LCpl Joe Glenton: The War is Local
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.