Jim Hopkins on current issues

Jim Hopkins is a Herald columnist

Jim Hopkins: Soldiers serve countries, Assange only himself

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WikiLeaks founder's martyrdom product of topsy-turvy world we're living in

Soldiers can't hide in embassies - though they can be ordered to rescue hostages from them, as the SAS was in Kabul last August. Soldiers can't make grand speeches from the balcony, safe from capture or attack. They can't claim diplomatic immunity when it suits or seek the protection of their enemy's enemy to avoid being brought to book. They can't recklessly publish whatever they choose, heedless of whom it may harm or betray, then join "the club of the persecuted".

They can't insist that everybody else must "do the right thing" while they pursue each shabby opportunity to evade consequence. They can't expect the rest of the world to sing their praises, solve their problems or excuse their actions. And they can't get their mums to fight their battles for them.

Soldiers just do what soldiers have always done. They go where they're sent. And fight when they must. They obey orders, do their duty, as it is given to them, and serve their country's interests, in wars great and small, sometimes popular, sometimes not.

Because soldiers cannot choose their battlefields, any more than they can hide in embassies.

They cannot tell their governments or their commanders they'd rather fight in Florida than in Bamiyan province. They can't claim diplomatic immunity halfway through a battle or ask their enemies to "renounce" the "witch-hunt".

What they must do, unlike those who hide in embassies, is confront the very essence of themselves. They must discover every ounce of fear in them and every skerrick of courage too. Because soldiers in Bamiyan, like soldiers on the Somme or on the island of Crete, know they are doing the most dangerous thing that anyone can.

For which they are not well paid. Not when compared with those who run websites and hide in embassies. But there is something every soldier can claim that those who pursue the protection of presidents or seek the sanctity of victimhood will never understand. More clearly than those who choose to hide, soldiers have the measure of themselves. They understand the consequence of choice, the meaning of duty and the character of courage.

Those are not fashionable things in this WikiLeaks age. Better to build a pedestal and put yourself upon it than defend a charge of rape. Better to claim "protection from oppression" than face the music. Better to hide than risk the battle. Better to blame everybody else for your circumstance than confront a lack of courage.

Courage - an old-fashioned word and an antique value; seldom tested in our safe, remote, long-distance world. We don't get many chances to be brave. We don't risk much, certainly not our lives. But we do take every opportunity to canonise the craven. Martyrs are the heroes of the age. So we reward the people who hide in embassies. Julian Assange proves that it's better to be a victim than a soldier now.

There was a young man here yesterday, a medical student, part of a trio investigating community health. And we spoke of demographics and birth rates and such until, somehow, the conversation drifted to generational changes and the benefits, real or imagined, of single sex schools.

Henry (that's what we'll call him) remembered, when he was 10, how the girls at his primary school had been whisked away one day for a self-defence course - no boys allowed, and woe betide any nosy scallywag who tried to find out what was taking place in this secret session.

He also remembered what happened in the playground after the girls had finished their course. They wouldn't play with the boys. They were the enemy, demonised, stigmatised, judged a dark and threatening menace.

Ten years later, the memory was still clear and Henry still felt angry. Angry that 10-year-olds had been segregated in this way, angry that the girls had been offered a self-defence course the boys couldn't attend and, most of all, angry that what the boys had been offered by the adults in charge of their indoctrination was an anger management session.

Self defence for 10-year-old girls, anger management for 10-year-old boys. That's our world, that's the place we've made - or allowed others to make on our behalf. It's a long way from Tipperary, and from Bamiyan too, but look next door and you'll find the Ecuadorean embassy. Each is the creation of a modern mindset that's reversed our old polarities.

Yet, somehow, we still get soldiers. Who don't hide in other people's houses or make self-serving speeches or expect everyone else to "do the right thing". They do it themselves, whatever the cost. On the Stuff website, beneath its report on the death of SAS Corporal Doug Grant last year, readers have posted their comments. One says this: - "Rest in Peace - We shall remember them. If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read it in English, thank a soldier."

That's the essence of the debt every generation owes its troops - a debt unpaid by those who hide in embassies.

- NZ Herald

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