Sunday 23 September 2012

Somalia, here we come

Friday was World Peace Day, and to mark the occasion Cymdeithas y Cymod (Fellowship of Reconciliation), a Welsh society dedicated to promoting peace and reconciliation in the world, had hoped to have a 30 second film broadcast in one of the advertising slots on S4C. Clearcast, the organisation which monitors advertising on the channel, ruled that the film could not be shown because its subject, the human cost of war and conflict, was a "matter of public controversy".

The BBC's report on the story can be found here.

Cymdeithas y Cymod was founded in 1914, and in its long history it has had many distinguished supporters, including Waldo Williams, one of the best loved of all Welsh poets. Following in Waldo's footsteps today is Mererid Hopwood, academic and poet.

Cymod has pointed out that army recruitment ads are a staple of S4C's advertising slots, and that it is hard to understand how encouraging young people to sign up for armed conflict in places like Afghanistan is acceptable, while 30 seconds to remind people of the human cost of war are not.

Wales is fertile ground for the armed forces' recruiting officers who can offer a way out of unemployment and low-paid jobs with training, a chance to "see the world" and a bit of excitement. Rather less emphasis is placed on post traumatic stress or the chances of ending up maimed or dead.

A young woman who grew up in this area joined the Army earlier this year. She will turn 20 soon, and is going through training. Her boyfriend is also in the Army and has been learning to drive tanks. He's about the same age.

Both of them have been told that they can expect at least one tour of duty in Afghanistan before British troops are withdrawn, and recently they have heard that they may be sent out to Somalia.

Somalia? Who knew that British troops were going to Somalia? Most people had probably assumed that budget cuts and perhaps, just perhaps, lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan would mean that the British Government would not rush into any new foreign adventures for a while.

Somalia has been without a government for almost 25 years, and for much of that time it has been probably the most dangerous place on earth. There are some tentative signs that the situation is improving there, with the government now in control of the capital and parts of the countryside. The  militias are said to be on the decline.

What better, then, than to send Western troops there to help with reconstruction and training? Or rather, what would be more likely to put new wind in the sails of the extremists and breathe new life into the dying embers of the civil war?

We have not heard much about British involvement in Somalia, but the BBC reported a couple of months back that some 10 advisers had established a presence there.

The Americans began their involvement in Vietnam by sending out advisers. Are young men and women in their early 20s also advisers?

So let's carry on applauding as some royal or other unveils the latest military memorial. Bomber Command was the most recent. And we can stand to attention while they raise the flags on Armed Forces Day (that ancient tradition stretching all the way back to Gordon Brown's time in Downing Street), and toss another fiver into the Help for Heroes collecting box.

But whatever we do, let's not count the cost in lives lost or wrecked on all sides as we send the boys in.

Back in 1941 Waldo Williams reflected in his poem Y Tangnefeddwyr (The Peacemakers) on watching the sky glow red as Swansea was bombed. He remembered what he had learned from his parents, and wrote:

Cenedl dda a chenedl ddrwg -
Dysgent hwy mai rhith yw hyn
Ond goleuni Crist a ddwg
Ryddid i bob dyn a'i myn.
Gwyn eu byd, daw dydd a'u clyw,
Dangnefeddwyr, plant i Dduw.

(Good nation or bad nation - so they taught, is mere fantasy. Only in Christ's light is freedom had for any man that would be free. Blest, a day dawns that will hear them, Peacemakers, children of God).


The banned advert can be seen here. It is very simple and direct, stating that war costs too many lives to count, and goes on to ask viewers to join Cymdeithas y Cymod.

Having watched it, Clearcast's decision becomes even harder to understand.


caebrwyn said...

Interesting post and worrying news. The army recruitment process is deceptive to say the least. I find the visits to secondary schools particularly distasteful as they tempt youngsters, at a very suggestive age, into the service by way of paid vocational training courses from carpentry to catering. The whole package is wrapped up as an exciting see-the-world experience and the kids have a great day on the portable assault course. I had to point out to all my children that in reality, they would be ordinary squaddies and shipped off to fight in foreign parts before they knew what was happening, never mind a course in army cake making. I suppose that when it comes to propaganda, the army is an expert.

Anonymous said...

It is all very well espousing an essentialy pacifist outlook on life but at some point someone has to have the courage to fight for this country to maintain what we all hold dear. I know that in recent years our leaders have taken desicions which were just plain wrong but I still maintain that whilst the world is as it is we need a strong military maintained under effective democratic control.
I know that to be a concientous objector was to demonstrate great personal courage but if everybody took that stance we would all be speaking German right now

Anonymous said...

How do you join this group, and who are the members, who are the members . is it like THE FREE WALES ARMY

Cneifiwr said...

Er, no it's nothing like the FWA. If anyone is interested in finding out more, their website is here:

Click on the flags to change language.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you cneifiwr, people dying in Somalia is not our problem. Why should we send our young to sort out Africa's problems. We should leave it become a another failed state for the African union to sort out. It's a myth that problems out there have any effect on us.