LCpl Joe Glenton: The War is Local

Thursday, 19th November 2009 at 14:50 UTC 7 comments

On Saturday I took part in a stall and vigil protesting at the incarceration of York Soldier Lance Corporal Joe Glenton. It was an intense affair, with media interest normally not shown to a mere anti-war stall, hundreds signing petitions and some very heated exchanges. The struggle to end the Afghanistan War is no longer just about a place several thousand miles away, it has come home.

“Support Joe Glenton, York’s Son, York’s Hero” I shouted through a megaphone. 223 people would sign the petition in support of his case in just 2 hours. We took more money than we took on weekly stalls in 2003, when the Iraq conflict was fresh in people’s minds. It was a brilliant, bizarre and unexpected day. In a way, its why I still have time for York Against the War; because, despite the years and the downturns, its still a key vehicle for public opinion in the city. It was where my life as an activist was born, where I grew up, and from where I set out on my many adventures.

But right now, in a Colchester Military Prison, rated the worst jail in the country, Lance Corporal Glenton faces trial for a succession of alleged crimes that are indisputably political. He is perhaps the first real British war-refuser of the Afghanistan conflict. His case harks back to the days of, dare I say it…


Now, you may or may not have had the experience of standing watching an anti-war rally in London with some big name/ego making pronouncements about the Iraq or Afghan conflict, and feeling a sense of desperation at the crass way the Vietnam conflict was invoked. It was the easiest of all rhetoric to say “this war is becoming more and more like Vietnam by the day” or something like that. This was a tenuous link that betrayed a sense of bleary-eyed “if only it were still the raging 70’s” in the speaker’s mind. I wanted to clap, but I realised that the phrase was probably historically stupid and if not, then certainly a liability in other ways. If nothing else, the comparison devalued the suffering.

But one thing that really did happen in the Vietnam Conflict was draft dodging and conscientious objection. And that’s exactly what we have here. Well, OK, not draft dodging as such, but someone who was told to report for a duty he could not accept due to the lack of clear reasoning behind it. It gives the conflict a face, and a a very local one.

I said in a York Against the War meeting this week that previously the Afghanistan conflict has been a little hard to bring home to the people of York. A theoretically immoral situation with lots of statistics to convince people, yes. But without thousands of Muslims and their sense of connectedness to the issue, which characterised my experience of anti-war campaigning in Bradford, York is about as far from Afghanistan as you can get.

Joe is 2 years older than myself, and I can’t really imagine facing spending the next 10 years of life in prison cells, let alone military prison cells. Its a brave stand to be making, a massive gamble with immense odds. He can argue his case in court (to the extent that one can during a court martial). Ultimately, only if it becomes politically expedient will he be released. The British Government knows as well as we do that any case of peaceful martyrdom on the side of the soldiers will look bad on them, and that any failure to imprison Joe will vindicate the view that the war was illegal and immoral on so many different levels. Either way, he’s got their backs to the wall, but it will only work if we guard his back in return.

Joe may not be the perfect image of a hippy peacenik protester. But the man has the experience from which to make his judgements. He is making a sacrifice none of us can make, and we owe him not just sympathy, but practical and political support in securing his release, ensuring massive media coverage and providing a route onto the front pages of the national press for his trial. Wishing him luck isn’t enough, we have to join in too.


Entry filed under: Activism, Afghanistan, News, Peace, Politics.

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Dave L  |  Thursday, 19th November 2009 at 16:30 UTC

    Hi Graham,

    Interesting post. Without details of what form this soldier’s “alleged crimes” take, beyond apparently refusing to report for duty, it is a little difficult to formulate much of a response.

    I will say, though, that a certain level of personal decision making is signed away by anyone who joins the armed forces. This has limitations, of course, but is a necessity for the military to hope to operate with any degree of success.

    I agree it is very difficult to accept that 10 years incarceration is a proportionate response to what I am assuming is a refusal to go to Afghanistan. I would however suggest that a soldier who wasn’t prepared to do this really needed to leave the army, or begin the process of doing so, once war was declared and he reached the conclusion that he was not prepared to take part in it.

    As you acknowledge, this is – crucially – not a case of draft dodging, and neither is the war ‘our Vietnam’, to anyone with even a basic grasp of history and politics. This man is, from the information you give, refusing to follow orders after having voluntarily put himself in a job where obeying orders is a pre-requisite (again, within reason – but I don’t think anyone has asked him to break any international laws?).

    All in all, we may be a little short on heroes, but even so I’m not sure this man is one in my eyes.


  • 2. Anon  |  Thursday, 19th November 2009 at 17:18 UTC

    Members of the Armed Forces are still entitled to Conscienciously Object.

  • 3. Dave L  |  Thursday, 19th November 2009 at 17:51 UTC


    But not, I’m fairly sure, to go AWOL for two years.

  • 4. Dave L  |  Thursday, 19th November 2009 at 17:51 UTC

    Sorry; meant to give this link:

  • 5. PJ  |  Thursday, 19th November 2009 at 19:04 UTC


    i don’t think they do. we have a 100% volunteer armed forces so if you want to conscienciously object then don’t join. whether or not selectivity of objection is tenable is moot, but joe glenton joined the army three years after the UK became involved in this conflict. and i don’t think it reflects well on him that his desertion has coincided with a period when the casualty rate among UK forces has gone up significantly (nor the fact that he was AWOL for two years)

    • 6. Graham Martin  |  Friday, 20th November 2009 at 0:45 UTC

      Thanks for all the debate.

      Three years would lead to about 2004. In the intervening period (another 5 years) many many people who have not set foot in Afghanistan have changed their mind on the conflict. For the first three years, many many people supported it, and besides, it was mostly pushed down the media agenda by Iraq.

      That Joe signed up during the war, went to the front line willingly, saw the carnage and only then, with the hard facts in his mind, made a value judgement on the war, it makes his case all the more compelling. I opposed this war from day 1. In one sense, it makes no odds how I feel about it now. And my views are not based on the facts before my eyes, they are second hand facts, pushed through the media lens.

      The 2 years AWOL argument does seem at first a compelling case against Joe, but think of it this way: if his crime was so severe it warranted jail time, why wasn’t he sought and apprehended much sooner? Its not like a murder, where you have to figure who it was and do DNA searches and so forth, the guy didn’t show up, wasn’t on the roll call.

      One day, maybe not a big enough deal. One week, you’d think alarm bells would ring. One month? One year? If I was implicated in an imprisonable offence, would they leave me walking free for 2 years? I can’t think of another imprisonable offence where you’d walk free that long. Seems he only became worth prosecuting when he made a press statement. Which makes me wonder who’s hiding what and who’s really got a guilty conscience.

  • 7. tiggs  |  Sunday, 22nd November 2009 at 19:28 UTC

    Suggests to me that the Army felt that this particular problem had quietly gone away, until he made a press statement and forced them to take action…

    Gotta admit, if I’d been AWOL for 2 years, a reporter is the last person I’d want to talk to!



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