On the day that Prime Minister Blair announces his departure from office, let us take note of the trail of despair he leaves behind, not least for the families of those who have lost their loved ones in Iraq. Rifleman Paul Donnachie, who was killed on April 29 while on duty in the Ashar district of Basra, brought to 14 the number of teenager UK soldiers to die in the name of Blair’s illegal war and occupation of Iraq. Donnachie’s death and that of 18-year old Aaron Lincoln, who died on April 2, shows the way that unemployed youth from the most deprived parts of Britain are being made to pay the ultimate price of New Labour’s imperial policies. For many working class youth, joining the armed forces is often the only route out of poverty and a life with no future. Aaron Lincoln was from the Sherburn Road estate in County Durham, which has a high unemployment rate, like most of the former mining and industrial parts of Britain. His father, Peter, refused to sign his son’s parental consent papers because he did not want his son to join up. Peter Lincoln said: "He couldn’t get a job in the factories around here until he was 18, but he could go and learn to kill. He never had a life, did he?" Two of the dead soldier’s siblings, Craig and Christina, are unemployed and there are few prospects for teenagers without qualifications locally. Aaron was only one of the thousands of teenagers who fall prey to active army recruitment in working class communities, not only in the north-east, but in the north-west, Midlands and Scotland.
Writer Tom Wall has described the £70m "recruitment machine " that delivers these teenagers for Britain's armed forces. Wall investigated the recruitment of teenagers after interviewing Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon was killed at the age of 19 in 2003. "More than 1,000 crack recruiters, including 60 career advisers and 28 army youth teams, trawl schools, Jobcentres and high streets for likely candidates. They are backed up by 123 recruitment offices and a £15m promotional budget spent on high-profile TV and press adverts, glossy publications and youth-oriented websites. Derek Bathgate, an army marketing co-ordinator, says their current ad campaign is directed at 16- to 25-year-olds. Tellingly, adverts are broadcast during programmes such as I'm a Celebrity…. Get Me Out of Here!, highlights from the Champions League and MTV music awards," says Wall. "The army even runs a web site called ‘My Camouflage’ (at the cost of £1m) directed at children as young as 13. The budding squaddies can play online games (such as shooting alien spaceships) and compete in military themed quizzes. Once they tire of make-believe warfare, they can go to army recruitment events in their local area." So what was the reality for recruits, working class or not, when they were sent to Iraq? As one officer, Leo Docherty, who was sent to Iraq, discovered: "We realised the issue was not replacing tyranny with democracy, but gaining long-term access to oil. As Blair prepares to leave office, Iraq is descending into deeper human tragedy and British troops are still dying." When it comes to assess Blair’s "legacy", the blood of dead, working class teenage soldiers killed in the name of oil, will be weighed alongside the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives destroyed since March 2003.
Corinna Lotz, AWTW secretary