Am I the only person who was startled to see soldiers in uniform, apparently on official assignment at the Festival 50 events in Montserrat this past December?
I'm not the only one, am I?
Or are we, me and all the people I asked, just the only ones who did not hear the announcement that the Royal Montserrat Defence Force soldiers would be conducting crowd control at these functions? Were they? Did I miss something, or has sending out the army become normal practice in Montserrat?
And, if so, when did that occur? And, more to the point, why? Is there anything of significance in this occurrence?
One person I talked to simply had me informed that, Shirley, you have to realise that things are different now. Things have changed. It's the white people who are in charge now, and they run the Defence Force.
That statement was even more startling than the actual uniforms being out and about. After all, the Defence Force members are Montserratians, which makes me feel reasonably confident that force, intimidation and abuse will not likely accompany the power. The deployment and the statement were frightening to me for other reasons.
I was very much taken aback by the sight of men in camouflage, with equipment in their hands, because I had never sent his before in Montserrat, and because I know that soldiers do not just routinely get sent out, assigned to manage crowds at peaceful functions and celebrations. Soldiers only come out during times of war or extreme crisis.
So, which was the case in December? Montserratians came home in troops, so the British deployed their forces?
Soldiers only come out when someone is frightened for somebody's safety and/or the breakdown of order. Who was frightened by the thought of two thousand more Montserratians on island than is now the normal, everyday case?
Then, of course, my friend, when he said that thing about the white people being in charge, he stated is as simply a matter of fact, that's just how it is, he was saying. Even worse, his tone didn't have even the slightest whiff of, resignation, let's say. You know, the attitude you front with when you don't like something but you don't feel you have any power to change it? Well, his was not that. His was not even acceptance.
It was quite simply, unquestioning.
Unquestioning. Because that's what you do when the white people are in charge. You don't even question how come they are in charge. How they come to be so in charge of Montserrat again! After all these years.
So, but, how come?
In this case, of course, when my friend says the white people, he merely means the British. It's not a skin colour matter. It's not personal. There is no individual or individuals being specifically referred to. It's a politics and governance issue. A Montserratian politics issue skins not white. A British governance issue skins just happen to be white.
And, of course, if it is that the British are so fully in charge of Montserrat that their decisions are absolute, then I am bothered by that, in the same way that I would be if somebody were to start acting like they owned and controlled me because they gave me a meal of two when I was in crisis.
And for those of you who are easily owned, and think this is perfectly reasonable, No! You don't give up your dignity and self-determination when somebody helps you out! You say thank you, and, as you work to get yourself back on your feet, you are mindful and grateful, and you negotiate reasonable terms. You pay back when you are able, you help them out when you can. (Montserratian men died as soldiers in the World Wars! eg.)
What I am most troubled about, and indeed, find absolutely terrifying in the deepest reaches of my soul, is that attitude that we, Montserratians, just accept that we no longer have a say, and moreover, feel that there is no point in objecting, resisting, seeking to change that twisted reality.
I am terrified because, when people start having soldiers out and about in times of peace, where there is no disaster or emergency that the soldiers have to help with, the aim can only be to show who has the power; the intent, to intimidate. It can only be the indications of an assertion of greater power and control, or perhaps the forerunners of other, greater, more powerful forces.
Which are all well and good, even perhaps welcome, in times of war and violent social disruption, but never acceptable in times of peace.
Unless those in power are, indeed, waging war against the people. Or just want to be sure that the people are kept in their place.
I am terrified because, if the people who made the decision to deploy the army of Montserrat did not feel it incumbent upon them to explain clearly and completely, to the people of Montserrat, and indeed seek the agreement of the people of Montserrat for something like this, then we have an even greater problem. Apart from the fact that there was nothing happening in Festival 50 that could have warranted sending out the army, unless somebody was afraid. Should we, Montserratians, have been afraid?
Should we now be?
Editor-in-Chief's Note: Shirley Osborne is an Editorial Contributor with The MNI Alive Network.