Fighting battles in the war within

Steven McLaughlin
Steven McLaughlin
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All is far from quiet on the home front. A new study suggests one in eight soldiers return from hell holes and hotspots to fight a very different battle at home – and violence can spill into the home or high street.

Ministry of Defence-funded researchers surveyed 13,000 Army personnel, and found a link between combat trauma and violence at home.

The study by Dr Deirdre MacManus, of The Kings Centre for Military Health Research, found soldiers involved in direct combat in Iraq and Afghanistan were twice as likely as others to admit to having hit someone at the end of the tour. In 33 per cent of cases, the victims were family members, often a wife or a girlfriend. Other attacks were on strangers, or friends, frequently fuelled by drink.

Incidents here are few and far between, in spite of a resident army barracks on the Fylde.

Blackpool pub bosses have just approved a scheme to accept military ID as recognised proof of age in 100 local licensed premises.

The refusal of Ma Kelly’s bar staff on Talbot Road to admit three soldiers who produced military ID to establish they were over 18 triggered a storm of protest. Landlord Mick Sugden stressed staff were playing it by the book.

But some in support of military ID say it serves an extra purpose.

A former door supervisor, who asks not to be identified, admits: “Squaddies usually have a far higher flashpoint. They are trained in controlling aggression. But if it kicks off, military ID establishes who, or what, you are dealing with.”

Former Blackpool squaddie Steven McLaughlin says violence in the home and on our streets is an inescapable consequence of combat deployment for soldiers at war with themselves – and a system out to make more of them redundant.

McLaughlin, author of best selling military memoir Squaddie: A Soldier’s Story, is one of the first graduates of a new leadership for peace programme at the Warriington Peace Centre.

McLaughlin attended conflict-resolution sessions with former soldiers, combatants and victims of conflicts from around the globe.

The centre was founded by Colin Parry after his 12-year-old son Tim was tragically killed by the IRA in the 1993 Warrington bomb blast, along with three-year-old Jonathon Ball.

It provides professional counselling and support to victims, post traumatic stress disorder sufferers and ex-combatants.

McLaughlin, who served in Iraq, says: “I understand why psychologically wounded soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan often find themselves in serious violent conflict.

“It’s unavoidable due to the harsh nature of training. The military ethos of never backing down seeps into your bones via brainwashing and conditioning, mental and physical.

“A recruit buys into this philosophy and the speed-aggression ethos before he sets foot in a combat zone. Which is all well and good when you’re off to fight, but not for managing conflict in civilian life, or dealing with unexpected confrontations in pubs and clubs.

“It’s the emotional baggage a soldier carries in his heart.

“Among many returning veterans there’s seething resentment towards the political class that pays no blood price for wars – and the cutbacks being imposed. Many soldiers felt physically sick at the Iraq War inquiry when Tony Blair attempted to airily justify his so-called ‘War on Terror’.

“It becomes a toxic mix, harsh training, pointless wars, needless deaths, smug politicians, grievous lies, survivor-guilt syndrome, perhaps post traumatic stress disorder, drink and depression added to the cocktail. Is it surprising these men lash out on the streets or at home?”

McLaughlin adds: “I met Colin Parry at the peace centre and was overwhelmed at what’s he’s achieved. There could not be a better legacy for Tim and Jonathon.”

McLaughlin hopes to utilise his mediation skills in peace building projects. Last year he served as a volunteer leadership mentor for the Prince’s Trust in Fleetwood on a three-month youth development programme. He recently returned from a pilgrimage to Poland’s Auschwitz concentration camp.