Born on the 4th of July

Born on the 4th of July

David Beckham Crew Cut

So I went to the barber on Saturday, ostensibly to get a trim. I’ve been going to the same place for years and have blogged about it on occasion. Usually they know what I want. Only, this time I came away with a borderline crew cut (‘buzz cut’). This is especially pronounced around the upper sides (think US army). It’s short. Too short in fact. Whilst I quite like crew cuts on men it’s a style that has to suit you and I’m not sure it does me.

Whenever my hair is this short (it’s been quite a while) people tell me I look a lot younger. It’s true, I suppose I do.

It’s not quite as short as Becks but believe me it doesn’t feel too far off. I’ve been saying for ages it’s time to change to a more convenient barber (or hairdresser) so probably will do next time. When I move – which should be relatively soon – my old place will no longer be convenient anyway.


When I was in the south of France last month on holiday with friends, we spotted this army (or navy?) exercise taking place in the little gem of a seaside town, Collioure, which we were visiting.

To be honest they were probably the equivalent of our own Territorial Army (i.e. the reserve army) rather than full time French soldiers or Legionaires. They seemed pretty relaxed and, dare I say it, quite amateurish. That said, the topless commando-types looked fairly Platoon like!

Still, was fun to watch. I always wanted to be in the armed forces so do enjoy watching this sort of thing.

Pride not prejudice

Last month something surprising but rather heart-warming happened. An openly gay British solider – Trooper James Wharton –  appeared on the front cover of the Army’s own magazine – Soldier.

What is amazing and wonderful about our country is that openly gay men and women are encouraged and supported to join and serve in the British armed forces. This has been the case for 9 years following a European Union directive which forbade the long-held rule that openly gay men and women could be thrown out of the forces. The directive came down because it – rather obviously – breached these soldiers’ human rights.

Long-term readers of this blog will know that I have the propensity to be quite cynical. In addition, I embody that idiosyncratic British trait which is to knock this country (and of course this government!) at the drop of a hat. But actually – especially in the context of being gay in 21st century Britain (and most of Western Europe) – we have it pretty good. Even in the past 5, 10 and 20 years – things have come a long way. Of course homophobia does still exist in places – it probably always will – but we have come a hugely long way in terms of acceptance by mainstream society and in that last, final bastion of the establishment – the British armed forces.

Sadly, over the pond in the country that declares “that all men are created equal” it is a rather different story. In fact, between 1994 and 2006, 11,694 service men and women have been hounded out of the American armed forces. This isn’t simply ‘bad’ – it represents hypocrisy and discrimination at their worst.

Why is it that the British armed forces – far older, with more history and to a far greater extent a stalwart of the old, archaic order – can successfully adapt and change, but the country that so rhetorically declares itself the model by which the ‘free and civilized world’ should compare itself – cannot. I find it terribly, terribly sad for the people involved. For those that served their country to be treated the way that they have been. To be ‘expelled’, stripped of benefits and human dignity. It is absolutely despicable and is the kind of thing I’d expect to see in Iran, not modern day America.

The great thing about having gay soldiers in the media is that they represent a new wave of positive role models who break out of the standard rigid stereotyping we’ve endured for so long. Gay men are too often portrayed as weak, effeminate and shallow. Some are, most aren’t. Stereotyping is the easiest option open to any of us but it’s also the most flawed and ignorant attitude to adopt.

Anyway, the Solider website doesn’t hold past articles that I can see, but I found the article in Google’s cache and paste it below.

Pride not Prejudice

Interview: Joe Clapson

JUST ten years ago it was illegal to be gay in the UK Armed Forces. But since 2000, following a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights, homosexual men and woman have been able to proudly serve – without hiding their sexuality.

In an interview with Soldier, Tpr James Wharton (The Household Cavalry Regiment) explained that instead of being oppressed, gay and lesbian Army personnel are now given full support.

“I came out to the Army before I told my parents, so that says a lot for the Armed Forces,” said the 22-year-old.

“I told the Army in March 2003, after all my initial training was over – I was 18. I have always known I was gay but it wasn’t until then that I told anyone.”

The decision to lift the ban on gays in the Army came after two landmark cases heard at the European Court of Human Rights, which found that the MoD’s policy was not sustainable.

Despite the change, the other half of the UK’s “special relationship” – the United States – has not relaxed its attitude towards homosexuals in the Forces.

“I still can’t get my head round the US’ ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy,” said Tpr Wharton, who has served Queen and country for six years.

“Luckily I don’t have to deal with it, but clearly there will be gay soldiers in the US Army who are not being themselves – they aren’t allowed to be.”

Tpr Wharton was deployed to Iraq on OpTelic 10 in 2007 on long-range desert patrols and he says the idea of a “pansy” serving in a conflict zone is a flawed one.

“I would say whoever goes on a tour to a place like Iraq can’t really be described as a pansy – so the gay stereotype doesn’t really apply,” he said.

The Liverpool FC fan, who met his boyfriend Ryan during last year’s London Gay Pride march – the first time members of the Armed Forces were allowed to march in uniform – went on to say that although he can find himself on the wrong end of “banter”, it is not a problem.

The hard image and stories from Iraq ensure Tpr Wharton, based at Combermere Barracks, Windsor, does not fall into any gay stereotype, but by his own admission he can make himself a target for abuse.

“I can’t be late, I’m off to see Britney tonight,” he casually told Soldier before realising the potential implications of his comment.

“That doesn’t exactly sound the most macho thing to say does it? I’ve got quite a bit of ribbing for going to the concert, but to be fair a few of the lads have also got tickets.”

The very fact that Tpr Wharton – soon to be promoted to lance corporal – feels able to tell his colleagues that he is gay, likes Britney Spears and recently attended a Pink concert speaks volumes for the strides in equality and diversity made by the Army.

In the past Tpr Wharton and soldiers like him would have been turned away at the door or forced out of the Army for their sexuality. In 1999 alone, 298 people were discharged because of their sexual orientation.

“A friend of mine who is gay was not allowed to be open about it and had the Royal Military Police following him around because of their suspicions – he wasn’t allowed to be gay,” said Tpr Wharton.

“Some soldiers had to leave and others just remained quiet, so were not themselves. Now it’s completely different. I imagine it’s like being in a different Army.

“Obviously there are people who are set in their ways and aren’t in favour of the changed policy, but the whole attitude is different.”

Although he acknowledges the Army’s significant progress in diversity issues, Wharton explained that the current situation is not perfect, with potential recruits sometimes put off signing up by ill-informed personnel.

“I think there is room for improvement as far as the Army is concerned because there are still people who can’t accept the changes – but it’s 1,000 times better than ten years ago,” said Tpr Wharton.

“There could definitely be improvements in the first stages of recruitment because I know people who have been given bad advice.

“A lot of people express their worries about being gay at recruitment and some awful things have been said to them, like ‘you’re not allowed to be gay in Army time’ or ‘you shouldn’t be gay’.”

In his six-year Army career Tpr Wharton can recall just two unwanted incidents as a result of his sexuality, but neither were serious enough for him to question his career.

“Considering some people have general problems every week I’m not complaining,” he said “I haven’t got any personal problems. My problems are like every other soldier’s – bombs and bullets.”

The trooper was also keen to elaborate on the general misconceptions people have about homosexual men and women. “People tend to think gay people don’t like sport and that

they just sit and file their nails – that is not the case,” he said. “I love playing and watching sport –I’m a massive Liverpool fan and I don’t own a nail file.”

Source: Solider Magazine

Read more – How the forces finally learnt to take pride (article in The Independent).

Review: Occupation (BBC1)

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I watched the first episode which aired on BBC1 this evening. Powerful stuff. Following a high octane start, this modern day war drama focuses on three British servicemen who, following a violent tour of duty in Basra, struggle to return to normal life back in the UK. Their inability to ‘fit back in’ – something that is so often the case – sees them return to Iraq in different capacities.

As dramas go this is rather intense and episode one was just the beginning. I am not, generally speaking, James Nesbitt’s greatest fan – but he is very good in this, playing the lead role as a medic who returns to his wife and children in the north of England – but only after having met and slowly fallen in love with an Iraqi doctor during his time in Iraq.

I liked the nuanced depictions and the lack of cliché. It captured the dysfunction of the return and the total inability of those ‘back home’ to have any kind of true understanding or empathy of that which the soldiers have come from. Drug abuse, mental and family breakdowns – all ensue.

The script has been penned by the renowned screenwriter Peter Bowker, who also wrote the BBC’s Blackpool and whose new adaptation of Wuthering Heights will be seen on ITV1 this autumn. In preparing to write Occupation, Bowker worked with the charity Combat Stress, and spoke at length to members of the British military who had served in Iraq. The resulting script, says Murphy, is “really human, and incredibly accessible and engaging”.

Nesbitt agrees. “There’s bound now to be a glut of dramas about Iraq – there had to be a little grace period before the stories could start to be told,” he says. “I love the notion of our three interwoven stories, and of the terrible impact this experience has on these men and their lives.”
(Source: Telegraph).

It’s on again both tomorrow and Thursday night. Has had good reviews in the press including in The Guardian and The Telegraph.

Well worth watching.


I’ve now seen all 3 parts. Wow. Incredibly powerful stuff, especially the final part. The pretence that war is somehow heroic or exciting is so strongly quashed. It may start like that. But the sacrifices – personal and mental – are very much in evidence and I think the storyline in this was top notch – as was the acting.

The drama also strongly served as a reminder that in war, there really are no victors, nor is there a good side or a bad. In this, the British and Americans had just as much to answer for as the Islamist militias. So much immorality and inhuman behaviour on both sides – the human condition at its worst.