Monday, March 13, 2017

He joined the wrong army (1957)

From the May 1957 issue of the Socialist Standard

No medals, glory, and a brilliant army career for poor George Christopher Grice (26), of Acton—be joined the wrong army. He was once a member of the Irish Republican Army, and for harbouring some ammunition in his room he was recently sentenced at Middlesex Sessions to twelve months' incarceration in one of Her Majesty’s prisons (Manchester Guardian, 15/3/57).

This unfortunate erstwhile (irregular) soldier was obviously unaware of the benefits of being a member of the (Regular) British Army, whose manifold attractions are amply depicted in a splendid full-page advertisement in the Manchester Guardian, (26/2/57). A list of these attractions (including a good salary and prospects, plenty of travel, and opportunities for sport—blood sports, no doubt) are suitably embellished by an enormous picture of an exploding atom bomb to stress the peaceful nature of army life. Had Mr. Grice seen this advert his future career might have taken a more profitable turn: for instance, the advert, assures us that if be were exceptional (doubtful, we fear, in view of bis inability to conceal a paltry collection of bullets successfully) there would be nothing between him and a Field Marshal’s baton. Furthermore, as a subaltern in his first regimental duty, be would "probably be in charge of 40 men and some thousands of pounds worth of equipment." This makes the grenade and the box containing 26 rounds of .32 ammunition that were found in his room look pretty small-time.

But Mr. Grice does not seem to have been a very steel-hearted soldier—he left the I.RA in January, 1955, because, according to the Manchester Guardian, "he did not agree with the violent side of I.R.A. activities." Mr. Cassell (the prosecuting counsel) was quick to comment on this pacifist (and if we may say so, typically Irish) attitude to army life by asking Mr. Grice, “There is no point in having an army unless it is going to fight, is there?" Perhaps Mr. Cassell had also missed the army advert (It is headed PLAY A LEADING PART IN KEEPING WORLD PEACE) which states that if you join the Regular Army “you are declaring that you are prepared actively to help maintain peace." In other words, the army will ensure peace even if it has to use the H-bomb in the process. Clear? Pursuing this peaceful theme, the advert declares that the armed forces of the Western nations form "a weighty stabilising influence in a world disturbed by -isms and -ologies" (capitalism and theology, for instance?), and if you join the British Army "you work for the continued existence of the British way of life." We would add that with explosives such as are depicted in the advert., you would also contribute notably to the British way of death.

Mr. Grice’s unfortunate choice of armies was further highlighted by the chairman of the magistrates who presided over his trial. Had he joined the British Army, Mr. Grice would have had access to all kinds of beautiful weapons (the advert mentions guided missiles); but he chose a less well organised outfit, whose relations with the British Government, moreover, are strained to say the least. Hence the chairman told Mr. Grice “bullets are for killing, and the one thing we have got to ensure in this country is that bullets are not obtained. People are dying daily because misguided young men like you collect bullets I and let them off." In case any reader gets the impression that the chairman’s statement is a piece of strong pacifist propaganda, we would hazard that it is mainly directed against people in those organisations which oppose the British state machine (the Cypriot "terrorists," Mau Mau, for example): For, under different circumstances, did not the British government arrange for arms and ammunition to be parachuted to the Maquis and other resistance groups during the late war to encourage their guerrilla struggles against enemy forces? It all depends on which side you’re on, and poor Mr. Grice backed a loser.

But perhaps there are drawbacks to joining any army. As Mr. Cassell said, there is no point in having an army unless it’s going to fight, and Mr. Grice’s father said in the witness-box: “I put down this lad’s downfall to the war, when I was away."

Amid this welter of contradictions, the Socialist message stands out clearly. Grice and millions of other young men of the working-class throughout the world are wasting their time and causing themselves untold suffering by supporting their various capitalist groups however attractively the different military needs are cloaked in propaganda to pander to nationalist prejudices. We urge the Grices of the world to give earnest consideration to the case for Socialism the only hope for world peace and the future of mankind.
Michael La Touche




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