Last night in the Richard Dimbleby Lecture Sir Mike Jackson argued that soldiers deserved the public’s unreserved support in the work that they do. Now arguments about the wrongness of the Iraq invasion aside I find this very difficult as a feminist and a woman. Soldiers across the world, including our own, are responsible for atrocities against women on a regular basis. In the past few weeks British soldiers have been courtmartialled for rape in countries as far apart as Iraq and Cyprus. The British Army is one of the most unfriendly employers of women where women recruits are expected to accept sexual harassment and violence as “part of the job”. The fact is unreserved support for armed forces would mean, in effect, condoning this sexual violence and accepting it as “normal”. That’s something I, for one, am not prepared to do – no groups should be held above the standards of normal, legal behaviour.
I’m afraid Sir Mike’s call is inappropriate given the behaviour of British troops all over the world, including in the UK. Whilst I agree that servicemen should not be blamed for the ills of government policy nor should such specious factors as “testosterone”, “group dynamics” or “masculinity” be blamed for events as diverse as sexually explicit hazing (against men and women), rape, torture and misogyny. Sir Mike needs to smell the coffee, very few people would blame servicement for following government orders but they do need to be held accountable (and rarely are at the current time) for their own behaviour.