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The Arms Behind the Invictus Games

The origins of the Invictus Games (“For our Wounded Warriors,” goes the slogan) lies in war. Wars that crippled and caused depression and despair. The games became a project of grand distraction and worth, a form of emotional bread for servicemen and women. Do not let wounds, mental or physical, deter you. Move to the spirit of William Ernest Henley, an amputee who, during convalescence, penned those lines which speak to a Victorian stubbornness before adversity: “I am the masters of my fate;/I am the captain of my soul.”

Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, was supposedly inspired by a trip to the United States in 2013 by how, as the Invictus Games Foundation explains, “sport can help physically, psychologically and socially those suffering from injuries and illness.” The games came into being next year, embodying “the fighting spirit of wounded, injured and sick Service personnel and personifies what these tenacious men and women and achieve post injury.”

As they opened in Sydney, something rather troubling lurked in the undergrowth of those keen to promote the games. This was an occasion for the sponsors to hop on in numbers, to insist on that piffle called values. “We are excited,” goes the organisers’ statement, “to be on the journey to our Games with the fantastic support of our family of Invictus Games partners. Their support not only helps us deliver a great Games, but also builds initiatives that inspire connected, healthy and active lifestyles for those facing mental health and physical challenges.”

Names like Saab, Leidos, Boeing and Lockheed Martin are prominent corporate entities that stud the show, a sort of murderous family of patrons. (You were victims of our products; we are thinking of you.)

Company statements attempt to link the Invictus show to the myth of company values and mutual benefit, a point bound to leave those aware of any nexus between arms production and casualty celebration queasy: the company produces the murderous hardware – war is business and stock value after all – but it also brings back the injured into the fold.

Jaguar Land Rover, for instance, notes “a commitment to furthering their legacy of support to the armed forces by helping former military personnel transition into civilian careers through job opportunities.” The company was proud in recruiting “over 700 ex-service men and women since 2013, creating opportunities to employees globally seeking bright futures in the automotive industry.”

Boeing, for its part, cheers “these warrior-competitors, honour their families, and help educate Australians about the contributions and sacrifices of military personnel here in Australia and around the world.” As it backs the Invictus Games, the company’s own website smoothly advertises its role in serving “the US Air Force, US Navy, the Marines and many US allies by producing and integrating precise, long-range and focused munitions.”

There are always various moments the promoters could look to in terms of how these warrior competitors perform. What mattered was turning up, and providing a good show of heart string pulling and tear jerking reaction.

During the Sydney Invictus games, several opportunities presented themselves. There was the wheelchair tennis player Paul Guest, whose PTSD was triggered by the whirring of an overheard helicopter. Dutch veteran Edwin Vermetten, a fellow competitor, was on hand to comfort him as paralysis took over, offering support by singing Let it Go from the movie Frozen. “We saw what mateship really looks like,” reflected the Duke of Sussex at his closing speech.

Prior to its opening, Nick Deane, writing in New Matilda, was troubled by the games’ throbbing sub-text, its colosseum air and undertone of manipulation. “There is a whiff of triumphalism in this (it is in the name of the games). Their spirit may be unconquered but they have, without exception, been severely beaten. Giving them a special name does not alter that.”

Servicemen and women for Australia, in particularly, were being celebrated, but had suffered in wars that lacked the backbone of necessity, lending a heavily tragic air to the proceedings. “In an objective assessment of them,” Deane notes, “no service personnel [participating] can legitimately claim to have been wounded in the defence of Australia.”

That entire spirit goes to those who promote the games: the very companies who prove indispensable to the military industrial complex that creates its global casualties. It is they who are also unconquerable, forever leaving behind the broken in their wake, they who place those in, to remember the words of William Ernest Henley, “a place of wrath and tears” where “the Horror of the shade” looms.

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  1. New England Cocky

    Let us face reality, since the Vietnam US imperialist disaster ex-Service personnel have been ignored by both government and the military once they have left the service. It did not matter whether you were fully fit or severely incapacitated, you were ignored, just as if you had been killed in battle.

    After WWII, veterans sought solace in alcohol and family violence that was kept “in the family”. Now after the Iraq Afghanistan US imperialist disaster we have wasted BILLIONS of dollars on unnecessary military expenditure to get Little Johnnie “Flakjacket” Howard a US medal because he did not go to Korea or Vietnam.

    Much better to spend this money on important things like improving Australian hospitals, state school funding and high speed rail infrastructure. But wait … that would no prop up the failing US economy …

  2. ozibody

    Very well articulated Dr. Binoy !! … My sentiments entirely! …..

    Tho’ better expressed than I would have done …. ” no service personnel [participating] can legitimately claim to have been wounded in the defense of Australia “…. salient point !!!

    As a selective ABC fan ( who will not be distracted by the ‘commercial ‘ offering) I watched most of the series broadcast on night programmes and so I had corresponding sentiments all week long !

    I wish you well and sincerely hope similar sentiments can be aired Nationally.

  3. nonsibicunctis

    A cleverly devised and well composed article.

    Sadly, it does an injustice to all those service personnel injured physically or mentally as a result of their participation, under orders, within Austrlia’s military excursions overseas.

    For the record, I’ll state upfront that I am anti-monarchy, a pacifist [as a result of active service in the Middle East – which I recognise to be a misnomer,(it is really West Asia); and a person strongly troubled by the selfishness and callousness of capitalism, its considerable historical destruction of cultures, habitats, human and wildlife homes and the dispossession, poverty and fear of millions or, more probably, billions.

    As such, I can empathise whith your sentiments expressed in this article for I detest the devaluing of almost everything that becomes associated with selling a product, whether directly or indirectly.

    However, it worthy of note that, for the participants, the games do provided recognition, renewed self-worth, and a dignity in their performances that, in my view, contributes to building and reparing the human spirit – a spirit that is so often as good as obliterated by involvement in armed conflict, let alone full blown war.

    Those participants in the Invictus games are possibly, i would suggest even probably, the best advocates for limiting the nonsense of war and the engagrement it attracts of govrenments whose real motive often seems to be distraction from domestic political matters – as with Thatcher’s Falkland’s War for instance, and the Australian Government’s own request, even insistence, that it join the Vietnam War, even when the US didn’t want Australia there.

    Of course, some of these veterans, in spite of their injuries, will be conditioned well enough to still applaud their role and America’s interference in the affairs of other countries. We know that the various militarily and economically powerful governments enjoy indoctrinating the World’s populace with their might and ideologies. We also know that, long since, they have realised that such is better done on foreign soil, rathe than their own.

    Both right wing governments and right wing citizens, as well as many of other ideological persuasion, become easily caught up in that ‘nationalistic pride’ in which John Howard so revels. These people will support the production of armaments, praise the involvement of companies that make them and mouny specious arguments, often hurtful and aggessive, against those who seek disengagemtn, diplomacy and accomplishing change by modelling and gentle persuasion, rather than the annihilation of tens of thousands or more civilans than combatants.

    Most of them will not recognise that, in the vast majority of cases, the best they can hope for is a change of control that allows them some small dignity and perhaps slightly better than poverty level living conditions. Those that do recognise their likely future will do whatever they can in desperation to avoid the continuation of lives in conditions that most westerners wouldn’t inflict on their pets. So they will treck for miles, through danger, with little food or medical aid, carrying what little hey have – usually only their children – in a vain hope of reaching safe haven in one ot these noble ‘Free World’ countries that clearly have billions, if not trillons, of dollars to spend, given their military expenditure. Surely, these bastions of democracy, fair play, freedom for religions, and considerate governments will give them shelter and opportunity.

    We know, however, that most of us don’t want them. we applaud our governments for going to extraordinary lengths to refuse them entry, even to the extent of treating them worse than we do our own convicted criminals – yet these are people seeking only to live without fear, torment, and the chance of rape, homelessness, injury and death.

    Yes, it seems that our government would far rather spend trillions on disposable armaments often costing hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars, most of which simply goes up in a blast and smoke. I am not cluey enough to do the figures, though I am attempting somehting of the sort, but I’d like to know just how vastly more expensive this failed ‘solution’ by warfare is as compared with a different strategy – that of simply removing those innocents who wish to leave and resettling them.

    Of course, we would also not need to spend these enormous amounts of money on armaments then so their production companies and their share-holders, the very people who have so little conscience that they choose to make money out of maiming and killing. In my mind they raise a similar sensation as when I’ve accidently trodden in some excrement and have it on my shoe and its smell all around me.

    So, you see, Dr Binoy, I do empathise with what you’ve written. It is true and the content needs to be spread and thought about. At the same time, there is a side which I think needs explication, too.

    The majority of our soldiers are young. They are ‘wet behind the ears’. They are indoctrinated. They are instilled with the notion that they must follow orders. They know little of history or politics or ideologies or war. They are not yet sophisticated thinkers. In the main they are those who in other circumstances would be going out with friends, playing or spectating at their favourite sports, perhaps studying for a degree or a promotion, seeking a partner, or in other ways enjoying the ease and lack of commitment and responsibility of most youth.

    I remember being on active service in the Middle East (West Asia) and the prevalent, even common and unconsidered belief that caused us all to be indignant that the people of the country were shooting at us, planting booby traps, and ambushing us whenever they could, as well as using civilians to smuggle arms and ammunition through checkpoints. We were so conditioned to believe that we were the good guys and on the side of right that this indignation was ‘their right’, not ours, that it was we that were in their country killing their people, not the other way round.

    Of course, some of did realise and I, for one, became a pacifist as a result. Not a good thing to be when you are in the armed forces but certainly a more rational ideology than that which holds that ‘might is right’ and war solves problems between peoples. History shows us that it does not.

    So, in my long-winded way, to my major point. Yes I agree with the views in the article. However I think it misses some key issues, as well. Also, to be fair to the armament and other companies which have provided resources and weapons for our troops, let us at least be thankful that they had the benefit of quality equipment, given that, in the main, they didn’t choose to be there. Perhaps, also, it is worth reflecting that without the sponsorship of these companies – regardless that it was probably for self interest – these games may not have taken place. Also, isn’t it better to have seen those dollars spent on this exercise than simply put into more armaments?

  4. paul walter

    No, It was a very interesting posting, nonsibi.

  5. Kaye Lee


    So many worthy issues raised.

    I agree that for the participants, their families, and hopefully for some who may still be struggling to deal with their injuries and life after military service, the games have made a difference.

    I am sorry for what you and so many others have had to endure. Young people should not have to grow up under such circumstances – both those we send to war and those whose countries are ravaged by it.

    The tragedy and waste of war is something we must make people understand and I think the games may add to that in their own small way even if it is seen by some businesses as a PR exercise.

    Thank you for your informed opinion and for making me think. And thanks to Dr Kampmark for starting the conversation.

  6. Dave Black

    “ALL wars are bankers wars” – US 5-star Major General Smedley Butler

  7. nonsibicunctis

    Paul, I’m sorry but I’m not sure what it is that you are saying.

    If your are referring to Binoy Kampmark’s original article, yes, I agree that it was interesting. However, I’m not sure to what your initial ‘No’ refers. Am I to assume that the ‘No’ is a rejection of all I wrote or am I missing some unstated connection?

  8. Ken

    As the song lyrics go “War what is it good for, absolutely nothing”

  9. Kaye Lee

    We have the chance to turn the pages over
    We can write what we want to write
    We gotta make ends meet, before we get much older

    We’re all someone’s daughter
    We’re all someone’s son
    How long can we look at each other
    Down the barrel of a gun?

    You’re the voice, try and understand it
    Make the noise and make it clear, oh, woah
    We’re not gonna sit in silence
    We’re not gonna live with fear, oh, woah

    This time, we know we all can stand together
    With the power to be powerful
    Believing we can make it better

    Ooh, we’re all someone’s daughter
    We’re all someone’s son, oh
    Give a look at each other
    Down the barrel of a gun

  10. paul walter

    nonsibicunctis, badly parsed on my part, I meant no, your comment was not “longwinded” but a strong response to a strong thread starter from Dr. Kampmark.

    I was left in deep thought, which explains the careless response.

  11. Denis Bright in Brisbane

    Thanks, Dr. Binoy Kammark for your article. This sensitive topic needs to be discussed. Grief about battlefield industries and PTS aftermaths should not be orchestrated by the global military industrial complexes.

  12. king1394

    I’d rather my children view and consider the dreadful injuries resulting from war, which are well displayed in the Invictus Games, than be taken in by the ANZAC legend. This is here and now, and ‘in your face’. Yes, the propaganda message is that there is nobility in picking oneself up, and going on to achieve something – and with huge amounts of assistance from the medical profession and loyal families, some wounded soldiers are able to make it out there to have some fun – but it is not noticeably different from the athletic displays given us by Paralympians. Keep that thought in mind for the young: yes, join the forces, survive terrible physical and mental injuries and one day you might be invited to partake in a tiny smidgeon of life. As for who finances it, what’s the difference between the Governments who orchestrate these wars or the companies that profit.

  13. Josephus

    Interesting and sad topic and discussion. I am as a result re reading ‘The Problem of Armaments, a Book for every Citizen of Every Country’, by Arthur Guy Enoch, Macmillans, London, 1923. It is dedicated to:

    ‘All those citizens of many countries who toiled and suffered and died in the Great Struggle of 1914-18, and who find that their sacrifices in a war to end war are still ineffectual.’ Pages 77-90 for example list and discuss the ‘war chemicals , poison gases and liquids, smoke and camouflage screens etc’ then known and used.

    Some returned soldiers at the time of Mr Enoch’s book were avoiding Anzac Day because it put chauvinism before repentance. To mourn the dead is fit and right; yet so much of the rhetoric attending the commemoration was and is triumphalist. Further, with respect to that first world war in particular, it remembers only the dead and wounded on the winning side.

  14. ChristopherJ

    Ex Australian Army. I couldn’t watch any of it and I like my sport.

    Too horrified, I think, about what war does to young people, to want to be reminded of it. Royal firm patronage too…

    I don’t need to watch, even if the sporting contests (and life stories) are engaging.

    TY for highlighting an important topic.

  15. nonsibicunctis

    Paul, thank you for taking the time to explain. I much appreciate it.

  16. Diannaart

    Is there a section in the Invictus Games for those whose war injuries are not physical?

  17. nonsibicunctis

    It seems that many of you have favourite or, at least, songs that you see as notable in the context of war, its human, environmental and material implications and consequences, and the ethics, moral and belief systems brought to it. In view of that and hoping that you won’t mind such a post, I’ve listed below some of what I consider to be the more incisive, expressive, critical and/or empathetic songs in this context. I’ve ended with the full lyric from the 2017 Nobel Prize Winner for Literature and probably the most prolific, poetic, contemplative and eclectic singer/songwriters of our time, Bob Dylan.

    Most of these songs have been covered by many other artists and some have had changes of lyrics over time. I have tried to provide links to versions by the original singer/songwriters and, where I could, the original lyrics.

    And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda – Eric Bogle –
    Hallelujah Veteran’s Version – Sailor Jerri –
    Masters of war – Bob Dylan. –
    No Man’s Land – Eric Bogle. –
    Not Ready to End the Fight – David Thibodeaux –
    This is My Rifle – Mark Maysey –
    Universal Soldier – Donovan –
    Vietnam – Jimmy Cliff –
    Waste Land of the Free – Iris Dement –
    We can’t make it here any more – James McMurtry. –
    What are you fighting for? – Phil Ochs –
    With God on Our Side – Bob Dylan –

    Bob Dylan – Masters Of War Lyrics

    Come you masters of war
    You that build all the guns
    You that build the death planes
    You that build all the bombs
    You that hide behind walls
    You that hide behind desks
    I just want you to know
    I can see through your masks.

    You that never done nothin’
    But build to destroy
    You play with my world
    Like it’s your little toy
    You put a gun in my hand
    And you hide from my eyes
    And you turn and run farther
    When the fast bullets fly.

    Like Judas of old
    You lie and deceive
    A world war can be won
    You want me to believe
    But I see through your eyes
    And I see through your brain
    Like I see through the water
    That runs down my drain.

    You fasten all the triggers
    For the others to fire
    Then you set back and watch
    When the death count gets higher
    You hide in your mansion’
    As young people’s blood
    Flows out of their bodies
    And is buried in the mud.

    You’ve thrown the worst fear
    That can ever be hurled
    Fear to bring children
    Into the world
    For threatening my baby
    Unborn and unnamed
    You ain’t worth the blood
    That runs in your veins.

    How much do I know
    To talk out of turn
    You might say that I’m young
    You might say I’m unlearned
    But there’s one thing I know
    Though I’m younger than you
    That even Jesus would never
    Forgive what you do.

    Let me ask you one question
    Is your money that good
    Will it buy you forgiveness
    Do you think that it could
    I think you will find
    When your death takes it’s toll
    All the money you made
    Will never buy back your soul.

    And I hope that you die
    And your death’ll come soon
    I will follow your casket
    In the pale afternoon
    And I’ll watch while you’re lowered
    Down to your deathbed
    And I’ll stand over your grave
    ‘Til I’m sure that you’re dead.

    “Want of imagination makes things unreal enough to be destroyed. By imagination I mean knowledge and love. I mean compassion. People of power kill children, the old send the young to die, because they have no imagination. They have power. Can you have power and imagination at the same time? Can you kill people you don’t know and have compassion for them at the same time?”
    ― Wendell Berry, Hannah Coulter

  18. Michael Taylor

    nonsibicunctis, sorry about your comment getting court for moderation. This is quite common for comments that contain numerous links.

  19. nonsibicunctis

    Michael, thank you for your courtesy. I appreciate it.

    However, I’ve known you (in that strange virtual Internet sense) for a long time and have admired and do admire all that you’ve given and give to establish and maintain the AIMN.

    As much as I appreciate your courtesy, please don’t ever feel you need to apologise to me. If there is any fault, it is on my side for not reading or noticing any rider on the insertion of links.

    My post was probably superfluous anyway and probably most readers have moved well on from that topic. It is a flaw of mine that I am often similar to a dog with a bone. Meeting and talking with those who were supposedly my enemy or my enemy’s friends, I realised that all human beings want much the same thing: peace, freedom, good health and adequate food and shelter. I realised then that the common glorification of war was part of the subtle (or not so subtle) sociaisation propoganda of those with power and control.

    I’ve had a passion for peace and a recognition that war is rarely, if ever, wanted by those who have to fight it or their families, friends and neighbours but rather is created by those with vested interests based around arrogance, false pride, megalomania, acquisitiveness, personal ambition, and a desire to control.

    I am not a detractor of the efforts of the United Nations, as so many people of significance and position (but not necessarily perception or critical intelligence) seem to be. I do, however, on the basis of the varying stances taken by its member nations, consider its name to be a misnomer. Perhaps, ” Congress of Non-United Nations” would be more accurate.

    However, what I would really like to see is a body that is fundamentally focused on establishing and promoting One World of Human Opportunity, Peace, & Equity, A body with a vision for harmony and focus on collaborative solutions that rise above ideology, religion, colour, wealth, geography, population, technology or whatever and seek to SHARE as a single collective HUMANITY.

    Perhaps, in fact probably, I’m just a geriatric with the idealism of the young but even if I am, “The function of an ideal is not to be realized but, like that of the North Star, to serve as a guiding point.” (Edward Abbey, American ecologist.)

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