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Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Full Metal Jackoff….


A preacher once said that all Empire is based on rape.

Think about it. An Empire only arises because one country- the one with better ways of killing people- wants a free product range of slaves, minerals, foodstuffs and oil. In it goes, exploits and extorts, and then either stays to the point that culture is raped and lost (South America) or pulls out, leaving the country to fall victim to management and pressures they have never had to look at before (colonial Africa).

Recently, there was news that the UK armed forces had lost another four soldiers in Afghanistan. It started a new round of discussion about whether we should be there on the radio. A sane middle class Radio 4 discussion.

The other night I watched a strange German film called "The Vanishing", about two girls murdered in the same place 23 years apart. As an aside, I started thinking about the two 11 year old girls suddenly taken out of this world and all their plans, thoughts, feelings and loves that were wiped out. I was upset- and then I thought; there hasn’t been a soldier in the history of the world who died who wasn’t as individual, wasn’t as full as the next person with hopes and dreams, wasn’t (almost always) loved by somebody.

In World War One, the military death toll in the UK alone was 886,939. With civilian deaths it went to just shy of a million. Because of the population of the UK at that time, that meant that barely a family was untouched by grief and loss. Whole families were lost forever. One battle, the Battle of The Somme, led to 60,000 British causalities in one day alone. A Newfoundland unit fighting with the British suffered almost 90% causalities, with 712 out of 780 men killed or wounded.

The horror of the Somme


Yet the aftermath of the war did not change the world. The Allies victory demands on the Germans in 1919 were so severe and merciless that it paved the way for World War Two, which happened a mere twenty years later. And in World War Two up to 70 million people were killed in various ways.

Since WW2, there has been even more bloodshed as Empires fall and rise, and ideologies try something new.

In recent times this is all done in the name of God. SS troopers had “Gott Mit Uns" (God With Us) on their belt buckles. Allied aircrews who firebombed Dresden had blessings from the air force chaplain before they left. Modern wards involving the US are against "an Axis of Evil".

There was a time I dismissed all this. I used to say that one side probably did have the blessing of God, and that war was horrible but God was behind Old Testament campaigns, and the New Testament told us to respect the law makers with their use of lethal force.

But the devil is in the detail.

First of all, war does not work. No war has ever ushered in an end to evil- or lasting peace.

Korea. That ended well, didnt it? Vietnam. I'm glad the sacrifice of the lives and an innocence of a generation of American and Vietnamese students achived so much. The Israel/ Arab conflicts, which admittedly are more complex in roots and morality, can never be consolidated into anything meaningful in the human realms. And now we have Afghanistan/ Iraq/ likelihood of Iran being invaded. Each conflict is based on tenous "moral" reasons, each one has failed utterley in achieving stability or freedom, and yet the machine rolls on. Making millions for conglomerate companies and weapons manufacturers, and taking millions of lives, in a way far more overt than the old pagan blood sacrifices that we shudder to think about. The hidden civilian deaths, and the manner in which they are hidden, is appaling. No wonder they want to close WikiLeaks down and make Julian Assange a monster.

When I was a child my grandfather would stop me by the town war memorial, and show me the poppy day wreaths. He would talk about the people who had lain down their lives in both world wars for my benefit. All that death- for what? Has humanity reached a consensus of pleasantry? Is the world a better place? Did good win out in WW2?





Im tired of the death machine industry of young men and women being sent out to die because of political scheming. We go all sombre on remembrance day, and have our parades and public respect in town- and yet we keep on sending them out. We keep on having memorial services that are empty of meaning and intent. There seems something grotesque bout it. A macabre elephant in the room.

I need to state here and now I am not by inclination a pacifist. I have been arrested twice in my life, for criminal damage and threatening behaviour. Im not proud of that, but it shows you where I  am at sometimes. I'm not the most graceful or "at peace" driver known to man- on a few occasions, I have offered to rearrange somebody's face because they inconvenienced me in some way.


And in fact, in the last 5 years, I had a sudden burst of testosterone and enquired about joining the Territorial Army. The only job I was eligible for was laundry driver. Thought I'd leave that one.


There are important "male" things tied up in soldiering that should be separated from the use of lethal force, and people like John Eldridge touch on those in books like "Wild At Heart".

I'm moved that any soldier would lay down their life for me, but I don’t want it. God doesn’t want it, either.


There is the theory of “just war” to counter that. All I will say is that this was apparently unknown in Christinaity prior to St Augustine systemising it. It has some good points, such as the defence of the innocents, but like I have said- at what cost?

What purely defensive army does only defence? To stay effective they must do more than practice. No army can remain out of wars for the lifetime of a country and remain any use. They have to practice in a real conflict. As I type there are all manner of secret wars going on in the third World. I knew a Territorial Army SAS trooper. He would go away for weekends that he couldn’t talk about, but he would let slip in his macho way that he had been fighting in South America somewhere in something you wont hear on news at ten.

"Right and wrong" in any war tends to be a media manipulation. Here’s one example.

In about 2002 I went on a working holiday to Serbia delivering aid. Serbia had been branded by the media as the worst of a bad bunch in the Yugoslavian civil war, which saw ethnic cleansing in Europe for the first time since the defeat of the Nazis. The UN allowed fighters to bomb key Serbian targets.

I went to Belgrade, the capital, which was still partially ruined. There the people gave a different slant. The UN jets had indeed bombed their military and civil defence targets. But they had also bombed a hospital, and worst of all, had bombed a busy market full of women and children.

In the aftermath of the civil war, thousands of Serbian people had fled Bosnia and Croatia. We went to their camps.

I could barely believe what I was seeing, in a first world country.

The camps were really just derelict places within Serbia. One was an old ski resort high in the forested mountains. In what would have been made as family of four chalets, whole communities slept next to each other behind rag curtains. Most of them were elderly women.

Another place was an old hotel. Try and imagine your local Travelodge full of your local village. Without running water or working kitchens. All types of people. So may of them were skilled and able, but without the means to ever recover economically or socially within Serbia. I suspect they will still be there.

After unloading aid and telling them that they were not forgotten by people in the West, or Jesus, we were encouraged to mingle with the residents in ones and twos. I found my way upstairs and met an old man who had been a watchmaker in Bosnia. He was driven out and lost everything. He could not speak more than two words of English, and I could only say “hello” and “yes/no” in Serbian, but somehow in mime language and facial expression we communicated. This old man lived in a room the size of a cleaning cupboard. I actually think it may have been where the hotel stored toilet rolls and Pledge once.

One woman who spoke fluent English told us most were simply hoping to move to the West. She had been successful and was going in the near future. Most weren’t. The only hope they had was a kind of lottery of getting out of there. They were bitter, bitter about their losses and experiences, and bitter that they had been caricatured as baddies.

Of course any country that embarks on a foul foreign policy one day reaps the whirlwind. But my concern was that Bosnia and Croatia appeared to be favoured in the telling of the sad story (and they remain vilified- see the recent film starring Angelina Jolie). Serbia is officially the only culprit in a war of attrition. How you can apportion good and bad in such a horrific war is beyond me.

Well, beyond my agreement, not my understanding. I was raised on westerns and war films. Lets unpick that.

The Westerns I saw were usually centred on the plight of farmers living on plains harassed and butchered by evil Comanches or Apaches, who sort of crept around with a knife in their mouth and sneered at mothers and children gathering wheat.




At some point a brave 7th cavalry captain would say "enough is enough" and lead his men to sort the Indian's out. The truth of these myths was quite the opposite; the Indians were always a thorn in the side of colonisation. What started with Thanksgiving led to genocide within years. Many Indian tribes were pacifist and were wiped out by the colonists. Those who survived were put on reservations where they remain today, emasculated and airbrushed out of history. What gets airbrushed in is utter drivel like Custers last stand. Custer was an incompetent war crininal, who got his arse kicked fresh from slaughtering a village of woman and children. Have a read and you will see scalping was a white mans invention, among other horrors

War films, even today on the whole, paint the Germans in WW2 as pure evil, and the allies (usually the Americans) as good. There is no doubt Hitler and the Third Reich was evil. But not evil by the fact that what the allies were fighting for- crudely, Imperialism and Capitalism- was any better. Even the more intelligent war films, if such a description is not an oxymoron, tend to use battle sequences to titillate and raise bloodthirsty emotions. Hence todays title.....

I started saying Empire is rape. And when you fillow that line of thought, you realise that many a lovely British city with a cathedral and an infrastructure of old mills and factories (such as Bristol and Liverpool) is made from the blood and misery of millions of Africans and Native Americans and Indians. That also goes for old British industries such as slate and copper mining (there were links to the slave trade) and entities like Lloyds and Barclays bank. Picturesque Cotswold villages with their quaint manor houses were all funded by this.


Its disgusting.

Its disgusting because it should just appall us at face value; but its made worse by the fact that as it was going on, we British took pride in our armies subduing and raping all over the world. It was sanitised because our iconic Queen Victoria wanted it, because it had the trappings if Christianity going with it, and because our expanding Empire was seen as the only defence against our enemies like the French and Spanish.

You just can't square Jesus to an army landing and killing all who stood in their way. Who forced the survivors to be slaves, either in local plantations or to somebodies else's ones half way around the world, via a stinking slave ship. And with the soldiers came “Christianity”.  Which for every David Livingstone and Mary Slessor, brought hundreds of other uptight Victorian proto Nazis who would build a neo gothic cathedral in the jungle and sing evensong to each other like they did in Surrey. And during the bible study (with pictures of an Aryan Timotei Jesus) local kids 500 metres away would be dying from the imported diseases or wounds received in the fields or down the mines. Halleyulah.

You cant separate any of it.

Of course, if all war is wrong, it begs the question; what do you do in the face of violent evil?

There is no easy answer. Im not even sure I have to provide one at this stage, given all the above is true. But early church history tells us some clear facts.

Fact one. The early Christians would not serve in the army or any position in society that was complicit with violence. Those who tried were excommunicated. 

Fact two. Early Christians would have nothing to do with Empire in any form. They rebelled and were killed for it, or went out into the deserts to form community when it became intolerable. This was the pattern until Constantine co-opted Christianity into the state religion and a new breed of Empire began- one wth a cross flying from its standards/ aeroplanes/ tanks.




I think God is pretty clear we are not to wage any kind of war in the physical realms:


  • The example of Jesus' non violence

  • Jesus reactions to violence or suggested violence, such as when Peter drew his sword when Jesus was being arrested

  • The old "You shalt not kill" thang

  • Closer exegeses in looking at war in the OT often shows that much of the killing was not done in normal warfare, but rather God turning Israel's enemies against each other (although by no means all of those accounts are like that)

  • God never wanted a king for Israel or what came with it- see 1 Samuel 8 verses 10-18- "So Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who asked him for a king. And he said, “This will be the behavior of the king who will reign over you: He will take your sons and appoint them for his own chariots and to be his horsemen, and some will run before his chariots. He will appoint captains over his thousands and captains over his fifties, will set some to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and some to make his weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers, cooks, and bakers. And he will take the best of your fields, your vineyards, and your olive groves, and give them to his servants. He will take a tenth of your grain and your vintage, and give it to his officers and servants. And he will take your male servants, your female servants, your finest young men, and your donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take a tenth of your sheep. And you will be his servants. And you will cry out in that day because of your king whom you have chosen for yourselves, and the LORD will not hear you in that day.”

I watched “Machine Gun Preacher" the other night, a film about Sam Childer's, who gave up being a violent Hells Angel and took up arms with the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army against the now infamous Joseph Kony.



The film tells the story of Sam's fight to rescue children from being made in to child solders by Koniys unhinged Lords Resistance Army. The end of the film poses this question, asked by the real Sam (I paraphrase)- “If a madman broke  into your house, and took your children, and I could get them back safely, would you mind the manner by which I brought them back to you?”

Any parent who loves their kids would have to think about that. By saying "no" you sentence your beloved male children to a life of killing and being killed, and your daughters to a life of sexual servitude and misery. But saying "yes, I want them back" and no questions asked, opens the door for someone elses children to get your deal. I think the ends don’t justify the means. 

So what happens in the face of violent evil? What should we do?

There is no answer can give either intellectually or from any bravado on my part. As I said, I'm not even naturally inclined to pacifism. But think about the example of Jesus, and people like Dave Andrews and Shane Claiborne.

And even Ghandi, who was no Christian (largely for reasons outlined above- he could not relate the Jesus of the Bible to the Church). Ghandi was adamant that he wanted the Britsh out of India, but not as enemies. Via peaceful protest and negiotation he achieved this, depsite atrocities by colonial troops.


I think God steps in and does something to the testimony of people who refuse violence. This is not always immediately, and many get slaughtered, but it has an impact on the oppressors. The fact they are not being killed in revenge gives them the ability to live another day- which like all people under Grace can be to more evil, or to repent and be impacted with the love of Christ.


When you begin to form an opinion about these things, the next step is to take a stand. And from that stand everything flows, and I don't think we can think that far ahead.


All I know is that war with Iran looks pretty certain, and I'm tired of it, I'm tired of the death and exported capitalist bullshit and the thousands of innocents who will die, and the soldiers who will need counseling and go on to self destruct back in their communities.

And back to the title of this entry- “Full Metal Jackoff” It is taken from the Dead On Arrival song of the same name. But my meaning is that films like "Full Metal Jacket", whilst anti war, are not completely anti war because they have cool action scenes and don’t impact you in the way a real anti war film would, like the apocalyptic "Come and See". The title of this film is from Psalm 46 verse 6, " Come and see the works of the LORD, the desolations he has brought on the earth". Which kind of proves the point I'm making in an ironic way..... 


The film  ends with the protagonist shooting a picture of Hitler they find in the possesion of a fleeing SS unit.

As the Russian boy soldier (whom the horrors of war have aged beyond age) shoots the picture, the rise of Hitler and the expansion of the war is rewound with each bullet. As the film ends, we are reminded that despite this boys efforts and sacrifice, very litle has been gained- and the behaviour of his unit is no better than that of the captured Nazis.


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