Just like after the Great War, Britain is celebrating the soldiers who died and neglecting those who survived

Britain is failing its war veterans again

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The Independent Online

New evidence that the state of after-service care for military personnel is extremely poor is damning. But hardly a surprise.

The numbers involved are shocking, with 13,000 discharged for injuries ranging from amputations to joint and ligament damage.

It's depressing reading and the future for what has been rather over-dramatically called the “Warrior Generation” of Afghanistan and Iraq veterans looks bleak.

Needless to say many will return to Civvy Street at the bottom end of a broken economy and will find themselves relying on an NHS which, despite being a proud legacy of the demands of returning WW2 veterans, is being destroyed in detail.

To add to that I have spent the last few days seeing the faces of several young men I knew who lost their lives in Afghanistan reproduced across major news outlets to mark the withdrawal from Camp Bastion.

The clamouring which has accompanied the new revelations and the Afghan withdrawal and, indeed, Remembrance, says at least as much as the reports themselves.

Militaristic nationalism has been on the rise here for some time as part of a conscious top down effort. The decision to try and re-popularise the military was one taken by the last Labour government. These and other factors appear to have combined into a perfect tornado of gung ho jibber-jabber, the idiot power of which threatens to engulf us.

Few commentators on the new after care scandal have overcome to the urge to make like a long-range patriot and squawk the lame old buzzwords used to garnish Willfred Owen's Old Lie: “Sacrifice”, they say, “courage, bravery, service, and heroism!”. Naturally the politicians among them also saw fit to blame on the other side. Yet again the veteran serves as both football and punch-bag.

I've heard all this waffle so many times that I consider myself a leading, if amateur, jingologist. I feel qualified to tell you that all this misty-eyed war-talk is smoke and mirrors, or to use army parlance, bullshit.

 

I know now, as countless old soldiers have before me, that there are only three times politicians truly love a soldier. When the war is on or barely over, in the run up to elections and once a year for ten minutes or so around Remembrance Sunday. It was ever thus. And every one of those godforsaken boxes is ticked now.

The soldier's view of his plight is far more interesting and varied than the average hawk's. Of course, there are many whom, having lost friends, or having been so battered with indoctrination that the army tinges their world view forever, are easy pickings for the hero scam.

But that isn't the whole story. Many soldiers are sharp enough to spot the contradiction. As Kipling's poem on the British soldier goes: “Tommy ain’t no bleeding fool, you bet that Tommy sees” It has always been the case that a sizeable number of veterans from each generation start to come up with thoughts entirely of their own and quite at odds with their masters.

It is not for nothing that veterans of the Great War disrupted cenotaph ceremonies in the 1920's, complaining that much was being made of the dead – who conveniently, politicians have noticed, cannot answer back – while the living suffered on.

It is also not for nothing that a group of veterans of conflicts from D-Day to Afghanistan will march to Cenotaph this year to make that same point again, among many others.

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A young Somali boy with an AK-47 rifle talks to a British soldier in July 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That it still has to be made a hundred years on ought to be criminal but then the Military Covenant isn't law. And is never likely to be as long as the likes of Defence Secretary Michael Fallon keep making all the right noises about our brave boys and girls to the public but was happy to join his party colleagues in 2011 voting down an Opposition motion to strengthen the Covenant.

If we are going to be serious about dealing with the social issues around war and its human costs, we might consider stripping away the layers of military mystification and fantasy which only serve to dehumanise and diminish veterans and soldiers.

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