Today is Armed Forces Day. This is the second annual Armed Forces Day, an event set up by the last Labour Government to encourage the country to demonstrate its support for the military. It will centre on Cardiff, but there will be upwards of 350 other events throughout the UK.
The new Defence Secretary, Liam Fox is quoted as saying
"As a nation, we have a duty to support our Armed Forces for all they do for us. Members of the Armed Forces, both past and present, have made great sacrifices in the name of our country but these men and women do not ask for sympathy, they ask for your support."
I support these sentiments. If we send young men and women, in the flower of the youth, to place themselves in harm’s way, risking death or serious injury in the service of the nation, we owe them a duty of support.
We have a bounden duty to properly equip them, to properly pay them, to support their families, and in the event of serious injury to offer speedy, effective medical care and long term support for both physical and psychological injuries.
We have a duty to rehabilitate them, return them to appropriate duties in their chosen profession if possible, and to offer comprehensive help to find employment outside of the armed forces if this is not possible. In the event of their death, we owe them and their families full and tangible recognition of the supreme sacrifice they have made, including adequate financial and support provisions for their dependants.
But above all, we owe them the right not be placed in harm’s way by politicians in conflicts that are irrelevant to the security and defence of the nation, especially where such conflicts are based on a fraudulent premise and are illegal under international law. One egregious example was the Iraq War.
Where our armed forces are deployed and engaged in a conflict that seemed justifiable at the outset, we have a duty to constantly review the rationale for such an engagement, to constantly question its continuing validity, and to speedily bring it to an end and withdraw from it when it ceases to be either winnable, or relevant, or both. Such a conflict is the ‘war’ in Afghanistan, now of nine years duration – greater than the total length of WW1 and WW2 combined – and forecast to continue, in the words of our new Prime Minister, at least for another five years.
Armed Forces Day must be a demonstration of support for all of the above objectives, but it must not be hijacked by politicians and the British establishment for other reasons. There are deeply worrying indicators that this is exactly what is happening.
Here is a quote from Sky News, and it is one of many expressing similar sentiments -
Politicians and military commanders are aware that the casualties and images from the weekly repatriation ceremonies influence public opinion.
Major-General Gordon Messenger, the military spokesman on Afghanistan, hopes events like Armed Forces Day help to balance opinion.
"If I had a plea, I think it would be to better understand the reasons why they're there and the progress that's being made and to not simply view Afghanistan through the lens of the casualties," he told Sky News.
"I think it is incumbent on me and on everyone who has an understanding of the Afghan campaign to do all we can to better inform the public as to those reasons."
In other words, the Government, the MOD and some sectors of the military are worried that the public might be questioning the weekly escalating blood sacrifice that is being made by the flower of our young people in the name of a flawed, confused and increasingly irrelevant strategy in pursuit of confused and conflicting aims. Armed Forces Day is to be hijacked and converted to a PR propaganda exercise for a failing political and military strategy.
All the emblems, symbols and techniques that support the old lie will be deployed to this end – parades of military equipment and military might, the Union Jack, old men in berets and medals, flag-waving children, and a solid presence of members of the Royal Family, together with the insidious sub-text, that anyone who does not support the Afghanistan War is somehow unpatriotic and failing to support our servicemen.
This serves as a smokescreen to obscure to real failing of a failed state – the UK – to address the very real and fundamental needs of those on the frontline, and continuing to defend the massive drain on resources represented by Trident and weapons of mass destruction that are entirely irrelevant to the modern world and the defence challenges it presents. It serves as a PR exercise to attempt to validate the UK’s increasingly false claim to be a major player in the geopolitical great game, when in fact it is merely a convenient puppet for US foreign policy, draining its resources in an increasingly nonsensical claim to be a great power on the world stage.
Meanwhile, the confused aims and contradictory strategy of the Afghanistan coalition will continue: generals will come and go, and little men like politician Liam Fox will strut and posture while young men die: behind the scenes, cuts to budgets will be made that endanger our armed forces effectiveness, bribes will be paid to corrupt Afghani politicians, and secret talks will take place with the Taliban warlords, while innocent men, women and children will be killed by ‘friendly fire’.
I fear that Armed Forces Day, with all its parades and exaltation of military might, all its band and martial music, all its speeches about heroes and sacrifice, all its flag waving and cheering, will simply be a colourful cabaret to conceal the ugly realpolitik that represents the real threat to our brave servicemen and women. I fear that the deaths and the maimings will continue - and will escalate - until the citizens of these isles see clearly the blood sacrifice of their children that is being made in their names, and in the name of Britishness.