I fought in an unjust war. Let me tell you what that feels like
Soldiers sent to fight the bad fight are right to be angry. The politicians who send us to die and kill – in places like Kasoa – must be held to account
Outside the Military Cemetery in Accra on Friday, June 9, 2017, was a gathering of soldiers to say farewell to a fallen hero – Major Maxwell Mahama. In its ranks were a number of military veterans, serving officers and men. Most were, unsurprisingly, passionately angry at the deployment of soldiers to undertake bad internal operations.
Most of them, when asked about the operation in Diaso in the Upper Denkyira District of the Central Region to check Galamsey activitie , did share one position very firmly. It has been expressed to me again and again in a single word: betrayal. In Diaso, and recently Kasoa and elsewhere, we were betrayed. In my experience this feeling is also present among soldiers and veterans who are not overtly political.
That is what you feel when you are a soldier in an operation you do not believe in or have come to see as a sham.
It is right that the recent events in Domefaase, an area near Kasoa where two soldiers were on Tuesday brutally assaulted and beaten to pulp will dominate the headlines for some time to come, but it is not the only internal operation we have fought or are fighting. There are others: Petro filling stations, night clubs, restaurants and many more. Mine was at a night club in Tema.
I was a true believer. I wanted to be a soldier from a young age because a life in the forces offered everything a working-class kid could want. A route out of poverty, a sense of meaning, a tribe. The services appeared to have all the trappings of a better life in pursuit of a nobler world – for me and for others.
I loved the army. I loved my regiment, my squadron and my troop. I loved the life the military offered me and wanted to stay for ever. But that desire, indoctrinated into me, could not square with the reality of the unnecessary internal operations Ghana was fighting. It is like being all dressed up with nowhere to go. We were ready to die but had nothing worth dying for. Though die we did, and in the hundreds.
The uncontested account of my experience of how I got nearly killed due to an unnecessary deployment to a night club in Tema has been recorded elsewhere. But it is merely one single example of a process many, many soldiers and veterans have gone through since they joined service.
I see now more clearly than ever that my comrades and I were – to a greater or lesser extent depending on our jobs – hired muscle for great power. As a sagacious Lebanon veteran once told me of his experience in one of these unnecessary internal deployments: “I realised out there that I was nothing more than a redcoat” (a reference to how Americans viewed the occupying British troops during their war of independence).
Many of my comrades who were deployed to area such as the recent one in Kasoa had similarly jarring experiences, which were all the more horrific for them, as true believers themselves. This tribe we had enlisted in was not, it turned out, a force for good or liberation or anything of that kind.
Others do not come to that realisation in an overt way. Instead they internalise their eperations. They try, and mostly fail, to shut the door on it.
Some contend with the reality of having been a soldier in a wasteful, unnecessary internal operations. They become embittered and twisted because they are determined to cling to the idea their operation was worth it – if they lost friends or were wounded they cling even harder.
A historian of war once theorised that in those cases, where the determination to maintain that your unnecessary internal operation was right and justified even in the face of the facts, you become a kind of expression of imperialism – as warped and contradictory as, for example, the Iand guard operation in Kasoa.
If you are serving at the time you come to the realisation that your apparently heroic role in the military is a lie, so you face a choice. You can fight on knowing that these useless internal operation isn’t worth it, or you can resist. If you resist you may will face the full might of the military crashing down on you.
If you don’t resist you will regret it for ever; if you do you may – though it is not a given at all – face censure from colleagues, and you will certainly attract the ire of your superiors, who will see your objections as a challenge to their authority. This is part of the legacy of the recent Kasoa events, which, owing to the prevailing hero culture of the military, risks being missed.
An alienated soldiery is a dangerous thing in these unsettled times. But, as angry veterans are drawn toward the radical end of politics, it remains to be seen whom it is dangerous for. My hope is that their discontent is directed at the status quo that sent us to die in the fields of our own homeland Ghana.