Monday, March 30, 2009

Service Guarantees Citizenship : Life Imitates Art

Mark Reed on former soldiers winning priority access to benefits, housing and the NHS

Critics of Paul Verhoven's 1997 Starship Troopers call it gratuitiously violent, and well, stupid. It is, by the way, both those things, but not only that, Starship Troopers is a savagely literate satire of the climate of war. In it, mankind is cast as a fallen empire, the final scenes of the film echoing Hitler's last pinning of a medal onto an army of schoolchilden, the plot a flimsy parable that can be interpreted to represent the raising of Gaia against an abusive Homo Stupidus.

And whilst the film echoes, in a futuristic setting, an arrogant regime reaping what it sows, it also predicts our current times. In it, only those who have served in the military are 'citizens', and only citizens can vote or access anything other than basic services.

I thought Starship Troopers was a parody. But, as today's Independent reveals, it certainly isn't.

“Four million former servicemen and women are to be given veterans' cards to ensure they get priority treatment for NHS healthcare and housing, and discounts for services such as transport.” Why?

So that there is no ambiguity on the position here, the military is proposing a segregation of public services: so that the military are the haves, and the rest of us, the great unwashed, are the have nots.

Why should veterans get fast-tracked access to health services and financial benefits? Or perhaps, to make it clearer, why should people who haven't been in the military be subject to second-rate and delayed access to health care? Why should I – because I haven't piloted a helicopter gunship through Iraq – be denied the benefits of society? Why should soldiers be treated any differently?

Sure, soldiers are brave, but put me behind a gazillion pounds of technology and bullet proof armour, and I would feel brave.

The role of Government is to serve the public. If it isn't, then Whitehall needs to quit its jibber jabber, and stop lying. Tell us what it really thinks. So far, though, the Government's contemptious attitude to the general public is only revealed through sleight of hand and stealth.

Let us examine another line: “The Ministry of Defence plans to introduce the cards at the beginning of 2010, The Independent has learnt, in an attempt to begin repairing the damage done to the military covenant between nation and armed forces under New Labour.”

Fuck on a stick, New Labour really are that dumb.

If the MoD and New Labour wants to repair the damage it should reconsider.

Firstly, the system should face the consequence of its actions. And apologise for murdering soldiers and civilians on false grounds. Something short and snappy : “We lied. You died. Sorry.”

Secondly, get the soliders out of there.

It may sound like a broken record, but ultimately, the military conflict is a collossal mistake and poor military strategy. The most effective way to correct faulty strategy is not to succumb to the stupidity of pride and plow on, but to reconsider and withdraw if necessary. People who admit they have made mistakes are smarter than people who don't admit that they have made mistakes. Firstly, if you admit you have made mistakes, you are willing to learn from experience. Secondly, if you think everything you do is automatically right because you've done it, you will never do anything wrong, and you will never stop making mistakes.

And thirdly, and finally, soldiers must accept the public opinion of many of them: they are hired killers. Those of us who have evolved beyond blowing each other up in gunpoint diplomacy see the military as willing participants. Soldiers know the risks. You accept the risks when you wear the uniform. Being in the military is a gamble: you risk getting your legs blown off. It is a tragedy and undoubtedly a horrific experience for all concerned – but don't be so naïve and stupid as to think joining the army means you can drive around doing wheelies in tanks. You will get shot at, and many of you will die. Being brave also means accepting the consequences.

Soldiers are not special. They are not better than any of the rest of us. They are not more deserving. They are not first class citizens, with the rest of us lilly livered cardigan wearing guardianistas as second class serfs put on the planet to provide for them. The principle of democracy is equality.

Unless democracy is just a word politicans throw around to confuse the populace.

This is not to say that the former military get fair or adequate post-combat care. They don't. Then again, the quarter of the population that experience mental health issues in society deserve better care as well. When I had my nervous breakdown, the NHS told me to take the pills and shut up. I reached out and was pushed away.

What if the whole of mankind just grew up and diverted the military budget into health care and social care?

The bottom line of this is that those who have served in the military deserve fair and equal treatment, and if that means being treated as shabbily as the rest of us cowardly proles, then so be it. The entitlement to access of care should apply to all of us, not just the few. We, the people are here to be served by the Government, and not the other way round. The tail don't wag the dog, and the military deserve fair and equal treatment. Those of us who chose not to serve in the military are not second class citizens, and we do not deserve second class treatment.


Helen Highwater said...

I hadn't heard about this... oh dear. Do they really think the shoddy way they equipped the military can be made up for by a magic card which lets you jump the queue for everything? Maybe nurses could be given the magic card too, you know, working for crap wages in rubbish conditions with incredibly rude people. Oh no sorry, you didn't risk being blown up. You don't count as a hero, sorry. Do they get their card revoked if they've played human pyramids with prisoners?

My 18 year old brother is determined to join the Army in the most belligerent manner possible (well, he's 18, what else do we expect), and even telling him that he risks being blown up isn't enough to deter him. His reasons for joining up? "Camaraderie and it being a good thing to die for the country." He can now add to that pathetic list "and a magic card!"

Rayyan said...

You should read Robert Heinlein's novel, upon which the movie was based. The satire is even more precise in that.

No one should be given preferential treatment. Whoever needs treatment, gets it - that's the principle of public healthcare. We are on a slippery slope - I was listening to the radio yesterday and irate callers were opposing any suggestion that prisoners be allowed to vote (we are, incidentally, one of the few developed countries that disenfranchises our prisoners). How long till we start denying them healthcare so it can go to "our boys" instead?

Helen, you should give the Wilfred Owen poem Dulce Et Decorum Est to your brother!

Helen Highwater said...

Rayyan, yes, indeed! I think he'd probably believe the piffle of Rupert Brooke's "The Soldier" though. :-/