The expression ‘Speaking Truth to Power’ refers to speaking what one believes to be true, especially something that might offend or criticize those in authority with the power to retaliate, in spite of the negative consequences that might result. An alternative to ‘Speaking Truth to Power’ would be to keep quiet or to say only nice things in order to avoid (unjust) punishment or judgement by the people in power. Being the son of a Miner and Trade Union leader my departed father used to say “When dealing with management, if you look em in the eye and give em the truth it’s the best weapon you’ve got.” How true that is. What aspect of military life and warfare should I talk about, I kept asking myself? Then reflecting back on my old fathers words, the answer was obvious, give them the truth, just tell them the way it is, pull no punches.
With this in mind during the lead up to remembrance Sunday I was asked to give a couple of talks one at a school and the other at a conference. The school was the Khalsa Sikh Academy in Stoke Poges. My talk was based around WW1 and how 83,OOO Sikhs were killed and another 109,000 injured fighting for Britain in two World Wars, but I wasn’t going to glamorise these appalling statistics, as there are plans in the MOD to raise a UK Sikh regiment, and these youngsters could be the next generation to succumb to the old lie ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori:’ My contribution must have hit the write note as I received the following email from the teacher who organised the talk.
“You are a blessed soul, I can’t thank you enough for the inspiration, humility and peace you spread across our school! We would be grateful for anytime you can spare to run sessions with us in the future!”
Earlier this year I was asked if I would deliver the opening lecture at the 5th International gathering of the College of Mental Health Pharmacy’s, Psychiatric Pharmacy Conference on 7 November 2014, by giving the ‘Brett Hill Memorial lecture’ reflecting on the fact that it was the 100th anniversary since the beginning of the First World War.
Considering that Veterans For Peace UK has a remit of Education, Resistance and Solidarity, it appeared to be a good opportunity to reveal the true nature of warfare, to those at the cutting edge of treatment and medication for victims of natural disasters and warfare both in the UK and around the world. After the session I remained in the lecture hall for a very interesting presentation by Dr Lynne Jones OBE, who discussed her experiences during the Balkans conflict and the ability of many disaster and war survivors to overcome their individual and group trauma, if given the right help before drug prescription and counselling intervention.
Post lecture, I was asked if I would stay on in the reception area, in order to answer questions. This turned into a three hour mini marathon as many of the delegates were very interested in the work of Veterans for Peace, likewise it was useful for me to gain further insights into the work of the college. In addition I discovered that Dr Jones, like me, was a veteran of the Greenham Common anti-nuclear missile campaign. The only difference being, I was inside the fence while Dr Jones was outside in the peace camp. Overall this was a very informative day and I was pleased to be able to represent Veterans For Peace and articulate the veterans insight into the brutal and dehumanising, destructive nature of modern warfare. The following are a couple of the comments received following the conference;
“Thank you so much for your inspirational talk a week ago. It made everyone think hard about their core beliefs without threatening them and you explained your emotional journey so eloquently. People really appreciated that you stayed around after the talk and took interest in what we do too. I always describe being a pharmacist as like being a goal keeper. We usually only get noticed when something goes wrong!”
“Yesterday, when we were discussing something in our e-group, a pharmacist quoted you. That is how much of an effect you had.”
“On a very personal note, yesterday my 9 and 11 year old boys happened to start talking whether or not they would join the army when they grew up. Listening to you made it easier for me to express my thoughts. To make sure that they would only consider this as a decision for themselves once they had talked to lots of people about their views, and not as something that they would do to impress their Dad, or his friend who is in the army, or as a way of getting away from something they didn’t like. I won’t try to make their decisions for them but I sure as hell will make sure they don’t do it on a whim.”
“Thank you professionally and personally. Please keep on fighting to stay separate from the damaging thoughts so that you can inspire more people!!”
“I would like to say thank you very much for organising this talk for us. It was very moving and insightful. I was in tears for much of his speech. Please pass on my regards to Mr Hales although I disagree with the lady who said he should be a politician….he was much more honest than any politician would be in my opinion!”
“It was great to find myself speaking after a veteran with such an extraordinary story to tell and one who challenged the conventional notions about PTSD and how it might be overcome. You made me laugh with some embarrassment at the various attemtps by my profession to medicate you into good health, and you reinforced my belief that labelling every difficult and distressing reaction to terrible events as medical pathology is not necessarily the most helpful thing to do. Your own engagement in helping others and challenging the root causes of conflict also showed me how inextricably our wellbeing is connected to the worlds in which we live.”
So there we have it, the best weapon we have in Veterans For Peace is to ‘Speak Truth to Power’ then no one in power can dismiss us, “as not knowing what we are talking about.” Regardless of whether it makes you unpopular or makes them uncomfortable. If there are any VFP members who somehow think she/he cannot give talks or educate the public, give it a try, you will be surprised. But stick to the truth, no need to glamorise or say things for effect, no need for stunts or props, just give them the truth because that’s where our strengths lie and always will.
Peace and Happiness to All.
Gus Hales served with the British Army in the Falklands War, he is a member of Veterans For Peace UK.
Hi Alex, Vince, Barry & Aly.
Many thanks for your replies. I used to think that ‘Speaking Truth to Power’ was only talking to those with political or management power. However, I see it now as those who can and do influence others, therefore when speaking at a school for example, I target the teachers every bit as much as the pupils. With children its very easy to want to tone it down a bit. If you influence the teachers then the conversation continues long after you have left, if that happens then there is the domino effect which destroys the the preconceived ideas regarding the nobility of war and its delusion of somehow being an heroic endeavour.
Excellent work Gus.
I remember a while ago trying to get a large veterans organisation to take an interest and help veterans who had ended up in the prison system. I was told they would not help ‘because these veterans had let the side down.’ My reply was that really it was the other way round ‘that the side was letting the veterans down.’
Your ‘speaking the truth to the power’ is the best way to cut across the feelings some have to ‘stay onside.’ But you also take that further by providing explanations about issues that allows those receptive to the message to understand and therefore feel able to take up the issue themselves.
The truth and understanding you provide is a key thing and your work is a great example to us all.
Gus, great inspirational mesage you are delivering. Keep up the good work. Together we can end war.
VETERANS FOR PEACE
Great work up at the coal face, Gus. Thanks for this.
I take inspiration from your work in that I will be able to do the same as you- thankyou Gus, looking forward to meeting you one day