Wednesday, 9 April 2008

The Iraq War: About as Violent as a Football Game.

As I was walking through Partick tube station, I spied an army recruitment poster with the picture of a soldier and the words:
it can get rough in Iraq, especially when the Old Firms on.
For my non-Glaswegian readers, the ‘Old Firm’ refers to the two main football teams in Glasgow, Rangers and Celtic. They have a huge following throughout Scotland and dominate the league. Little Scottish boys and girls everywhere dream that they one day will play for their team, and for a considerable part of the population, the world literally stops when the old firm play. Celtic and Rangers, perhaps, have a more volatile relationship than many rival football teams with games frequently accompanied by violence both at and after the actual game. This rivalry is exasperated by sectarianism, with Rangers traditionally being a Protestant team and Celtic, a Catholic team. Old firm matches often operate as a way of venting religious tensions amongst the tight-knit community of Glasgow and, as such, the rivalry often disguises the bitter religious divide that marks many Scottish communities. Furthermore, as church attendance falls, but levels of sectarianism do not, the football stadium operates as a church- a place where people meet weekly to express devotion and to have fellowship. Sectarianism, and the Old Firm as a symbol of that sectarianism, is undoubtedly a blight on Scotland, responsible for many deaths and murders.

Despite this, Scotland is not Iraq. The Scottish people do not live in constant fear and terror of being bombed, murdered or dying from starvation or disease. They do not live in rubble. They do not have armed soldiers patrolling their streets as a constant reminder of the conflict that goes on around them. A football game, whatever its history, is not a war.

Now, I appreciate that this recruitment poster is not actually meant to be implying that Iraq is like Scotland- after all they don’t want to frighten away the recruits. It is meant to suggest that joining the army is about camaraderie and friendship, where conflict between brothers-in-arms is over the little joys in life, such as supporting one’s football team. It wants you to focus on the things that give you pleasure in life and imply that the army is that pleasure writ large. Perhaps, on another level, it may even want you to realise that this is a simplistic and euphemistic message, but even this promotes the idea of fraternity through suggesting a shared secret that you will find out if you join the club. It wants to give you that sense of brotherhood that many men, and some women, only find on a Saturday afternoon in a football stadium.

Yet, to my mind, comparing the realities of war in Iraq to a football game trivialises the sacrifice that the men and women in the armed forces make every day. It is deceitful to recruit people to a warzone without presenting the horrors of armed conflict. Is it really a good idea to hire people who believe that they are going to the equivalent of a football game and then present them with the realities of death, rape, physical mutilation and deprivation on an unimaginable scale? The Iraq War is an ethical nightmare as it is. Does the army really want to exasperate the situation through unethical recruiting?

1 comment:

Tom said...

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