The video that surfaced this week of British soldiers in Afghanistan taking aim at a picture of Her Majesty’s leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, cannot be exonerated from our current political predicament. This unflattering episode for the armed forces goes beyond left and right politics, it even goes beyond Brexit. It speaks to the inherent dangers of nationalism and one of our greatest institutions, the army, not understanding the very idea it is charged with defending.
Our political present is filled with the language of war – one of the Brexiteer’s favourite topics – and treason. Who can forget the Daily Mail’s “Crush the Saboteurs” and “Enemies of the People” to Nigel Farage’s calls of “betrayal?” Politics is now led by wannabe imperialists and hostile nationalists; it’s no wonder a minority in the Army believe these are the ideals, as opposed to democracy, that they’re now charged with defending.
Any army, to some extent, must hold nationalist sentiment in order to effectively carry out its job. A solider must believe that the country he or she could die for is inherently superior and they must believe the interests of their country are of more important than any interest of another nation. Once this is understood, it becomes no surprise that some in the army harbour a hostility toward Jeremy Corbyn; as they’ve been told he’s actively hostile toward the UK’s interests.
The Conservative party, many media outlets and even some in his own Labour party depict him as a national security risk. This message has seeped out from the daily tabloids and into the wider consciousness, becoming an idea ingrained in people’s minds. And it isn’t very long before an idea transitions into action. Examples include the self-professed Brexit supporter who was recently imprisoned for assaulting him, the Finsbury Park attacker who articulated a motivation to murder him, and now it transpires that factions of the British army – who are charged with defending him as a democratically elected representative – also find it acceptable to use a picture of him as target practise.
The narrative that Jeremy Corbyn is a national security threat began to gain traction when members of the security establishment offered their view. In 2015, behind the cloak of anonymity (didn’t want to be seen as breaking the rule of law he or she is meant to uphold), a senior serving general, went to the Sunday Times to warn us of “mutiny” if Corbyn were elected prime minister. “The general staff would not allow the prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul to prevent that. You can’t put a maverick in charge of a country’s security”. In light of this, the current fiasco looks more like the result of the armed forces’ internal policy, rather than a “misjudgement”. Jeremy Corbyn is, apparently, the enemy.
It is true that Corbyn is unapologetically opposed to military intervention and has a nuanced background with the IRA as well as the Islamist group Hamas and has also hinted at nuclear disarmament; all of which can be argued as risks to national security. But those arguments should be had during an election campaign, with voters being the sole arbiters on whether Corbyn’s policy proposals are a national security risk. The armed forces are there to protect this very conversation and the democracy in where it’s had, not take aim at it and certainly not decide who should govern it.
This video is yet more evidence that the armed forces are, too, assimilating to the ideologies of the wannabe imperialists and hard-right Brexiters; the armed forces must remember that Britain’s baseline values are not those represented by the nationalists in the Conservative party.