Dangerous trade

May 30th, 2009 | By | Category: International

The BBC carries sombre news this evening of the deaths of two British soldiers in Afghanistan. It seems a pointless and unwinnable war; no-one has ever successfully conquered the entire country and victory seems as far away as ever.  But young men and women still join up, it is not as though they are unaware of what lies ahead, this war is eight years old.

Why do people join up?  It is four years since RTE covered the British forces in Basra in southern Iraq.In contrast with the usual reports, those detailing attacks and army actions, this was a report focused on the soldiers and their thoughts and feelings.The focus was upon a particular group of soldiers, those serving with the Royal Irish Regiment.

Many of the soldiers in the unit featured were from this side of the border; they were citizens of the Republic of Ireland and, presumably, from an international perspective would be seen as serving with a foreign power.

The RTE reporter seemed puzzled and bemused at the responses of those encountered. Why were they doing this?What was it that prompted them to join the British army and serve in this place?One officer gave a straightforward reply, “we are professional soldiers”.

Whatever the arguments over British involvement in such wars , (I marched in the demonstration against the Iraq invasion), I think I can understand something of what it is that prompts young Irish men to join the army.

In times past they joined the army to get work.It is no longer a question of economics; those interviewed are from educated, middle class backgrounds.Men joining the army are looking for something more than just money.

In the army, the professional soldiers are finding things that are no longer to be found in ordinary life.They find camaraderie, they find identity, they find purpose; they find a life that is different from the mundane and the routine.

In a world where they are told that happiness is to be found in a BMW and a suburban house and a fancy holiday and an executive job, there are men who are thinking that there must be more to life than this.In a world where overpaid footballers are considered heroes, and musicians and celebrities are considered role models, there are guys who are looking for real toughness, real heroes, people they can really respect.

I would never have gone near the army, but in some strange way it seems to be offering an alternative culture to the world of reality television, shopping malls, and people who are famous for being famous.

The experience of the professional soldier makes the life of the guy in the office look insignificant.It is an experience that gives their life meaning.

Instead of feeling bemusement, maybe there is something to be learned from those who tonight are in Afghanistan.

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  1. Sadly Afghanistan is where we SHOULD have placed our focus in the first place and had a good crack at actually banishing the Taliban and possibly finding Osama bin Laden . .I fear it’s too late now. We’ll be sending more to Afghanistan as will the US but it seems a winless war. I admire those who soldier but could never do it myself. The army does offer a unique culture though. My cousin in law reached the level of General and now misses the action incredibly (he retired a couple of years ago after engagements in both the Middle East and Timor. It’s a different world.

  2. I think in a strange sort of way it provides a set of rules and boundaries to many young people who crave a discipline in life that they have never had.

  3. As an ex-regular serviceman I concur with what Ian has said. Those that have never had experience in the armed forces can never understand what service life is about.
    When you join up you are aware that at some time you may well be involved in combat of some sort, this is an accepted fact of life as is the discipline and often discomforts that go with service life, but again as Ian said the camaraderie will never be found outside the armed forces.

  4. Maybe scouting offers similar benefits without the violence? If you’re looking for camaraderie, a sense of belonging and a set of values that have nothing to do with commercial worth, you can find them in the scouts.

  5. I think it’s adversity that binds people together. The best non-violent experiences to create such a bond are maybe working with Medecins Sans Frontieres or the Red Cross in some parts of Africa.

  6. I agree with the your sentiments within this article
    I had once thought about joining the army – mainly for the
    Travel and the exciting life ( in comparsion to civilian
    life that is). I had also thought about joining the navy – and perhaps might still join it – for all the reasons above.

  7. I have colleagues who joined the chaplains’ branch and are now coming out having done something in the twenty-odd years I have spent drinking tea and working at fetes.

  8. Well, when talking about careers- mum used to always
    ask and put forward the option of the ministry. I never
    felt the calling and also i never wanted to join it because
    of the very reason you mentioned above. It just seemed to tame
    for me. Im sure its an interesting and rewarding vocation,perhaps
    missionary work would be more challeging. I never found the idea
    of organising cake sales, the annual christmas auction or the
    senior citizens outing very appealing. I know this is the kind of things that go on in most churches- while all fine and good, they offer little in the way of challenge or excitement.

  9. I think my wife would probably talk about much more exciting ministry than I would, I’m afraid I’m a plodder. She is central director of ordinands and has overseen the production of a DVD called ‘As I am’, which is about vocations to ordination (amongst people who don’t spend the week getting ready for the fete!)

  10. well, theres nothing wrong with being a plodder- i have the ideas but never seem to get around to them, so i ended up plodding along too ! That sounds an interesting line of work,
    that dvd is quite good im sure.

  11. Email me if you’d like a copy!

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