Siegfried Sassoon, decorated military hero – and poet - of WW1 wrote this attack on the war on July 17th 1917. It was first published in The Bradford Pioneer on July 27th 1917, read out in the House of Commons on July 30th 1917 and then published in The London Times on July 31st 1917
His friend and fellow-officer Robert Graves realised that he was facing a court-martial for treason and managed to convince the military authorities that he was mentally ill and unfit to face a court-martial. He was then sent to Craiglockhart Hospital and treated for shell shock – in other words, the authorities accepted the fiction that he was mentally ill rather than face the truth of his powerful words.
I am making this statement as an act of wilful defiance of military authority because I believe that the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it. I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that the war upon which I entered as a war of defence and liberation has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe that the purposes for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them and that had this been done the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.
I have seen and endured the sufferings of the troops and I can no longer be a party to prolonging these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust. I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.
On behalf of those who are suffering now, I make this protest against the deception which is being practised upon them; also I believe it may help to destroy the callous complacency with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share and which they have not enough imagination to realise.
Siegfried Sassoon 17th July 1917
Almost every word of the above can be applied to the war in Afghanistan. What officer of the British Army will now express similar sentiments with the same force?
I ask this question the day after a Scottish Labour MP, Michael McCann, in PMs Questions in the House, used the example of the appalling injuries to one of his constituents, a young soldier, his expressed support for the mission in Afghanistan and his belief that the British Forces are making a difference, to request the Prime Minister “to stay in Afghanistan until the job is done ---”, in other words, exactly the opposite of Siegfried Sassoon’s plea.
This brave and tragic young soldier has the absolute right to express his personal views to his MP, and they undoubtedly reflect the views of many serving soldiers.
Whether a politician and a member of the Blair/Brown Labour party that took us into this misconceived and mishandled nine year conflict, with no end in sight, had the right to use the soldier’s views in this way to justify a continuance of the war, and what parallels, if any, there are with the Sassoon statement, I leave you to judge for yourself.
I thought David Cameron’s reply was a model of sensitivity and dignity, even though I am no supporter of the Cameron/Clegg coalition.