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Saturday, March 08, 2008 

All the young people looked the same.

Who ever knew that the armed forces were so sensitive to having the odd word of abuse directed towards them? This is after all what has actually taken place, despite it being predictably blown out of all proportion by, who else, the Murdoch press. The suggestion that it might be better if forces in Peterborough didn't wear their uniform on the streets, for that was what it was, rather than the "ban" that newspapers love to crow about, was based on a few "isolated" incidents of abuse, and after an RAF nurse was specifically targeted for a few months in a row, presumably because she wore her uniform. The only real surprise is that no one has come out and specifically blamed the abuse on Muslims (although one officer in the Times said they couldn't wear uniforms in certain areas for fear of offending the sensitivities of "ethnic minorities"), just as the Sun previously did in Windsor, only to have apologise for printing lies.

All of this is being made out to suggest that the country doesn't have any respect for the armed forces and their heroic sacrifices out in Afghanistan and Iraq. On the contrary, it instead just amplifies the way that most in this country instead have a healthy disrespect both for those in authority and in uniform, and that some morons, rather than attacking the politicians on both sides of the Commons that are keeping the soldiers in Iraq for no reason whatsoever except as a huge mortar and rocket target are directing their anger and bile at those that have to obey orders even if they are from those who themselves have no respect for the armed forces.

Instead the opportunity is being used by the usual suspects to demand that we worship the army and soldiers in the same way that they are revered in the United States. Just because we don't turn out to welcome them home or applaud the moment we see someone marching about like a prat in uniform doesn't mean we don't appreciate them - it just means there's absolutely nothing to celebrate in what they're doing except that they've came back home safely. It's telling that it's the same newspapers that so backed the Iraq war that are now decrying at such a volume the apparent distrust and lack of love for the armed forces among the general public, when it's partly down to their support that their stock is so low. If the insanity of Iraq hadn't happened, firstly Afghanistan would likely be in a far better state than it currently is, and secondly none of the scandals involving British soldiers which have taken place since the invasion would have occurred. While it shouldn't have such an effect, you can't blame people who have opposed the war from identifying soldiers, who are just doing their job, as directly associated with what has taken place. Yes, the politicians should be getting it in the neck themselves, but you don't see many of them strutting about in such distinctive clothing, unless they happen to be Gerald Kaufman. The one and only reason worth supporting their stay in Afghanistan is that opinion poll after opinion poll shows that the average Afghan wants them to be there.

I'm not exactly sure why they feel need to or should wear their uniform in public in the first place - more than fair enough if it saves them the bother of having to take another pair of clothes with them when they go out, but other than it seems almost a strange thing to do. In almost every other occupation which requires employees to wear uniform they usually can't wait to get out of it and into their "normal" clothes. The police and fire brigade don't go wandering about when they're not working in their garb; indeed, they'd likely be disciplined or worse if they did so. The words "red rag" and "bull" come to mind, and if the occasional soldier can't deal with the odd snide remark about their occupation rather than other occupations, with one soldier complaining about kids barracking him bless, I dread to think how they'll actually cope with service itself.

It's tempting to think, especially after last weekend's propaganda coup for the MoD that made even the prince himself turn towards to modesty, declaring he wasn't a hero, that the public at large that doesn't bend over backwards to be obsequious towards the armed forces has more in common with the actual rank and file than either hypocritical politicians who care little for those who return home broken and injured but who had no trouble in sending them in the first place, or the tabloid press with its "Our Boys" nonsense which is about 60 years out of date. This is the sort of garbage the Sun is urging in its leader today:

That’s why The Sun today calls on the nation to stand up for our brilliant Armed Forces.

Let’s all get behind them and make them feel how honoured and respected they are.

Of course they should wear their uniforms everywhere. Of course they should be welcomed everywhere.

Please do your bit. If you see a Services man or woman in the street, go up to them and tell them how much you admire them.

Buy them a pint or a cuppa. Make friends. Show appreciation.

Or you could let them get on with their lives and not embarrass both them and yourself by making a needless scene. They're not special just because they're in a uniform; they're ordinary men and women doing a job like anyone else, except they're risking their lives for generally crap pay. That's what we should be angry about. They deserve respect for doing so, but they shouldn't be treated differently because of it. The bullshit underlying much of this is evident in the Sun's final statement:

They fight for US. It is OUR country they defend. OUR lives they protect.

But they're not defending our country or protecting our lives at the moment, are they? You can in fact make a decent argument that their continued presence in both Afghanistan and Iraq makes us less safe. That however goes right over the top of the heads of both politicians and journalists with their own ulterior motives. Long may the decline of deference continue.

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Sadly some people have come out and blamed Muslims - I heard someone from the British Legion in Peterborough on the radio the other day saying exactly that. There isn't any evidence, but a lot of the usual suspects have jumped to that conclusion on messageboards...

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