The Presence of Peace, by Ben Griffin
The Peace Movement and the movement away from Peace
Ben Griffin, former British SAS soldier and founder of Veterans for Peace UK, speaking about the nature of peace and how our current societies and mindsets constantly lead us away from it.
Ben Griffin is a former British SAS soldier who has served in Northern Ireland, Macedonia, and Afghanistan as a member of the Parachute Regiment and subsequently in Iraq as part of the Special Air Service, alongside American forces. The events that he witnessed in Iraq and in particular the conduct of US forces led him to decide not to return and in 2005 he left the Army, citing not only the ‘illegal’ tactics of United States troops and the policies of coalition forces but also that the invasion itself was contrary to international law and was in fact ‘irrational, immoral, and illegal’.
Ben Griffin informed his commanding officer of his intentions and also of his opinion that ‘Tony Blair and the Government had lied to the country and had deceived every British serviceman and woman serving in Iraq’. He expected to be court-martialled, but was instead let go with a glowing testimonial from his commanding officer. In his testimonial, Griffin’s CO described him as a ‘balanced and honest soldier who possesses the strength and character to genuinely have the courage of his convictions’.
In 2008 Griffin spoke to an anti-war rally about UK involvement in extraordinary rendition (a practice that was at the time denied by both the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and by the Prime Minister Tony Blair). The next day he was served with an injunction preventing him from speaking publicly and from publishing material about his time in the SAS. Three years later he founded Veterans for Peace UK (2011-2022), following a chance meeting in the London bookshop Housmans with a member of the original US-based Veterans for Peace.
In 2013, at an Oxford University Union debate, Ben Griffin made an eloquent and impassioned speech in favour of the motion ‘We Will Not Fight For Queen and Country’, in which he pointed out that the idea of fighting for Queen and Country was one ‘held up by those who gain the most from war: politicians, generals, the arms industry and the Media’. ‘From positions of vested interest they will try to convince you that Fighting for Queen and Country is your highest duty. But what they are really calling for is a continuation of business as usual.’
His direct experience in modern warfare gives him unusual authority to speak about the true nature of war. His disillusionment with the brutalising and deceptive propaganda of contemporary warfare resonated with many other war veterans, a large number whom subsequently joined VFP UK. In 2015 these veterans commemorated Remembrance Day with a powerful and moving ceremony at the Cenotaph – in the afternoon, when all of the TV cameras, assorted Royals, and contemporary Foreign Secretaries and Prime Ministers had gone. Their ceremony honoured all those killed in war including civilians and foreign soldiers. In tribute to Harry Patch (the last British survivor of the First World War, who died in 2009) they wore a quote from him on their backs: it simply said ‘War is Organised Murder’.
You can listen to his most recent talk on the nature of peace in the link at the top of this post. What I take away from this, is that peace isn’t something we have to ‘strife’ for – it’s our default state, and it’s the things that lead us away from peace or “deny” peace that we need to observe – as he suggests, things like the idea of ‘identity’ (which is intrinsically divisive), status (linked also to identity) and the desire to control. These are the ‘movements away from peace’ that he speaks so compellingly about.
To have changed the nature of the peace movement once in a lifetime is impressive enough, hut to have changed it twice, through this talk, is remarkable. The search for peace is not to be found in external things or processes, but within. And it’s not a search – we’re already there.
Wishing you all a very Peaceful Christmas.