He had a friend, Jamie, with a massive bald head and northern accent. When sober he’d make inappropriate remarks like “can I have a go on her next?” to my ex but when he was drunk, there was no filter. He’d call me a paki to my face and laugh at my ex saying our kids would be ugly. This was banter you see and I couldn’t get upset about it because then I didn’t have a sense of humour or he might get violent about it. There was a respect for bullying toxic patriarchy in that crowd that ensured victims never spoke up. I found out this ex had been disciplined for telling a female solider he could smell her period. I only found this out after I asked why she and her partner and friends were giving me daggers. I guess they couldn’t believe someone would be so desperate and pathetic as to legitimise him by being in a relationship with him.
There were some good people, I cannot deny this but they tended to be few and far between. I liked the corporal who was his immediate superior and his wife. They seemed to have an understanding of racism, even in the forces and made an extra effort to be inviting and friendly, I even cat sat for them once at Christmas. There were another couple of wives I really got on with and I still stay in touch with one of them.
I knew someone else in the army, on the clerical side and he always gave a good impression on behalf of the forces and condemned the people I told him about, saying they were bringing the armed forces to disrepute. For example, my ex and his brother would constantly talk about the tricks they’d pull on their peers, the rituals that almost always bordered on sexual assault. On a few occasions I had to object and call it what it was, rape, and how it wasn’t funny and how they were complicit in enabling and covering it up. I was told to get a grip, that “it’s only gay if they push back” and how this process was meant to sort the wheat from the chaff, if it really is too much for newbies they were always welcome to leave. I saw a clip his brother shared once on fb and was actually triggered by it, being a survivor of sexual violence myself. A young lad, couldn’t have been more than 19, clearly distressed but smiling as his pals piss all over him whilst he’s sat there naked, tied to a chair. They were throwing things at him and pawing at his body and all this kid could do was grin and bear it. Only real men take it like a real man, that’s their mantra in a toxic mostly male environment that is rife with non consensual activity.
After doing a tour in Afghanistan he came back with a sort of cocky confidence that scared me. Whilst he was there he’d commissioned an Afghan to make me a luggage tag with all 22 letters of my very Muslim sounding name on it, like he was saying “we’ve got one of yours”. As he described this unspoken exchange between the two men it made me feel sick to the pit of my stomach cos I had felt a bit like a trophy right from the beginning. He’d say things like “you’re safe now you’re on the white side” and “they’re always taking ours, so now I’ve got one of theirs” like I was just a piece of property to be coveted and appropriated by the best man, naturally white British.
I don’t know where Sir Michael got the impression the events of the past few weeks sit at odds with their values. Domestic abuse is 5 times more likely to occur in the armed forces, in an environment where toxic patriarchy thrives. When they return from tour they have a couple of weeks to holiday in a hot country to ‘decompress’ before they come back to the UK. They’re given a talking to by the padre on how to act when they are reunited with loved ones. They’re reminded that wives and girlfriends are human and probably don’t want to have rough sex for hours on end. They have to be TOLD. My ex’s mother would say it was part of the armed forces job to break the recruits down so as to rebuild them again into the soldiers they need. She and the rest of the family would roll their eyes at her boy’s exploits and even titter but no one ever called it out for what it was.
I’m glad I had that experience, in hindsight. It was revealing and formative, it made me into the person I now am. I am damned if I ever sit by and just listen to any of that shite ever again. I will object to racism every single damn time, I don’t care if it is a ‘joke’, I think ‘banter’ is for shit people who haven’t a single funny bone in their body, who invoke it when they’re being called out for being a nasty little bigot. I don’t care if you do think I’m a vampire sucking the fun out of your undeserved entitlement, look at the state of you will ya? And I will call a rapist a rapist and a toxic patriarchal environment when I see one.
They don’t get any more toxic or patriarchal than the armed forces.