The cost of war is high. That is why this newspaper was opposed to the invasion of Iraq, and why we argued for our withdrawal from Afghanistan long before it became the policy of the British and American governments. It is also why The Independent on Sunday was the first to campaign for the last government to honour the Military Covenant – the implied contract between civilians and those prepared to risk death to protect them – and for this government to deliver on its promise to do so.
It should not need saying, but we shall say it for the avoidance of doubt: like Barack Obama, we are not opposed to all wars; we are opposed to dumb wars, in which the costs, in lives and suffering, are greater than the gains. Those gains were nugatory in Iraq and diminished over time in Afghanistan, while the costs were high, as we say, and higher than many politicians anticipated. However, we respect the people who served in the armed forces, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, and admire the professionalism with which they carried out the policies set for them by the government of the day.
One of the costs to which those governments often give too little weight is the physical, psychological and social damage suffered by troops who have served in combat. That was the purpose of our Military Covenant campaign – to urge the government to support the best facilities for injured veterans, including those suffering mental injuries such as post-traumatic stress disorder.
That is the purpose of the Christmas Appeal, and why we are proud to make a joint request for donations with our sister newspapers, The Independent, the i and the London Evening Standard. This year we have chosen two charities, ABF The Soldiers' Charity – the ABF stands for Army Benevolent Fund – and Veterans Aid.
It might be assumed that homelessness is a fairly limited problem among former service personnel, but actual rough sleeping is the tip of an iceberg of dislocation and suffering. Problems of family breakdown, alcoholism and depression affect civilians and those who have seen active service alike, but their causes and treatments can be different. Many ex-service people find themselves in hostels or unsuitable accommodation. In addition, our charities work with those who served in the Second World War, Korea and the 20th century's other conflicts, when family members die and savings run out.
We believe that this year, of all years, has proved that there is a desire among the British people to do more to recognise the sacrifice made by the armed forces. One moment, a few passers-by noticed a cascade of red from some ramparts of the Tower of London. The next, trains on the District Line were not stopping at Tower Hill station because the platform was so crowded with people from all parts of the UK who had come to see the wonderful installation of ceramic poppies to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War.
There was a time when anti-war campaigners regarded the poppy as a symbol of militarism. Today, it is almost universally accepted as a symbol of respect for those who gave their lives or who suffered, including in wars of questionable moral legitimacy. If you were moved by the Tower of London poppies; if you respect the special commitment made by members of the armed forces to risk everything to defend the rest of us; and if you care about the suffering – so hard to imagine for those who have not experienced it – of those who have seen active service, we hope that you will want to support our appeal.
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