The Word Rabbit

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This article was written on 30 Jun 2014, and is filled under Uncategorized.

Mea culpa

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I wrote this before on my old blog, but changing it around has caused it to get lost in amongst all the faffing. As my thinking has moved on, so has this piece, which is why I’m revisiting it now. If you’re angry at me for what I did and what I talk about below, then trust me, there’s no level of punishment for that greater than the one I inflict on myself.

When the financial crash happened, most of the clients I’d built up as a freelance either went out of business or slashed their commissioning budgets so that it was getting harder and harder to make a living. When a company called Haymarket called and I asked if I’d like to write copy for the account they held on behalf of the Army, it felt like a no-brainer. In actual fact, it was a huge mistake, but we’ll get to that later.

Haymarket had the contract to produce all of the national print publications on behalf of the British Army, from small flyers that were given out at recruiting events, all the way to expensive brochures that you had to write off for and ‘Army,’ a magazine that was creatively, much as it pains me to say it, a superb product. In short, this was a full rich world that you could dive into headlong if you blinded yourself to certain realities.

And I gladly blinded myself in exchange for what was, for me, a very nice life.

Previously, I’d had some involvement with the Army as a proper freelance that saw me go to Kenya on an infantry exercise, to Norway for a winter sports camp and to Switzerland to go ice climbing, so I was already primed to view this as a great opportunity. I spent a fair amount of time in the office, but also went out on a huge range of exercises and activities. I was happy.

But beneath the surface, something in me was stirring. I’d been looking around for a faith community for a while before I found the Quakers. I went to meetings and had chance to talk with people after the services about what they believed and some more about their pacifism. Although I didn’t know it, these conversations caused something planted in me to germinate.

Over time, I came to believe that what I was doing was questionable. I was encouraging young people to take risks that I never would do myself and in so doing, I was indirectly supporting two wars that I had come to see as wrongheaded and foolish. One of my interviewees was killed in an IED blast and other people we had collectively had contact with were killed or maimed. But I had no way to get off the treadmill. It was paying me very generously and all of my self-belief had bled away. This was how I earned money.

In the end, I broke. Various things were happening in my personal life that are still too painful and raw to talk about, but first I stumbled, then I fell. And in the depths of the falling over, when the first of the pain passed, I resigned from the Army. When I walked up to the post box in order to post my resignation letter, it felt like a 50/50 decision. When I finally posted it, it was 100%. I knew I was doing the right thing.

So what of my conscience? And the answer is that it lacerates me. It took a long time for me to realise that I wasn’t responsible for either Iraq or Afghanistan and just as long to realise that if I hadn’t done the job, then someone else would. For all that, your life is ignobly lived if you don’t try and act as a moral actor within it and what I was doing was immoral in every, single conceivable way.

A quote from Martin Luther King stands on my LinkedIn page as a reminder of that decision and reads simply: ‘On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right? There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.’

Faith has given me a context in which to articulate this and a moral framework in which to understand it and, for the first time in a long, long time, I feel like I’m back on the right side of the argument. However. I’m aware that what I did was wrong and that I need, in some small way, to make amends. And if there’s one thing I pray, it’s that God shows me a way.

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