To protest against MPs voting to join the US-led bombing campaign in Syria, veterans of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and the Gulf War cast aside their medals outside Downing Street on 8 December.
These are not distant suited officials in parliament, but veterans with first-hand experience of the brutal realities of war. David Lenham, who served in the RAF from 2002- 2014, said:
In protest at the decision to bomb Syria, we will hand back medals given to us for participating in previous attacks on the Middle East.
Medals represent honour, pride and achievement, and casting them aside is a strong indictment of further military action in the Middle East. David Smith, who served in the Royal Green Jackets, said:
I want to express my utter disgust at the decision to unlawfully bomb Syria, god help all those who are likely to suffer as a result of this action. I renounce all forms of state sanctioned Warfare and Violence.
These veterans are speaking out against the cyclical nature of war. Kirk Sollitt, who served in the Gulf War, said:
By bombing in Syria we are killing innocent, vulnerable sentient beings, men, women and children. You cannot sow bloodshed and reap peace. I no longer want these medals
And to what endgame? Last time David Cameron was banging the war drum it was against Bashar al-Assad, not ISIS (Daesh). There are many factions fighting in Syria, from the Free Syrian Army to the Kurdish, so what does victory look like? Each faction has different interests, meaning finding reliable intel for targets will be hard. The UK just carried out “successful” bombings on oil fields that were reportedly already “obliterated,” led by a Prime Minister who himself said air strikes will lead to “further radicalisation and increased terrorism.”
The voices of veterans must be amplified in this debate. No one can understand the devastating and counter-productive consequences of war more than those who have lived it. Indeed, those close to the other end of the offensive in Syria are also strongly against the bombing. The veterans’ stance corresponds with those who come from the Daesh occupied city of Raqqa. As the Observer reports:
Many are baffled and frustrated that the city’s fate is being decided in distant capitals and conference rooms where the people of Raqqa have no presence, in debates where they have no voice.
Veterans and civilians represent both sides of the flesh and blood of the conflict and are unified against the air strikes. However, war is a profitable business. British companies reaped the rewards ‘rebuilding’ Iraq after the war, and arms manufacturers evidently directly benefit from conflict. Whatever the motives of the politicians, their views are not shared by civilians in Syria, nor by UK veterans of recent wars who by discarding their war medals in this protest are making a damning indictment of the Government’s actions.