Was Ian Malone right to go to Iraq?

LANCE Corporal Ian Malone was shot dead in Basra on the 6th of April 2003 while serving with the Irish Guards, a regiment of the British Army. From Ballyfermot, he was buried in Palmerstown Cemetery after a ceremony involving representatives from the British and Irish military.

Owing, I think, to the age old Irish custom of not speaking ill of the dead there was very little debate at the time about his decision to join the British Army.

I am troubled about this as I think his decision to join the British Army, or any other army, was fundamentally wrong.

Furthermore, the traditional republican critique against fighting for the British was set aside as a mark of respect for Ian and his family.

I watched the documentary on the Irish Guards in which he was interviewed and on which he expressed some views as to why he joined up. From the programme and from the testimony of his family, friends and comrades it is obvious that Ian was a man of talent and integrity.

His view was that he wanted to be a soldier and that he had been turned down in his request to join the Irish Defence Forces. He wanted to be a professional soldier and the Irish Guards offered an alternative.

I’m afraid that I can’t accept that being a soldier is a morally neutral decision. To join an army is to agree to follow orders. It is to agree to follow the political will of those who control that army. This could equally apply to the Irish Army as to the British Army.

The decision to send troops to Iraq was an intensely political decision. Huge numbers of people, myself included, believe that this was, and is, primarily a resource war – a war over oil. The British decision to support the Americans was for reasons which have been vigorously debated.

Soldiers differ fundamentally from postmen, bus drivers or binmen. This is a job that in wartime involves death.

Ian Malone made a decision to serve in the British Army in Iraq. He must have weighted up the chances of being killed. And also, he must have been prepared to kill. Personally, I cannot accept that decision. I do not believe that the British have a legitimate right to kill people in Iraq and I do not accept that soldiers who voluntarily agree to serve there are exempt from personal culpability.

Furthermore, and more practically, I am worried that the general silence on this matter will encourage young working-class Dublin men that joining the British Army is a legitimate decision. There is a long history and tradition here of doing just that. Many peoples around the world felt the brutality of the Irish contribution to the British Empire.

Nowadays, the British are not so dangerous. But the political decision to send British troops to Iraq was based primarily, as always, on Britain’s national interest.

It is simply not right for young Irishmen to throw in their lot and go along with the national interests of a country not their own – to be prepared to kill for the politics of whoever happens to occupy Number 10.

I hope that Ian Malone rests in peace and that he may be the last Dubliner to die in battle.