Thursday 24 December 2009

Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori

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


subrosa said...

I was discussing this very subject last night Calum. The biggest failure of both Blair and Brown is that they refuse to categorise these wars as wars and therefore all expenditure must come out of the MoD budget. This is what has caused so many problems with procurement.

If they had been honest and declared war then immediate money could be found from the general budget.

Also, with no declaration of war, Brown does not have to create a war cabinet. He can keep the decisions between himself and the Brownies, thus cutting out many of the experienced military advisors.

The more I listened to the conversation the more angry I became. Brown and his cohorts have no respect for our military - in fact these men and women seem to scare him. His answer? Leave them alone.

Merry Christmas to you and a Guid New Year.

Conan the Librarian™ said...

Merry Christmas Calum and good luck against Mark in March.Or whenever.

Key bored warrior. said...

Since Obama did this, I habe considered it deeply and, as the father of a serviceman and I am an ex serviceman, I can tell you that the last thing I would want to see at the steps of the transporter as a dead warrior is brought home would be one of these duplicitous self seeking bastards.

It was something I have called for but have since changed my mind, especially watching the sham of an Iraq enquiry.

Obama did it and received kudos for it. I just cannot stomach the vision of Brown, Ainsworth or any of the present bunch being there it would just be tasteless and offensive.

I could just about tolerate the two Princes or HM, but that is it.

Strathturret said...

I'm against Afghanistan; I don't think we're being told the truth by our leaders !

I have never been in the services, three (v boring)years in school cadets was closest I got. I have four sons who are showing no inclination to join up (jolly good I say).

So what I say is what I would say to my own sons if they showed any inclination to join up.

Don't join up. You are not defending the UK. You are being used as an american 'ghurka' to further american imperialist ventures. You are cheap, overseas (to USA) and expendible. You are not well equipped and the Government could not care about you. What sort of person risks their life for £16k a year, given the above?

A very stupid person.

Rather than supporting our troops be should be telling them to get out now.

Calum Cashley said...

I have never had any inclination to serve in the forces but I agree with Orwell's argument from "Notes on Nationalism" when he said that "Those who ‘abjure’ violence can only do so because others are committing violence on their behalf".

I don't want to serve in the armned forces and I find myself in sympathy with much of the pacifist manifesto but the blunt truth is that this is a luxury afforded to me by those who put themselves in harm's way. They may be underpaid (I don't know the facts of that case) and they will always be under-resourced (although the present apparent disregard for that circumstance is disgusting), but their presence is absolutely vital. We need a defence force to protect us; whether we need expeditionary forces is a point of argument, but we need a defence force.

The government of the day may be acting with the USA in adventures abroad but that is a reckoning we can have with them at each election - we need a defence force to protect us, we can sleep peacably in our beds at night only because rough men are prepared to do violence on our behalf (as pointed out by Churchill, amongst others). I am not one who would serve but I recognise the necessity of having those who are prepared to serve and I think we should honour their service.

Obama's reasons for turning up at the repatriation might be something I come back to later (I'm not impressed), but I would have thought that Government Ministers would want to be at Lyneham - not because it's a chance for publicity but because they should be wanting to show respect for those who have died in service and to honour their memory. Just standing back and bowing your head as the coffins come off the plane, not seeking to engage with Wootton Bassett, just paying tribute to those who went to serve as they were ordered and came back in a coffin.

Anonymous said...

If one of the bodies belonged to me or someone I loved, I wouldn't want their filthy hands any place near it. How degrading to know that one of the crowd there to see one come home, was one of these criminal types. No thanks. And for me the indignity of being covered by a union flag would be the final straw.

It's a thought that, however much we have progressed from early times, we still resort to ordinary men killing ordinary men to get what the ruling classes want. Once upon a time the rulers at least had the guts to lead from teh front.

That's long since gone. We managed to progress from that. Sad, isn't it?

Calum Cashley said...

The Union Flag covers the coffins of those who have died in the services because they fought in the British armed services. Scotland's soldiers have fought under that flag since it was created. If you want to change that you have to make Scotland independent.

Anonymous said...

Yes Callum, I know. That is why I wouldn't fight for them. I'd fight for Scotland but not for the UK.