Earlier this week, I came out publicly against the war in Iraq. I'm not the only member of the Labour Party to be opposed to our military participation in this American-led adventure, nor am I the only soldier. In fact, there is a growing vocal minority within the Territorial Army that is against the war. Nonetheless I am the first one to make it clear, in public, that if called to serve in Iraq, I will refuse.
This has not been a decision arrived at impulsively. I have never believed in the rightness of this war; in fact I was on the big anti-war March in February 2003. Even then - before the absence of the weapons of mass destruction that Prime Minister Blair and President Bush cited as the principal reason to rush to war was admitted by all - I was astounded that they could take us to war when it was clear the majority of the population was opposed. Members of the Labour Party at the time were talking about practicing an "ethical foreign policy", and yet there was nothing ethical about the way this was being planned and sold to the public.
It was not as though there was no alternative at the time. Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons inspector, and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had both pressed for more time before the final decisions were taken. And much of the rest of the world, both governments and their peoples, were saying, "Let's get this investigation sorted before we start blowing up human beings."
I could have quietly left the Army then, without fuss; you can resign from the Territorial Army if you've not actually been called up to serve in action. But from boyhood I had wanted to be a soldier; in fact, when I was 22 I had taken advantage of my dual Cypriot-British citizenship, and done national service for the Greek army in Cyprus. Later I had joined the TA, as a medic, and I was proud to be a part of that institution, and bound to my friends and comrades there, some of whom agreed with me about the futility, immorality and illegality of the war. None of us had been called up yet, so we succumbed to the all too human temptation to put off the evil day until it was upon us. In the end, quite a few did resign, and others who were called up deliberately failed their medical examinations.
But although I stayed on a while longer, in the last year, when two of my comrades returned wounded, I began thinking seriously about what I could do to help end this continuing war. I began to do a lot of research, learning everything I could about the illegality and immorality of our occupation of Iraq. And I started to go on the anti-war demos that continue around the country. I listened to peace campaigners and soldiers who had been out there, and MPs like George Galloway. I would recommend similar research to any soldier who is having doubts about the war.
Finally, one day about a month ago, I stood up at a demo in my local London borough of Hackney and just said "I want to get out of this, but what can I do?" It became clear that working with Military Families Against the War, I could make public my despair, my anger and my intention to refuse any call-up to serve in Iraq.
I wanted to leave the TA in the public way I have because, although so many solders are against this war, they don't have a rallying point. There has to be someone who is the first to go. After that, there will be another and another and another. They're out there, the soldiers who want to make plain their refusal to part of this illegal war - I know, I've talked to them.
Many people, even those who agree with my views on the war, will say that it is not the place of soldiers to decide which wars they will fight; that decision must be taken by their senior officers, and ultimately by the government of the day. But you should only obey orders that are morally right. The WMD claims were untrue, and so many other lies were told in the pursuit of this war. Every individual soldier also has the moral right to decide whether he will put his life on the line. After all, it is his flesh and blood that gets wounded; that gives him the right to an opinion.
And in the modern army, not every opinion will be the same. No longer do soldiers come from a uniform cultural background. The Army wants lots of ethnic groups, and now that they've got them, they have to accept that there will be different points of view. Think of the position of Muslims in the Army. My own background as Greek Cypriot has made me aware of some distasteful things that the British military did in Cyprus in the Fifties; so I too have a different perspective. If the Government wants their soldiers to fight, they will have to be clear and honest about what they are asking them to do.
I'm proud to be part of the military family that is against the war. There will be more soldiers coming out soon, and I'll be proud to stand next to them on 19 March at the anti-war demo in London. We can help stop this illegal and immoral war, and that is our duty now.
If any soldier would like to contact George Solomou or Military Families Against the War, they can do so at www.mfaw.org.ukReuse content