Over the weekend I visited my parents back home, and while I was there I happened to bump into one of my younger brother’s friends, a now 16-year-old young adult who once played for the youth football team I used to run.
He was always one of the more amusing characters in the team. Lots of energy and enthusiasm, and since he was a goalkeeper, one of life’s eccentrics. It is definitely true: you have to be a bit mad to be a goalie.
We had a chat. I asked him what he was doing now he’d finished school. Going in the Army, was the answer.
In just two months, he is being packed off to the other end of the country to spend a very long period of time training up to be an Army soldier. Doubtless soon after that, he’ll be in Afghanistan, fighting on behalf of all of us.
I asked him why he wanted to be in the Army.
“It’s a good life, innit”.
But what about Afghanistan?
“It’s just the chance you have to take”.
I dug a bit deeper, hoping for my deepest prejudices to be confirmed. We’re talking here about a working class lad from a very working class family, living in shit housing, in a miserable, forgotten corner of Liverpool. I wasn’t disappointed.
“It’s the only way to get away from here”.
There it was. Despite him not being very academically bright, his head was screwed on. All around him, the signs of deprivation, and despair, were obvious even to him, even though he’d lived through it all his life and knew not much else. More education wasn’t for him. Maybe an apprenticeship would have suited him better, but he was thinking more boldly. Why continue to live on drink-sodden, drug-infested estates when you can get away from all of it by signing up to the Army?
Even if that means putting your life on the line.
Be in no doubt: many of our youth choose to go in the Army and other forces almost because they have no choice. It is the perfect, and only, answer to getting them out of the hole they can see their lives becoming otherwise. Because there is no hope. No alternative. No pathway out.
It really depressed me.
We ask kids like this to make the ultimate sacrifice in the name of our way of life. We horrendously abuse our position of trust by sending them to die in illegal wars like Iraq, and those of troubling direction like Afghanistan.
But still they sign up. And they will always continue to do so because it is a way out of their troubles, and an answer to the question of what to do with their hopeless lives. If they make it out alive.
From those who have the least, we ask them to give the most.
I wished him all the best and wondered if I’ll ever see him again.