This year, of all years, our minds have been more than usually focused on the sacrifices of our military men and women. Partly this is down to the remarkable response to the centenary of the start of the First World War, a response most markedly illustrated by the crowds who turned out to see the poppies in the moat at the Tower of London.
But it is more about the just-finished conflicts that have been at the centre of our national consciousness. This year saw the final drawdown of our military operation in Afghanistan, an operation that has lasted twice as long as either of the World Wars of the 20th century. At last, there will no longer be flag-draped coffins returning from that conflict.
It also witnessed our Armed Forces once again drawn into combat in Iraq, with the RAF supporting the American-led bombing campaign against Isis. This has inevitably revived questions about the misjudged and misconducted war started by America with Britain’s help that did so much to create the conditions that enabled the present situation – with all its tragedies and suffering.
This newspaper, more than any other, campaigned against British servicemen and women being part of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and in the following years continued to expose the realities of that war. Throughout, however, our support for our men and women in uniform – if not those who had sent them there – remained absolute.
We knew that those ordered into that conflict were doing the best they could in a horrible situation, and respected their ability in all but the rarest of occasions to perform their duties with professionalism and, when possible, pride. Our Christmas campaign this year, which we are running in association with our sister papers the London Evening Standard, i and The Independent on Sunday, is focusing on those who served, left their units and – for whatever reason – spiralled down into destitution. The reasons for this are myriad. Marriages collapse, people start to depend on alcohol to get through the day, jobs are lost or, for the Second World War generation, family members die and savings run out. For a small minority, the experiences they saw in a conflict zone meant they could never again adapt to normal life as a civilian. For them, the war never ended.
The coming weeks will feature their stories and, as part of that, an exploration of what causes people to become homeless and what the varied forms of homelessness are at the start of the 21st century. Many find themselves stuck in hostels or are shunted into aged and rundown properties, unacceptable for anyone to live in, let alone if they have families and young children. The experience of veterans shines a light on the wider failings of our society and it is a light we intend to shine brightly.
The fact that in recent years this newspaper may have politically disagreed with the wars fought by Britain does not negate our belief in the responsibility owed to those who once gave service. The Military Covenant is not just an agreement between the government and its Armed Forces, it is between all of us and those whom we expected to put their lives in danger for their country. That responsibility is a debt that needs to be honoured, and in this campaign we will seek to fulfil our part in doing so.
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