Wayne Sharrocks - Veterans for Peace
Ex Special Forces Support soldier and current member and advocate of Veterans for Peace Wayne gave a powerful assembly to the Sixth Form, as he discussed his experience of life in the army, the horrors he witnessed in action and subsequently why he believes we should search at all costs for an alternative to war.
Split into three parts, his talk covered Army Training, life on the frontline, and the effects war has had on his life after leaving the army. Beginning with the brutal training regime enforced by the army, Wayne strongly suggested that regime soldiers undergo during their training was more like an ’indoctrination’. Giving an example of a glorified army television advertisement, Wayne went on to explain how ingrained army doctrine becomes through the three pronged system used by army superiors. Following orders without question becomes instinctive, while the injection of fear into those who make mistakes is the additional step to ensure this happens. Loyalty to your unit is presented as the ultimate goal, and considering your own unit as superior is actively encouraged. While openly admitting he totally conformed to this, Wayne describes some brutal anecdotes from his training, including one soldier’s attempt to commit suicide following ostracization and bullying from the rest of his unit.
Wayne moved on to describe the war, having fought twice in Afghanistan. He says simply that training “removes the barrier to kill” and that the difference between shooting at targets and humans was negligible in his subconscious. He cited the development in military history, interestingly relating that up until the Vietnam war, only around 10% of ammunition was fired as soldiers didn’t really want to kill, while post-Vietnam this figure has risen to 50% as army superiors have brought in psychologists to help them break this barrier to kill and enable them to win more battles. While it may reduce the length of battles, Wayne’s tone of voice made it clear he sees this as a horrific thing. Once again Wayne presented the three pronged method of making soldiers kill, with the repetition of drills making killing instinctive, the overriding of the ‘fight or flight’ part of your brain, and the dehumanising of civilians or enemy soldiers. Having been identified as a remarkably able soldier, Wayne describes the sense of “feeling special” when being selected for the Special Forces Support unit, with the availability of the best equipment and training adding to his sense of self-worth and superiority.
On his second tour of Afghanistan, Wayne was highly affected by two Improvised Explosive Devices which detonated close to him in the space of a few weeks. The former killed the leader of his platoon while the second destroyed the limbs of a comrade while blasting shrapnel in Wayne’s own face. He touchingly communicated how all-consuming the army is when talking about a conversation with his mother in hospital, to which the response to the question “are you going back?” was instinctively “yes of course”, even though he felt totally traumatised at this point.
But Wayne did not go back. Thinking about his army life Wayne realised he could not justify the unnecessary violence both in training and on the field. After leaving Wayne found he was isolated within society, struggling to live in the “civilian” world which he had previously had such contempt for. While having a few poorly paid jobs Wayne was diagnosed with severe depression, and sought to reach out to other ex-military members who felt the same as him. He thus founded Veterans for Peace, and has since gained a filmmaking degree, and hopes to crowdfund to make a film about his experience and depression. He finishes with the powerful mantra that “war cannot be the only way”, a particularly poignant message given the celebrations surrounding the centenary of the First World War.
Matteo - Senior Prefect