Of all the shady reasons for supporting the war in Iraq, the weakest was always how it was our duty to "Support our boys," as they couldn't do their job if people back home were critical. To start with, this doesn't seem logical. Is there any evidence that tank commanders were about to fire off a volley of missiles, but then hesitated saying "Ooh I'm not sure I can go through with it because there was this sniffy letter in The Independent"?
But more important=, what a strange idea that the only true way to support someone is to cheer them into a situation that's likely to get them killed. If these "supporters" ever find themselves looking up at a tower block, with someone 15 floors up threatening to jump off the balcony as friends delicately try to coax him back, they must shout, "Don't undermine him – it's up to all of us to support him – jump, man, jump! Go on – here's Zoe, 22 from Clacton in a G-string and paratrooper's cap. She supports you, so dive!"
Inevitably, once the supported boys started returning from war with bits missing, the governments and newspapers that backed them most enthusiastically decide that they're an embarrassing nuisance. Then their attitude becomes like that of the First World War general who, when he visited a hospital full of soldiers back from the Somme with shell shock, shouted, "Why are you shivering? Only drunkards and masturbators freeze." This must be what causes so many old people to conk out from hypothermia every winter, the filthy minxes.
But that general has been challenged for callousness by defence minister Des Browne, who yesterday went to the High Court to try and prevent a coroner from criticising the Ministry of Defence, during inquests on soldiers killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. The trouble is that a coroner reported, in the inquest into the death of Capt James Phillipson, that the soldier had been given, "a lack of basic equipment". Whereas from now on, presumably, he'll have to say, "The soldier had piles of equipment, so much he didn't know where to put it all. What must have happened is, well, obviously, I've got it – the Taliban magicked it away, with their equipment vanishing cream. So there we are, no one to blame, just one of those things, I'm afraid."
The attempted injunction fits in with the government's attitude to wounded soldiers. For example, families of those who've been disabled have complained about the system for compensation, which only takes into account the three worst injuries received. I'm not an expert on the details of modern warfare, but I'd guess that if you're blown up by a roadside bomb you might be injured in more than three places. This doesn't seem to occur to the Ministry of Defence, who must say to applicants for compensation "All right, Wilkins, so you're trying to tell me that when you were blown across the road by a barrel of explosives you injured not only an arm, a foot and an ear but other bits as well? Do you take us for mugs?"
This procedure has meant that, for example, when Sgt Martin Edwardes came back from Iraq with brain damage, his compensation was £114,000, a fraction of what will be needed to provide him with the 24-hour care he now depends on. Or there's Martyn Compton, who was in a coma for three months, has 70 per cent burns, no ears left, and received £98,000. They'd have got more if they'd been astute enough to suffer three huge injuries instead of dozens of medium-sized ones. Maybe we'll soon see Carol Vorderman asking, "Why not consolidate all your minor amputations into one manageable paralysis?"
Perhaps the next move will be to franchise compensation payments out to the Private Finance Initiative, so disabled soldiers will be instructed to attract investment by converting their wheelchair into a mobile Costa Coffee outlet. Or the system will be made more efficient by placing it into private hands, so the severely wounded will have to attract sponsorship. For example, if they have to use a voice box, it will be programmed to say things like, "Please – take – me – to – the – toilet – Thank – you – this – request – was – brought – to – you – by – Legal – and – General."
Throughout the coverage of the fifth anniversary of the war, there have been discussions around the "mistakes" made in planning the occupation. But the government's attitude towards those whose lives have been wrecked for their vanity project shows the problem wasn't "mistakes", in the execution of the plan, but the whole project. Unless they'll claim, "When we began this operation, whoever could have anticipated that when we invaded the country, some of these chaps would start firing back? I mean – we can't predict everything now, can we?"