No...I don't work for the Gruniad... Why is the suffering of young soldiers treated so callously compared with that of non-combatants? We are not, alas, in a position to pour acetic acid on Miliband or Brown's antennae, so we can only speculate on a prawn-like ability to feel Catherine Bennett Thursday November 15, 2007 The Guardian Following his research on prawns, Professor Robert Elwood of Queen's University, Belfast, has recently concluded that these and other decapod crustaceans do feel pain. When their antennae were dabbed with acetic acid, the creatures reacted by rubbing the affected places for up to five minutes. When the professor administered anaesthetic before acid, there was no rubbing. His conclusion - unlikely to be contested by anyone who has ever gone rockpooling, or forced a struggling lobster into a pot - was that the creatures did, indeed, have the ability to endure a "pain experience". This theory has, however, been challenged by chefs and scientists alike: they argued that the animals were responding to irritants - something even an amoeba can do - and warned against comparing people with sea creatures. One expert on fish pain suggested that the shrimps, which have no recognisable brain, were merely trying to clean their antennae. Or maybe they were just waving. It's so difficult to say. Even with humans, you can never quite know if someone else's pain experience is as bad as your own. Unless, of course, they're in the military. Clearly, given the current rows about compensation, there remains a good deal of disagreement about what the suffering of an injured young soldier really amounts to. Does he, as some anguished parents are claiming, suffer all the torments of a regular human being? Or is it, as military experts have argued, bad taste even to compare a soldier's pain response to a civilian's? In the absence of any research confirming that the ruined prospects of a permanently disabled young combatant can be compared to those that might be experienced by, say, a middle-class A-level student, with a distinction at grade seven violin and a media studies place at Oxford Brookes, the government prefers the conventional view of squaddies as a lower life form, whose suffering - no matter how closely it might seem to mirror a non-combatant's - should be never be sentimentalised, nor anthropomorphised. Naturally, any financial compensation will reflect this reduced level of response. Private Jamie Cooper, for example, of the Royal Green Jackets, who is now back in the full-time care of his parents having been horribly injured in Basra at the age of 18, should be satisfied with a lump sum of £57,000 as compensation for having his active life ended as a teenager. Again, for all the youthful appearance of many soldiers - one thinks, for instance, of 23-year-old Lance Bombardier Ben Parkinson, whose legs were blown off in Afghanistan (compensation: £57,500 per leg) - they should not be confused with our vulnerable younger civilians, who need to be protected from binge drinking, driving too fast, gun crime, inappropriate sexual behaviour, and all the other threats that beset the modern teenager. To its mother, even an amoeba will look vulnerable. The boy soldier is a professional. When he signed up, aged 17 or 18, he did so in the knowledge that he might, at some point, be required by someone like the defence secretary, Des Browne, to have his life ended, or effectively destroyed in a futile, unwinnable war. Still, if the military is right to remind emotional parents of the difference between the martial and the civilian approach to pointless death, an occasional, tactful acknowledgment of the human cost of Iraq and Afghanistan might go some way to alleviating the army's current recruitment crisis. With Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup predicting a shortage of young men willing to martyr themselves in what General Dannatt, the head of the army, calls "a generation of conflict", ministers might want to consider making the odd respectful allusion to tragic losses, a nation's gratitude, homes for heroes, etc, etc, rather than treating casualties as an unfortunate piece of policy fallout, or - as both prime minister Gordon Brown and foreign secretary David Miliband did this week, when discussing their global ambitions - totally ignoring them. Would Brown's new policy of "hard-headed internationalism", Miliband was asked, have made any difference to the invasion of Iraq? "We don't resile from the decisions that were made in respect of the Iraq war," came the response. "No one is resiling from the original decision." Honestly, Miliband, even the most emotionally stunted of hard-headed amoeba might have considered it politic, when the subject of Iraq came up, to have mentioned the sacrifice of over 170 lives, and injuries affecting hundreds more of his compatriots. Given that we are not, alas, in a position to pour any acetic acid on Miliband or Brown's antennae and watch out for rubbing, we can only speculate on the existence of a prawn-like ability to feel. While repeated use of the word "resile" certainly makes you wonder if Miliband possesses anything the rest of us would recognise as consciousness, both he and Brown are known to be sentimental, even excessively so, about fatherhood and babies. What, other than lowering the recruitment age to five, would make these doting fathers see the contradiction between loving their own little Isaacs and Frasers, and sending other people's teenagers off to be blown up in the desert, and abandoned on their return? Conscription?