Azhar Ahmed, 19, will appear in court on March 20th. His alleged crime is that he committed a racially aggravated public order offence – in the form of posts on his Facebook page. According to a police spokesperson Ahmed was bemoaning the attention given to the six soldiers who recently died in Afghanistan, as compared with the loss of civilian life under OEF. What exactly he said is as yet unknown, but the spokesman suggested that: “he didn’t make his point very well and that is why he has landed himself in bother.”
I agree with Ahmed’s sentiment; I find coverage of army fatalities uninteresting. I don’t know who these articles reach out to – outside of direct acquaintances of the soldiers involved, they must have little resonance. Some would argue, no doubt, that the nation needs to know the names of these ‘heroes’, in much the same way as we remember those who died in the world wars with various monuments. I disagree, and I think the time spent covering them could be far better spent elsewhere.
Dying does not make you a hero. Even dying for a good cause does not make you a hero, per se. I find the coverage patronising in its perpetual surprise; the attitude is that whenever a specific soldier dies, it comes as a shock. It’s not a shock. We’re at war, and in war you expect casualties and deaths. Since 2001 Britain has lost 404 soldiers in the Middle East conflicts. I think that’s actually not bad going for such a long war. If anything, I’m surprised more soldiers haven’t died. The civilian deaths receive less coverage, and yet are less anticipated – like Ahmed, I see a problem with that.
It is a soldier’s job to fight and risk death. It’s in the job description, and those who do the job have chosen it. Soldiers aren’t drafted into the army; they choose to join it for money and for a job. That’s not heroic, that’s choosing a career path, and those who join said career path deserve no more and no less respect than those who join accounting, marketing or advertising. The pay is proportional only to the difficulty of the job, and if it’s not you are free at any time to choose a different job.
In fact, you hear a lot of very negative stories about our so-called heroes. Take trophy-killing, for example, or the recent viral clip of a group of soldiers beating a sheep to death. These aren’t necessarily representative, of course – but every soldier acquiesces to the possibility of killing another human being in order to collect their wage packet. That doesn’t sound heroic to me. It sounds psychotic. It’s not the sort of mentality I’d wish for in a neighbour – in fact, I’d like that sort of ‘hero’ to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely.
Not all troops are heroes. Some undoubtedly are, but not all. They’re just people doing a job. They’re not the drafted and martyred sons of the first world war, and they don’t deserve the equal remembrance suggested by last November’s poppy appeal. In fact, I think their inclusion devalues the heroism of fighters in both world wars. Support and interest is far from unanimous, and acting as if it is will only cause more problems down the line.
Hero is certainly not the word I would use. I don’t know whose heroes these people are, but they’re not mine.