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Wading in

Posted by Helen Monday, August 17, 2009

Yes, I am still here so you can put away all those flags. Not only that but I am wading into the Boss's territory though just like the German Social-Democrats, according to Lenin, I asked permission first.

As it happens I agree with the Boss's opinion that the British troops should now leave Afghanistan as they are not doing anything useful there and are not likely to do so in the future. I reached that conclusion about Iraq before he did, not because I understand anything about toys (I don't) but because it was clear to me that nothing good was coming out or was likely to come out of the British presence there.

Given that the media is manipulating opinion (which is quite malleable) to make the war in Afghanistan (initially quite popular) as unpopular as the one in Iraq was, and given the vacuum that exists at the top of British politics, we all suspect that a speedy withdrawal is a given, just as soon as Mr Brown or Mr Cameron can find a way of saving face.

Therefore, it is time to widen the debate. We live, as far as attitudes towards our armed forces are concerned, in an unusual time. Though we hear of soldiers not being allowed into pubs, bars or clubs (presumably because the local lads do not want to compete for female attention, which tends to concentrate on uniforms) and there are endless letters quoting "oh it's Tommy this, and Tommy that" but these miss the point.

What Kipling was describing was a society that by and large disliked and distrusted the military, whether it was the apparently loutish soldiers or the apparently incompetent officers. That was the traditional English and British attitude to a standing army, made possible by geography. This distrust went right through society and through the centuries.

With two world wars that had horrifically high casualties (though much higher in most other countries that were involved than in Britain) and the unpleasant Cold War, attitudes to the military have changed. It seems that we love them after all (though not, of course, lads in pubs who have to compete with soldiers for female attention).

We not only love them to pieces, we grow more and more sentimental about them, their abilities (proven or otherwise) and their sacrifices. What we do not like is them going to war and getting killed or injured. When I say we do not like, I do not mean their friends and families do not like it, which is an understandable point of view - we, as a society, dislike the idea of soldiers getting killed in battle. We don't mind them getting killed in training or industrial accidents. In fact, we do not care about that. But we do not like them getting killed in battles. I'd go further: we do not like them fighting battles.

So we have something of an existential problem on our hands. Most lads and lasses who join up do hope that sooner or later they would be involved in a bit of trouble-shooting, otherwise known as aggro, in some part of the world while they serve. But while their existence in uniform makes them popular (though not with lads in pubs etc), the moment they carry out their jobs they become seriously unpopular or, at least, the fact that they are carrying out their jobs is unpopular. At the same time, the people who do not want our soldiers to do what they are supposed to do, which is fight in wars, keep demanding more money to be spent on them.

This mish-mash of emotions and opinions can become explosive. What exactly is the purpose of those troops on whom we want to spend more money and whom we love to pieces? Going on from there, it is probably about time to ask ourselves whether we really do want to be a military power? The guards, after all, can keep changing whether we are or not.

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