Iraq and Afghanistan have been military misadventures on a grand scale, disastrous hubris and thoughtless posturing. We've heard about the lack of proper equipment and the lack of political direction, men and women putting their lives on the line, placing themselves in danger's path with no proper in-going campaign plan and no exit strategy. The mission in Iraq changed regularly - the search for weapons of mass destruction, seeking stability in the region, regime change, and so on; the mission in Afghanistan was never that well defined - the war on terror, a search for Osama bin Laden, the release of the people from repression, and so on. With the exception of regime change (invented after the fact) none of these objectives has been met. Apart from anything else, how do you wage a war on terror?
There's something, though, which I have found takes this casual disregard for the lives of our service personnel to another level. It isn't the admission of the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, that he intended going to war no matter what - a statement that made me think that his deliberations at the time were restricted to remembering the boost in domestic popularity that Margaret Thatcher got after the Falklands conflict - nor his apparent disregard for the consequences of his actions. It's not the blustering of the present Prime Minister boasting that the troops serving in theatres of war to which we sent them will be provided with helicopters in 2014 - five years from now when, presumably, he thinks they'll still have to be fighting there and he's committing a future government to delivering on his promise - ignoring the ongoing needs of the troops currently on the ground. It's not the sight of the Chancellor squabbling with bankers over bonuses while there is a lack of proper equipment for people we have sent into real danger, nor is it the shame of having a Secretary of State for Defence who is quite clearly not capable of serving in that office with any kind of distinction.
It's the fact that no cabinet member or junior minister turns up to honour the sacrifice of those who have lost their lives in the service of their country when their bodies are repatriated. A little humility, a tiny mark of respect, just standing in silent tribute as those coffins come off the back of the transporter at RAF Lyneham. The people of Wootton Bassett have shown dignity and decency as they have paid their respects; surely it's not too much to ask that members of the Government can do likewise?
Instead we see a Prime Minister whose public engagement with these losses is restricted to letters to the families and formulaic phrases in the House of Commons and a Defence Secretary who mutters platitudes while saying that we mustn't be deflected by these deaths.
Many families will be missing members this Christmas as a result of these actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, their losses cannot be undone but at least we should be able to expect that the Government that sent them into harm's way should respect the sacrifice they have made.
We should remember them and not forget those who are still serving and will be serving. Perhaps we should even drink a toast to them:
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, sed dulcius pro patria vivere, et dulcissimum pro patria bibere. Ergo, bibamus pro salute patriae