From Iceland — Does a Uniform a Soldier Make?

Does a Uniform a Soldier Make?

Published November 5, 2004

Does a Uniform a Soldier Make?

In early September, we printed a feature on the Icelanders in Afghanistan, posing the question whether they were soldiers or not. Because of the three Icelanders who have sadly been wounded in Afghanistan, the question remains. This debate took place on the website soon after said issue came out. Excerpts:

“Grapevine is an interesting paper that should be made available in Icelandic as well. I read an article about Icelandic soldiers in Afghanistan. I feel bad about this. These are not Icelanders in foreign armies, this is an Icelandic unit with the Icelandic flag on their uniforms and they are in charge of the airport in Kabul. What do you think? Is this ok? Are you happy about this? Did you know about this?”

“You can stop feeling bad, this as not an Icelandic military unit. These are mainly firemen who are in charge of the airport there, and haven´t been involved in anything but reconstruction and air traffic control. This seems to me to be a job well done by the Icelandic Foreign Office.”

“It doesn´t matter if they are called firemen, air traffic controllers or something else. These are all soldiers. These are armed people in a war zone with a licence to shoot and kill other people.”

“These are not soldiers, and being firemen and air traffic controllers is what they do here at home. If I were to move to Afghanistan and start working at McDonalds wearing camouflage, would I then be classified as a soldier? Journalists are not classified as soldiers, even if they wear helmets in war zones.”

“Perhaps not soldiers, but hardly civilians. Some of them are in command of other soldiers. They are under military discipline. One of them is a major. So what´s your definition?”

“Of course these are not civilians, they are employees of NATO, but their main task is as firemen. There are other professions than the military that use ranks such as Captain and Major and so on, for example ship crews, policemen and firemen.”

“Really? I didn´t know that firemen had majors. Do they have generals too?”

“No idea, perhaps its best to call the fire department and ask since I don´t know their ranking system, but I am aware that other professions use these ranks. But firemen are not the only people involved.”

“Could we Icelanders please stay away from these problems. It is noble to want to help in this war ravaged country, but I sincerely hope that we don´t start investing in an army. Nobody will give us any trouble as long as we pose no threat.”

“If there is something that the Bush government has gotten out of the war on terror, it is even more terrorism and hostility. Afghanistan: ok but Iraq=idiotic and a huge mistake. If Icelanders want to join this lunacy they might as well sew bullseyes onto their backs.”

“Iceland is a member of NATO and as such Icelanders have a responsibility to help member states engaged in Afghanistan with reconstruction and peace keeping. I like the idea of an Icelandic “unit” there at work, it shows that Icelanders are doing their bit.”

“Iceland has been doing this for many years and will keep on doing this for many years to come, but for some reason it is rarely mentioned until now. The people out there are not soldiers in any sense. They have had no military training and I doubt that they even know how to use the weapons they have. But it is a very noble job and I hope they will continue doing it.”

“I think we´re doing a good job over there, but I would be against Icelanders in Iraq, I think we should have nothing to do with that fiasco.”

“People don´t seem to be aware of the main problem with this “Icelandic unit.” The problem is that the rules regarding their status is very vague. They are not soldiers according to international law but yet they carry arms and hence are targets for hostile attacks of all kinds. The have neither the rights of soldiers nor civilians in war zones, and no one really knows what rights they have. If they are captured it´s not clear whether they should be treated as prisoners of war or civilians and hence hostages. This puts them in a very dangerous position, they are targets with little or no rights in a conflict area.”

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Enough. Stop. Now.


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