14 July 2016
Rights language is grounded in the idea that each one of us deserves something
The aftermath of Chilcot was distressing in many respects. Not only because of the painful reminder of lives lost, or because of the continuing tragedy that is Iraq. These are necessary needles to our consciences, which keep us honest and stop us forgetting. But it was also distressing in a less salutary sense, by providing a stage for yet another of the witch-hunts that dominate so much of our media.
In this allegedly post-religious age, witch-hunts remain a staple of our collective discourse: a breathless and sadistic delight in another’s public shame. It is our equivalent of lynching: the verbal hoisting and strangulation of public villains for the satisfaction and cleaner consciences of us all.
The desperate grief of dead soldiers’ parents cannot help but provoke the deepest anguish and compassion, so that one hardly dares question them except in quavering sotto voce. But in what war, in which age, under what command, has the circumstance of every death been meaningful, worthwhile, purposeful? In which field of conflict were soldiers perfectly cared for and immaculately equipped? When did we start expecting that those who bear arms will always die in a just and flawless cause?
In joining the armed forces one makes oneself hostage to a government and a state, which are as likely to err, to be as morally fragile, as any and each human being, if not more so. And further, in the moment of taking up arms, one has publicly taken – consciously or not – a personal part in the state’s violence; one has made of oneself a weapon, and can no longer expect to be personally inviolable, if any of us ever can.
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