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Adding insult to injury

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November 20, 2013

Dear Sir,

Thank you for allowing me space to reply to comments attributed to Lt Col Michael Foster-Brown the current CO of the Bermuda Regiment which appear in The Royal Gazette on November 9, 2013. In that article Lt Col Brown makes some of the most ridiculous statements in an attempt to justify the current system of conscription which allows our Government to viciously exploit cheap labour under the pretence of providing national security for our country.

What is most infuriating is that his main argument is based on economics. This was also the most common argument used by the proslavery movement in England and the United States to defend slavery. They would draw attention to the economic benefits derived from that despicable institution. Much of their literature referred to the value of the West Indies trade and its importance to the maritime industry. The anti-slavery campaigners tried hard to refute these arguments knowing they would hold sway with Parliament. (Evidently this argument is also holding sway with our current Government.)

That said, it is incredulous to think that in 2013 a British national who is the primary beneficiary of conscription would have the audacity to defend that system by also using the economic argument. In the process he comes across as very self serving, indifferent to human rights abuses, and extremely unintelligent.

It is absurd to suggest that “the Regiment is a modern employer”. What modern employer drafts employees and then pays them ridiculously low wages? What modern employer drafts employees and then subjects them to the most profane, vulgar and toxic environment imaginable? What modern employer fines its employees the most exorbitant amounts of money for the smallest infraction? What modern employer is allowed by law to trample upon several basic human rights of its employees? Perhaps Lt Col Brown would be kind enough to list even one other “modern employer” that does this here or back in Britain.

It is equally absurd to suggest that one of the richest countries in the world per capita lacks the financial means to pay these young men who provide “Bermuda's Insurance” policy. If they do provide an insurance policy then these soldiers deserve to be paid on a level comparable to others who provide essential services.

Lt Col Brown continues, “The Regiment works hard to ensure a fair, safe and rewarding working environment for our soldiers”. There is nothing fair about a system which forces young Bermudian men to work against their will. And to add insult to injury 95 percent of what they do is purely ceremonial. So it is not just forced labour — it is also forced entertainment which is an even more egregious violation of a persons human rights.

There is nothing safe about an environment in which young men can be emotionally, physically, and even sexually abused and for the most part the perpetrators enjoy impunity. Former CO Lt Col Gavin Shorto, when interviewed shortly after the conviction of Major Glenn Brangman on four counts of sexual assault on a teenager, put it best when he stated in The Royal Gazette interview on February 7, 2011: “It's a terribly difficult situation to be in for an organisation like the army. Anyone with any authority is in a perfect position to prey upon private soldiers, who have none.” That does not sound like a safe environment at all!

There is absolutely nothing rewarding about conscription unless you are one of the grossly overpaid officers at the Regiment. To put this in perspective consider that out of the $6.9 million in the annual budget for the Regiment almost $4 million goes to only thirty-six full time employees. Lt Col Brown makes $151,000 dollars a year which is approximately $3,000 a week. Then one must consider the additional perks enjoyed by him because he is British. As was stated at the outset he is the primary beneficiary of conscription. Then compare that package with the deplorably low pay of conscripts for context.

Yet he makes the economic argument for maintaining this current, corrupt system knowing that conscription was abolished in his own country over fifty years ago. That is indeed hypocritical and suggests a colonial mind set reminiscent of the days when something was beneficial for one group at the expense of another.

Sadly Lt Col Brown's economic argument, like that put forward by the proslavery movement, seems to be holding sway with the ruling One Bermuda Alliance who know conscription is wrong but refuse to abolish it due to economic factors. For that they should be ashamed — seeing right and wrong has been removed from the equation and replaced with economic considerations.

During slavery the argument was we can't free the slaves because the economy will collapse. Astonishingly in Bermuda in 2013 it's “we can't free our young men because it will cost us money”. So money, the root of all evil, takes preeminence over human rights and that is reprehensible. Just as reprehensible as the One Bermuda Alliance blocking human rights legislation tabled by the opposition leader Marc Bean. As Mr Bean lamented afterwards: “We could have abolished conscription on November 22,2013.”


Bermudians Against the Draft

The Bermuda Regiment soldiers march onto the grounds of the Cabinet Building for the formal reading of The 2013 Throne Speech earlier this month. Most of the first-year soldiers are conscripted under a 50-year old law.
Lt Col Michael Foster Brown the commander of The Bermuda Regiment

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Published November 21, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated November 20, 2013 at 6:23 pm)

Adding insult to injury

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