Page last updated at 15:23 GMT, Saturday, 24 October 2009 16:23 UK

Protesters rail against 'futile' war

By Dan Bell
BBC News

Hetty Bower
Hetty Bower, 104, says nothing has been learnt from the two world wars

As the war in Afghanistan enters its ninth year, thousands of people have gathered in central London to protest against what they say is a futile and unwinnable conflict.

The organisers of the march say the protest reflects a sea change not only in public opinion, but in the views of military rank and file, who now want UK troops brought home, they claim.

The Stop The War Coalition says there is deep resentment among the lower ranks who feel they are locked into a war that has no clear justification or exit strategy.

Soldiers and their families were with those gathered at Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park at the start of the march.

Among them was L/Cpl Joe Glenton, who defied orders from his commanding officer to become the first serving soldier to openly attend a national anti-war demonstration.

Manipulated

Hugged closely by his wife, L/Cpl Glenton stood quietly in the thin autumn drizzle as a statement from him was read out.

"When I went to Afghanistan I was proud to serve the Army and to serve my country, but before long I realised the government was using the Army for its own ends.

"It is distressing to disobey orders, but when Britain follows America in continuing to wage war against one of the world's poorest countries I feel I have no choice.

"Politicians have abused the trust of the Army and the soldiers who serve. That is why I am compelled and proud to march for Stop The War Coalition today."

I'm not saying we should be out there, but I'm saying once we're there we support them
Philip Taylor

Also at the demonstration was 25-year-old Paul McGuirk, who served in Helmand until April 2008, but left the Army because he could not support the war in Afghanistan.

Speaking above the sound of protest chants, he said: "I just left the Army last month because I think it's ridiculous we are there.

"I think the government should stop pretending it's a just war and wasting the lives of our guys, and stop pretending it's a winnable war."

This sense of futility was a theme returned to again and again by the protesters.

'Nothing changes'

Joan Humphreys' grandson, 24-year-old Kevin Elliott, was one of the 222 soldiers killed since the invasion.

The 62-year-old from Dundee said quietly: "My grandson was killed 54 days ago on 31 August in Afghanistan.

"Nothing's going to be achieved. I've read back from 1840 to now, all the different conflicts [in Afghanistan] until now - and there have been a lot - and everyone has left without anything improving."

The organisers believe the majority of people in the country now share these attitudes.

Paul McGurk
Paul McGurk said he believes the war in Afghanistan is un-winnable

They point to opinion polls such as a YouGov survey for Channel 4 News that found 62% of those questioned wanted British troops withdrawn in the coming year at the latest.

Of 2,042 adults questioned, 6% said that British troops were winning the war, compared with 36% who said they were not winning yet but eventual victory was possible, and 48% who said that victory was not possible.

However, despite the survey evidence, the demonstration had only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of people that turned out to protest against the invasion of Iraq.

'Ashamed'

By midday, some 500 people were gathered good-naturedly at Speaker's Corner, the crowd swelling to about 2,000 as the march moved off towards Trafalgar Square.

The one dissenting voice came from 55-year-old Philip Taylor, who said he believed that now the troops were in Afghanistan it was a betrayal not to support the mission.

He said the demonstrators should be "ashamed of themselves".

"People are out there dying for this country. I'm concerned that our Army is out there fighting a war for this country and these people betraying our forces.

I just want my great-grandchildren to grow up in a world where war is past
Hetty Bower

"I'm not saying we should be out there, but I'm saying once we're there we support them."

But of all the marchers it was the oldest protester who made the most poignant comments.

Hetty Bower, 104, has lived through both world wars and says she feels nothing has been learnt.

As a nine-year-old she remembers cheering young men as they marched to the trenches, and then seeing their broken bodies return.

"It didn't take long before we saw those men coming back missing legs and missing arms, totally blind and war was no longer fun.

"I think I was 10 years old when my hatred of war began and I'm 104 and still marching.

"I just want my great-grandchildren to grow up in a world where war is past."



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