In the summer of 2010 Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning had a profound impact on my life. I had been in the Royal Navy as a submariner medic for 5 years when Wikileaks, in collaboration with The Guardian, New York Times and Der Spiegel, released the Afghan War Diary and Iraq War Logs. This huge cache of information exposed the true human cost of the wars in the Middle East.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were not popular but I had never questioned the official line. We were there to get the ‘bad guys’, empower women and build a safer future abroad and at home by ‘winning hearts and minds.’ The people putting forward the antithetical argument, in my eyes then as a serving member of the armed forces, lacked credibility with regards to their expertise, knowledge and experience. To me, and I’m sure other servicemen and women, they were hippies who didn’t understand.

Wikileaks changed all this. The information released, and processed through various news media outlets, detailed the human cost of war in the Middle East with cold hard data. Data that was legitimate as it originated from the military itself. I trawled through countless spreadsheets, reports and infographics highlighting the underreported civilian casualties. Some of these were corroborated with witness testimony such as air strikes ordered on a wedding party and family compound. I remember unashamedly shedding a tear the first time I saw the Collateral Murder video. To see such callousness and disregard for human life by the crew of the Apache helicopters made me question the part I played in the military machine.

After extensive soul-searching and discussions with people close to me I arrived at the conclusion that I could no longer, in good conscience, continue to serve in the military. I could either go AWOL (as many war-resisters have in previous conflicts), get myself kicked out for drug use (I did not use drugs, but there is a zero-tolerance policy, so one joint and a trip to the military police would have done it) or declare myself a conscientious objector. I decided, due to the strength of my feelings on the matter and the large amount of evidence to back up my position, to go through the official channels and opt for the latter choice. A choice which ultimately meant losing friends, my livelihood and for 7 months, my freedom.

It was a long drawn out process during which I was called a cancer by my commanding officer and grilled by a strangely aggressive chaplain. He denied me conscientious objector status on the grounds that, as an atheist, I couldn’t possibly have a moral opinion on the war. I also received death threats from people I had never met but who had heard rumours and half truths about what I was doing. All these people, however, refused to debate the real issue. The incredibly high levels of civilian casualties being completely at odds with our ‘hearts and minds’ strategy.

I felt this was an important debate that needed to take place, as the wars had been ongoing for nearly a decade with little progress and no foreseeable end. The data released was devoid of emotion and rhetoric. It had no party allegiance and it did not use civilians or soldiers as political footballs. It simply detailed the number and nature of civilian casualties in the military’s own words.

Without these leaks, the victims would have remained unrecognised outside of their local area. For this Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and everyone else involved in the release of these documents deserve our gratitude, not a prison cell. I lost my freedom for speaking out and was sentenced to 7 months in military prison before being dishonourably discharged. Assange and Manning, however, have faced treatment tantamount to torture since the release of those files. I will be eternally grateful for their bravery and sense of morality in unveiling the true human cost of our wars in the Middle East.


Michael Lyons served in the Royal Navy, he is now Chair of the VFP UK Policy Group.


  1. Terry Gardner says:


  2. Michael Fletcher says:

    This is a really amazing post I am going to return to in the future. You did the right thing. It’s fantastic you are continuing to work towards the cases and cause of Assange and Manning.

  3. Norman Scarth says:

    My greatest respect to you Mike, & all those who have posted here.
    ‘In an age of universal deceit, it is dangerous to tell the truth’.
    The psychopathic war-mongers in the US indulging their vitriolic hatred against Julian Assange & Chelsea Manning is no surprise, but British & Swedish governments acting as their poodles is deplorable.
    Until the age of 70, I was proud to have ‘Done My Bit’ to bring FREEDOM to the World – or so I thought! I am ashamed I was so gullible for so long. Having served on the Arctic Convoys, I am described as a World War 2 ‘Hero’, an accolade I now reject with distaste.
    The Cenotaph, & other War Memorials do not deserve the reverence accorded to them by so many.
    They are really ‘Monuments To The Gullible’.

  4. David Lear says:

    Thanks for the clarity of your post, it clearly separates the cruel from the humane and restores faith in the sincerity of many of the armed forces, equally it reveals the cold, robotic and inhumane nature of those who are essentially cruel by nature. Your principles are a comfort to a good many people. Thank you.

  5. Gilbert Markus says:

    Thank you for the honesty, courage, compassion and integrity of your stance. We are living in darkening times, and you have rekindled a small light for me today.

  6. Mel Richards says:

    Thanks for sharing, Mike.

  7. David Marchesi says:

    A very eloquent article- to be widely circulated, I hope.

  8. Harley Price says:

    My brother got killed in the Falklands Malvinas conflict aged 19, he was in 3 Para and won the MM postumhously. I do not a supporter of war and am a pacifist, i am delighted that there exist people of your calibre and conviction in the Armed Services who are prepared to question the agendas of our corrupt corporate controlled political system with their hidden agendas and profiteering and who are prepared to sacrifice their future in order to stand by principles and human dignity. I can not have been easy for you, neither the decision nor the punishment and loss you suffered and probably continue to endure. Thank you for your courage and humanity

  9. Steve Heaney says:

    Thanks Mike,
    Your courage, humanity and integrity are an inspiration.

  10. Adrian Walker says:

    Thank you for your principled stand. An example to us all.

  11. David Lawrence says:

    Mike, your courage enables you to sleep at night. I served in Northern Ireland thinking I was keeping the peace. I did no such thing, us soldiers were used by the establishment to suppress the Catholic minority and maintain the unionist status quo. We had cruel senior officers such as brigadier Frank Kitson who was previously in Kenya torturing the Mau Mau.
    Your principled stand lost you a lot in freedom and money I wish I had that sort of courage. I salute you.

  12. David Collins says:

    Your story inspires me; only the few stand up when the cost of their dissent is so dire.

  13. Terry Deans says:

    Thank you Mike Lyons. For your compassion and your courage. What you have done can never be taken away from you. You have immortalised your identify and it is an inspiration to all.

  14. Mike Hastie says:

    Bless your heart for everything you did, as you will be proud of yourself for the rest of your life. Your truth will never be taken away from you, as important as your family name. You stood up to Empire, and broke the chains of obedience. When I came back from Viet Nam as an Army medic, I finally realized I was the enemy in Viet Nam. My core belief system was completely dismantled, as I felt totally betrayed by a country that was enveloped in total madness. Lying is the most powerful weapon in War, and it always will be. I did not serve in Viet Nam for the cause of freedom and democracy, I served Big Business in America for the cause of profit. Many years ago I wrote the meaning of W A R — Wealthy Are Richer. It totally simplified everything for me. Your integrity is what gets me out of bed in the morning. I hope we can meet, as I will be at the Veterans For Peace National Convention this coming August in Spokane, Washington. Thanks again for validating my own nonstop commitment to world peace. There is no rest for the messenger until the message has been delivered…
    Mike Hastie
    Army Medic Viet Nam
    April 16, 2019

  15. Gerry Osborne (Mr) says:

    The quote “Truth is the first victim of war”.
    In 1976 I realised my own side was torturing people to death. The reality of that didn’t happen the instant I knew, but it systematically destroyed my will to fight. The truth is, in war we’re all “bad guys”.

  16. Pranesh says:

    thank you for posting this ….. Mike you are a beautiful guy and not many people have the courage to stand up for their truce …. I have a few friends like that and I left my family, country and all friends when I was 18 years old …. crossed two continents in search to find the truce 40 years later I can say I am very luck, it was hard, but I got rewarded many times ….

  17. Carl Rising-Moore says:

    Your empathy for the victims of the illegal and immoral wars against the Iraqi and Afgan people was capable of overcoming your military brainwashing. I have a similar story based upon the illegal and immoral war against Vietnam. I would like to shake your hand one day.

    The attacks against Manning and Assange continue to expose the American Empire’s dirty seemingly endless wars against soverign states.

    Yugoslavia, Grenada, Haiti, Panama, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Chile, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Ukraine, Iran, Venezuela, Sudan, Vietnam, Philippines and many other nations have experienced the suffering that WIKILEAKS
    exposed. Pandora’s Box has been opened and all the efforts of the dying American Empire to seal this evidence will not be possible.

    As Assange has stated…. If wars can be used to start wars, than the truth can be used to prevent them. Or words to that effect.

  18. Daniel Taylor says:

    Well said Mike

  19. Neil Kelly says:

    A very courageous and principled stand, Mike. You’ve made the world a better place.

  20. Danny Beever says:

    Thanks for this Mike.

    From a fellow ex-serviceperson, Respect.

    Without people as brave as Julian and Chelsea, the world would be a much darker place. They both deserve our total support.

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