Letter From a British Soldier

George Solomou

I am resigning from the Territorial Army because I believe the war in Iraq is wrong. This has not been an easy decision. I have been in the TA for five years — years in which I have learned a lot; won a humanitarian award for helping save the life of a fellow soldier; made many friends; and, I hope, contributed something to this country.

I have no doubt that some of my fellow soldiers will feel I am letting them down. Since I have spoken out against the war in the last few weeks I have had a lot of support from soldiers, but I have also been called a coward. I am a trained medic and there is no doubt my skills could be used in the field to save lives. But after a lot of soul-searching I have concluded my priority must be to try to save lives by taking a public stand against this war.

Of course, when you join the armed forces you have to be prepared to fight. But not any war. Most people in Britain think the war in Iraq is wrong, and that is presumably because all the arguments used to justify it have proved to be hollow. It is now official that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and the idea that the war has made the world a safer place is a sick joke.

Soldiers cannot be above moral considerations. Though the British army scandalously tries to hide this fact, the United Nations enshrines the right of members of the armed forces to object and opt out of particular wars on political, religious or moral grounds. Before the war started even our own generals were demanding firm commitments from Tony Blair that there was proof that Saddam Hussein was armed and dangerous. They were worried about the legality of the war. The UN resolutions used to justify the war only had force if Iraq was a threat to the world or to the region. We now know there was no evidence for this. So we are faced with a situation where even the U.N. secretary general, Kofi Annan, has said the war was illegal.

So I am resigning because I don’t want to fight a war that is unjustified and illegal. But I also have a deep concern that British soldiers are being used in Iraq. Soldiers from my regiment tell me that much of their work in southern Iraq involves protecting convoys of oil tankers shuttling between Basra and the Kuwaiti border. Their stories have just confirmed my growing cynicism about the motives for the war. I really believe that our foreign policy is being driven by the needs of U.S. power, particularly the need to control the flow of oil.

This is a very bitter thing to say because the troops are suffering. Two close colleagues have suffered permanent injuries in Iraq. Their lives have been shattered and it must be said they have been treated very poorly by the army. Reports suggest that on top of the 80 dead, 7-800 British troops have been seriously wounded. Many more are suffering mental trauma. The experience of the Falklands and the first Gulf war shows that the scars of war run very deep, even among the officially uninjured. I know veterans who struggle daily with post-traumatic stress disorder more than 10 years after seeing active service. It is a scandal that young lives are being lost and ruined just so George Bush can keep control of the oil in the Middle East.

People have said to me that we created this mess, we should sort it out. The Iraqis need many things: they need medical supplies, they need their infrastructure rebuilt, they need jobs. The one thing they don’t need is foreign troops on their streets. In fact, it is the presence of U.S. and British troops that is creating the tension and violence, which seems certain to continue regardless of last month’s elections. We have become symbols of foreign domination. That is why there is no way we can provide security. Only the Iraqis themselves can do that, and the longer we stay, the more the situation will get out of hand. We must allow the Iraqis to get on with building their own future — even if they make mistakes.

I am resigning as a conscientious objector because I don’t want any part of it, and also because I hope my action might just encourage other soldiers to speak out or opt out.

This is an edited version, first published in The Guardian, of the letter he submitted to his commanding officer on February 15.

George Solomou is a lance corporal in the Royal Army Medical Corps, attached to the London Irish Rifles.
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