Servicemen from Iraq and Afghanistan

Supporting troops needn’t mean backing war

It’s embarrassment, isn’t it? That’s the only explanation. It’s good old-fashioned British horror of anything that might provoke any kind of controversy, any public display of untoward emotion.

That’s why the local authorities of this country have displayed such glacial indifference to the 13,000 servicemen returning this autumn – hundreds of them grievously injured – from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.

That’s why the Chief of the General Staff, Sir Richard Dannatt, was driven to his sad complaint last week.

That’s why there will be no parties or treats for men and women who have given so much.

That’s why no one is laying on a parade. It’s nothing to do with our so-called stiff upper lip, or dislike of show. Don’t give me that guff.

This is a nation awash with cheap sentimentality, a nation that went into an ecstasy of mourning for the death of the Princess of Wales, and which is still far more interested – to judge by the news coverage – in the fate of one four-year-old girl than in the losses and injuries now being sustained by the entire Armed Forces.

But when British politicians, local and national, try to imagine any public act of thanksgiving for military sacrifice, they go into a kind of swoon.

They close their eyes and see maimed soldiers going past – some of them in wheelchairs – and they imagine the sudden shock and distress on the faces of passers-by, as they are confronted with the real price of war.

The politicians worry that it could all go so horribly wrong: shouted denunciations from the public, or – more disturbing still – from the veterans themselves.

Worst of all, they worry that any such parade, or any gesture of comfort and reassurance to the returning soldiers, could be construed as support for the war, a war that is now so colossally unpopular with large sections of the British electorate.

“Support for the war!” they think. “That would be appalling!” And so we collectively and institutionally exhibit a chilly reluctance to say thank you to thousands of young men and women who have made huge sacrifices on our behalf.

That reluctance is born of embarrassment, and it is based on a complete misapprehension. Not so long ago, my friend and colleague Richard Benyon took a VIP party to Newbury races and, since he is the local MP, they handed him a microphone at the start of the afternoon. He introduced his group to the rest of the racegoers. Some had their heads or limbs in bandages. Some could not walk.

He got as far as saying, “These are servicemen wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan,” and was drowned in a roar of applause – a display of public support so unabashed and wholehearted that for a second he was overcome.

He reckons it would be the same across Britain, and that football fans at Highbury or Craven Cottage – or at least the overwhelming majority – would feel the same; and yet the idea of such public celebrations fills the authorities with apprehension.

When he came to organise the day, he was puzzled by the apparent attitude of the MoD, and its obsessive desire to keep the media away.

Of course, the Government wants, quite rightly, to protect badly traumatised personnel from journalistic intrusion. But Richard had the feeling that there was a real nervousness at work, an anxiety about the sight of large numbers of injured personnel.

It seems very likely that some people in the ministry may be worried about the political impact of such a sight.

Perhaps they fear that the very spectacle of such tragically injured young people will breed further hostility to the war; and yet – if those are indeed the motives – that shows a deep misunderstanding of the public imagination, and of the needs of these soldiers.

According to Mr Benyon – who served in the Greenjackets – veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts now feel as alienated from society as American GIs returning from Vietnam.

And yet America has learned the lesson of Vietnam and the gulf that was allowed to grow between society and those who fought a deeply unpopular war.

Drive around America and you will be astonished by the number of yellow ribbons or bumper stickers, urging Americans to “support our troops”.

You can drive around Britain for months and will not see a single poster, sign, badge, lapel pin in any space in this country – public or private – urging solidarity with our forces.

On the contrary, you will see the exact opposite. You will see endless graffiti confirming that British troops are fighting a war that most people vehemently disapprove of.

The result is that we are depriving our soldiers, especially our injured soldiers, of one of the most important parts of the healing process, and that is the sense that they are valued for what they have done, and they are welcomed back with honour by the rest of us. That, surely, is the least we can offer them.

They were not responsible for the deceits of the Labour Government. They can’t be faulted for the failure to find any Weapons of Mass Destruction, or the failure of the Pentagon to plan for the aftermath of the war.

They were sent out by our democratically elected Government to fight for what they honestly construed to be our good and our safety. Some of them have fought harder and longer than any British soldiers since the Second World War.

Many have sustained injuries more terrible than in the past, for the simple reason that modern medicine allows them to survive.

They are owed the thanks of all of us, and I am sure the public is more than willing to give it. For all those who would like to show their appreciation, a new appeal is being launched on Monday, called Help for Heroes. Among other things, the objective is to help raise funds for the rehabilitation centre at Headley Court, near Leatherhead, Surrey.

Whatever the anxieties of the local authorities and the bureaucrats, I am sure the activities of this organisation will be well supported.

People have no difficulty in making a distinction between the rights and wrongs of a war, and the heroism of the troops we send out to fight it.

30 thoughts on “Servicemen from Iraq and Afghanistan”

  1. Very thought-provoking. Your point about Madeleine McCann receiving more press attention than dead and wounded soldiers is presumably the result of the government and their spin doctors not wanting us to hear about dead soldiers but not minding if we talk about a missing girl – and I can’t see that changing anytime soon.

    The fact that David Miliband glossed over the issue of Iraq at the Labour conference speaks volumes.

  2. Your thoughts on this issue reflect mine exactly. As an ex-service man I am both ashamed and disgusted at the way the Government sees fit to ignore our lads who are putting their lives on the line overseas.
    A very well written post, Boris, you talk a lot of sense and I totally agree with ‘Raincoaster’.

  3. Thank god Boris is a conservative candidate for London major. We are tired and sick of Ken Livingstone, he too complacent and has become a dictator is about time he is gone! In politics there should always be change of leadership, bye bye Ken!

  4. Here we go: another article from Boris with a question in the first sentence that’s supposed to get us all interested “ooo, what’s embarrassing?” and then follows up with each sentence being given its own paragraph.

    [Ed: moderated because inappropriate]

  5. Bang on the button, Bozza.

    You may not be a big fan of the BBC, but trust me – Newsnight is giving coverage of the challenges faced by the military in a way which few other TV programmes are.

    I recommend your readers to have a look at its web site – it has covered the issues raised by Gen Sir Mike Jackson and Sir Richard Dannatt in some detail.

    It also has an excellent film of the work ‘our boys’ are doing in Afghanistan training the Afghan National Army.

    I have severe reservations about some escapades the previous incumbent at No 10 sent these men [ and women!] to do, but they bear it all with fortitude.

    So let us resolve help them get the welcome they deserve, and a house which is a home. Although let us not yet inflict upon them invites to sporting events – watching some of our teams playing football may just qualify as ‘cruel and unusual punishment’..

    p.s. sorry, forgot to congratulate you on your winning the London mayoral candidacy !

  6. “People have no difficulty in making a distinction between the rights and wrongs of a war, and the heroism of the troops we send out to fight it.” (Boris)

    I do. I find it all incredibly difficult to understand. When a 21 year old work colleague asks me what I think of his idea about joining the armed forces I’m at a bit of a loss as to what is the best thing to say.

    The more you try and understand it the more mind boggling it all gets.

    I’ll be totally honest:

    I’m starting to feel like our armed forces are one of the few valuble exports we have left. They are fighting for our economic and political stability as I see it.

    I’ve sat in a beer garden chatting with a fellow Brit who lost a limb in the ‘War on Terror’, I just felt very sick and guilty as I drank my cushy beer.

    Expanding my vision around the world (it does make sense to take your eyes of the USA and Bush and view the wider picture) I believe with all my heart we are on the right side.

    [mod: rogue tag closed 13:28]

  7. disgraceful that your site got shut down by a moody oligarch upset by Arsenal supporters defending the history and ethos of their football club! Will you Boris, defend the sporting tradition of this country by blocking unscrupulous dodgy foreign gangtas with dirty blood soaked money from destroying what makes this capital the best capital in the world? say yes and i’ll definitely vote for you to say bye bye ken newton lol

  8. Well done Boris and thank you. We servicepeople have become so used to disdain that I think it comes as a shock to read about support for us and our work; it is easy for people to imagine that we get to vote on where we are sent perhaps……

  9. Probably your most useful article for some time Boris.

    I’m startled by the apathetic approach taken by the present government and it frequently reminds me of the Fawlty Towers episode with the Germans:

    “Don’t mention the war! I mentioned it once but I think I got away with it.”

    Many a true word and all that

  10. I should probably come clean that my refrigerator has several “Support our Troops” magnets on it, which I only put up because I realized a little girl I’d baby sat was now on her third tour of Afghanistan. And tonight I noticed that the Vancouver Police Ghost Cars have Support Our Troops stickers on them. I’m highly in favour of that.

    Let the political decisions come home to roost.

  11. As an American, the way we treated our vets from Veitnam was shameful. Those ribbons and pins across America are partly a result of guilt over our behavior then.

    I hope your Island Race will show better form than we did. It takes a long time to wash that spot out.

  12. Thank you Boris, This is what they deserve the American forces have a home coming parade so lets have one for the British Armed Forces have one too. Thank the lord someone has had the guts to raise this issue well done Boris. Bring Maddie home but also give our lads and lasses what they deserve too.

  13. have these discussions gone just a little bit dull, safe and obsequious since everything was moderated before going up? [Ed: not sure about that just yet…we shall be going back to live comments soon]

  14. Wow,

    I just clicked on ‘fsnuanuank’s’ link on his name and started watching the hatchet job on an organisation called ‘Common Purpose’ I’d never heard of.

    I’m halfway though theh 2 hour video lecture and need to hit the sack, but I’ll watch it later.

    Watch it, or google ‘common purpose’ it’s like a cross between the Trotskyist movement, Scientologists, Putin Youth and the Freemasons.

    Scary stuff.

  15. ‘Commonpurpose’ even have a links page of recommended websites that I’d never heard of, and I know reasonably well where to find information about how UK society works on the internet.

    “Thinking Managers is a website containing hundreds of pages of articles by Edward de Bono, the inventor of lateral thinking” (blurb on commonpurpose)

    The website says:

    “As a trial member you will receive … 58% discount (less than half price) on a yearly subscription. If you decide to become a member following your trial you will pay just $167 (instead of $399).”

    Sounds like a job for Cornwall Trading Standards to me (their website is based in Wadebridge) 58% discount my eye!

    However, according to ‘fnusnuank’s’ hatchet job video clip ‘common purpose’ people have taken control of our muncipal authorities! That would explain a lot of things!

  16. The majority of the British public were against this illegal war from the start. You supported it and for General Dannat or yourself to think that parades are a good idea is just plain daft. They wouldn’t get much support for a start because those of us out here who have followed this shameful episode from the start know that these servicemen are not doing this for the British public but for a zionist led elite in Washington and Whitehall. Furthermore, many of us know what the British political establishment thinks of serviceman and the way that it treats them once they are no longer of use. It is claimed that 1 in 4 homeless people are ex-servicemen and very little is done for the homeless in this country. Anyway I shall support John Bird for London Mayor, because many of my friends have watermelon smiles and I could no more vote for you than that Dictator loving Livingstone.

  17. P.S I could never support someone who doesn’t comb their hair either!
    Pull yourself together man!

  18. Laid up with a bug, I watched a lot of the Tory conference yesterday. One policy announcement has been lost behind the headline-grabbing stamp duty and inheritance tax, yet I believe it is of far greater significance.

    David Willetts announced war on the compensation culture, starting with schools. His six-point plan is

    � amend the Compensation Act in introduce the concept of “reckless disregard”

    � instruct courts to recognise the special benefits of sports and adventure when making decisions

    � make risk-management training for adventurous out-of-classroom trips a requirement of teacher training

    � make the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority independent of the Health and Safety Executive and give it responsibility for all sport, adventure and playground activities

    � change the law so there is no obligation on activity organisers to warn of an obvious risk, and

    � change the law so there is a presumption of contributory negligence if individual participating in sport or an adventure activity ignores risk warnings or was under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

    This is a terrific start to curing the compensation madness whose damaging effects now touch on almost every aspect of our lives, especially where children are concerned.

    We can only hope it will be extended way beyond school activities. There is a strong case for beefing up the “idiot factor” in compensation cases, such that greedy opportunists and frivolous claimants are sent packing if they suffered by their own stupidity.

    I liked what I heard from the first day of the conference. More of these ground-breaking ideas and my faith in Cameron’s Conservatives might well be revived.

    It was a refreshing change to hear politicians who seem genuinely to be looking at the fundamental causes of social breakdown and finding solutions which involve harnessing the expertise and drive of people at local level rather than imposing more controls from above.

    Unike Brown, they realise we can no longer buy our way out of trouble. This country is in a dreadful mess. It will take ingenuity – and probably some unpleasant medicine – to turn things around. New Labour have proved beyond doubt they cannot do it; indeed their unshaken belief in the power of Big Government and their obsession with vote-catching quick fixes has only made things worse. The cracks are turning to chasms and they’ve run out of wallpaper.

    Time to give Dave a chance, methinks.

  19. Personally I have no animosity whatsoever towards our troops. They were sent to do a job, and they’ve done their best. It’s not their fault that it was a foolish venture. Nor did they tell the country lies in order to get us into this mess.

    We are all casualties of this war. But our troops have been the ones who have been doing the real dying. And they deserve more recognition than anybody for their sacrifice in this futile war. If ever some sad requiem is held in memory of them, it should be without pomp or ceremony or swagger, and with muffled drums. These men did not have to die, and that is the shame of it, and it is upon all our heads.

  20. “Time to give Dave a chance, methinks.” (PaulD)

    In May 2005 I didn’t think much of their last manifesto, especially the bit about handing over my student loan debt, that I incurred after Blair’s ‘education, education, education – ha ha! tuition fees you mugs’ (I was in Sixth form in May 1997 and too young to vote) over to private banks to administer – probably with unfair penalty charges and all sorts of other scams.

    However I had decided that ‘enough is enough’ long before DC got his fingers on the dispatch box and announced as such and planned to vote for Michael Howard regardless of the fact MBNA or Capital One might begin managing my student loans.

    Hence the reason I’m putting my oar in the water!

  21. It is a sign of the quality and professionalism (some may say control) of our military that there hasn’t been a complaint from our men on the ground, involved in such a dubious conflict. But very gratifying to hear the men in charge voicing their (carefully disjointed) malcontent.

    This will be Blair’s noose all the way to his grave. I’ll never forget the twitchy, shifty nervousness of both Tony Blair and Georgie Bush at their Atlantic island pre-invasion meeting which completely gave the game away to anyone who is able to read body language, who has a sixth sense, who is perceptive or for that matter who has some good old fashioned common sense.

    What a shame we have been dragged into the USA’s inability to win a war, when it’s in charge, that is.

    I think many servicemen would take great heart in IDS’ speech to conference today. They are not all privately wealthy, well-educated people. The loss of a limb is far more significant for them than it is for an Oxbridge graduate.

  22. @ henley: No, I think it’s just that this is one article it’s hard to have a difference of opinion on. Either you love what Boris is saying here or you’re insane. I’ll be the first one to take a swing at him when he writes something dopey: you should see what I called him over the Israel/Lebanon war!

  23. Changing the subject briefly:
    “If they would like me to run, I’m not going to let them down,” he told his local newspaper, the Oxford Mail. [Boris on re-standing for Henley constituency).

    I don’t support they would. They’ll vote for any conservative candidate.

  24. Boris, these services men and women are not serving us, democracy, freedom or anything else so laudatory. They are serving gangsters in illegal wars. They are complicit in an ongoing war crime, one that may yet snowball into a wider conflict that draws us all in.
    I wish them no harm, but nor do I support them, any more than I would have supported the Nazis in the 30’s.
    It’s time we all stood up for what is right. This is our generation’s Vietnam.

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