Being in Iraq was confusing. A lot of us didn’t know why we were there. The Iraq Inquiry has yet to report. It’s hard to believe in something that seems to have no reason. After 9/11 everyone could understand the initial foray into Afghanistan, but Iraq? I suppose it’s hard to feel heroic about something in which you didn’t believe. But once we were on the ground we did what we could. I saw some heroes there—people doing extraordinary things in a confusing and dangerous situation. There are also those who hate being in uniform and those who hide when there’s work to be done. There are also some who don’t even deserve the label of soldier, much less hero.
There are heroes at war and heroes at home. One of the most inspirational men I have ever met is Ben Griffin. He served in the Parachute Regiment. The Airborne has always been a tough place to serve, but this wasn’t enough for Ben; he then joined the SAS. The UK Special Forces is renowned as one of the world’s best. To join isn’t easy; I failed. Ben was part of a Special Forces operation in Iraq that he felt was morally corrupt. He resigned and spoke about his experiences to expose wrongdoing. There were no medals in this; Ben was gagged by a lifelong injunction. He then set up Veterans for Peace UK and started campaigning for something in which he believes. Our views differ at times, but I see him as a hero to stand alone, away from former comrades. To be gagged by the courts yet still have the courage to carry on is heroic to me.
Samuel Johnson said, “Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, or not having been at sea.” I believe it’s relative. You don’t know what you would have done had you joined and put on a uniform. Some do a lot, while some don’t do very much at all. The next time you look at a parade of soldiers, remember they’re people like you. Some of them are heroes, some are soldiers, and some are not. I was a soldier but never a hero.
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