The bloody and painful reality of war depicted in Darren Cullen’s
“Battlefield Casualties: Action Man”
If you have ever seen a video of the Taliban targeting NATO forces in Afghanistan it is not a pretty sight. It usually involves an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) and an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade) and shows soldiers catapulted several feet into the air, limbs blown from bodies or burnt alive in a vehicle death trap. The sounds of “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great) rises with every kill and why wouldn’t they cheer, the Taliban are after all defending their home territory from an occupying force… wouldn’t Britain do the same? Occasional close-ups gleefully filmed by the militants show blood-drenched soldiers cowering in terror, some so afraid they have urinated on themselves, others crying like babies being comforted by fellow recruits. That is the reality of war.
This is the side that artist Darren Cullen aims to capture through his writing in a series of 3 hard-hitting short films aimed at youngsters considering joining the Armed Forces. The videos directed by Price James are designed to mimic the original Action Man TV advertisements loved by children with a voice-over from Matt Berry, BAFTA award-winning English actor and musician. The “Battlefield Casualties” website, draws attention to the UK’s controversial child recruitment policy for the military which has come under criticism from human rights organizations. We learn that,
“the UK is one of only nineteen countries worldwide, and the only EU member, that still recruits 16 year olds into its armed forces, (other nations include Iran and North Korea). The vast majority of countries only recruit adults aged 18 and above, but British children, with the consent of their parents, can begin the application process to join the army aged just 15.”
Recruits often come from the poorest background and the youngest end up serving in a front-line combat role. However firmly imprinting the military in the mind of the young comes much earlier than age 16 as the Ministry of Defence even has a range of toy soldiers, called HM Armed Forces aimed at ages 4 to 9 years old. What is deeply disturbing is the inclusion of the RAF Predator Drone and Remote Operator playset which encourages the notion of target killing at a very impressionable age. Those who have viewed the distressing images of the remains of children caught up in drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan (mistaken for militants) will be horrified.
As Cullen told the HuffPost when he devised an earlier comic strip on the same military theme,
“war is a living hell of suffering pain and despair, but somehow the army manages to rebrand it for each new generation as an exciting and character building adventure. Despite what they show in their adverts, being in the armed forces isn’t about abseiling or kayaking, its about twisting your bayonet into someone’s stomach and having your face blown off in a trench.”
The first short film in the series “Battlefield Casualties” depicts the polar opposite of what we may remember of the adrenaline fuelled Action Man ads. Gone is the daring adventurer with his smart uniform and weaponry. He is replaced by a distraught veteran in a vest, beer can in hand struggling to cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The viewer learns that once the glorious homecoming has passed, he must face depression and anger, a feeling of isolation and the financial difficulties that can arise on returning to civilian life. “PTSD Action Man” is last seen with his head in a noose and we are left wondering if he sees death as his only way out.
This video initiative from Cullen is made in collaboration with Veterans For Peace (VFP) a voluntary ex-services organization of men and women who have served in every war that Britain has fought since World War 2. Their website lists the focus of their work as follows,
Educate young people on the true nature of military service and war.
Resist war and militarism through non-violent action.
Stand in solidarity with people resisting militarism and war.
They hope to convince people that war is not the answer to the problems of the 21st century. Speaking about Battlefield Casualties, a VFP spokesperson on Facebook stated,
“the ad is dark satire. It is not actually advertising toys to children. The purpose is to expose people to the very harsh realities of military service, instead of lying to impressionable children in the style of military recruiters, fancy marketing campaigns, and military-style video games.”
In the second short film the viewer is introduced to a wheelchair bound “Paralysed Action Man whose legs really don’t work, spine shattered by an IED and with his bowels out of action, only a colostomy bag can save him from disaster.”
Finally short film number three shows us new “Dead Action Man” in the battlefield. He is spurting copious amounts of blood from limbless stumps and is later zipped up in a body bag complete with dog tag. We see with cynicism that all his grieving family have to look forward to is a medal and a flag draped coffin ceremony with full military honors.
Battlefield Casualties Video can be viewed here,
Battlefield Casualties was released to mark Armed Forces Day on the 27th June 2015. On Friday 10 July, three members of Veterans For Peace UK were filmed discarding their medals in Whitehall, London delivering speeches rejecting militarism. These men are angry that they were recruited at such a young age, exploiting their naivety and made to fight in wars such as Iraq, that is not even considered legal. What takes real guts is to admit that the system that sent you to war got it badly wrong and that your government sold you down the river. The final image in this video is of an oath of allegiance document thrown onto the ground, it bears the message “no to child recruitment” clearly visible in a crumpled corner. See following,
“War veterans discard medals in rejection of militarism and war”
“Military Recruiting Tools And Methods”
Carol Anne Grayson is an independent writer/researcher on global health/human rights and is Executive Producer of the Oscar nominated, Incident in New Baghdad . She is a Registered Mental Nurse with a Masters in Gender Culture and Development. Carol was awarded the ESRC, Michael Young Prize for Research 2009, and the COTT ‘Action = Life’ Human Rights Award’ for “upholding truth and justice”. She is also a survivor of US “collateral damage”.