If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Saturday, 25 September 2010


No, not pre-1915 motorbike. Proper veterans - soldiers who have served their country in war and have, through age or injury, retired.

One of the most moving things each year, for me, is to see the old soldiers march past the Cenotaph on Remembrance Day. Blazers and berets rather than military uniform, and perhaps the backs aren't as ramrod straight these days as they were. And perhaps the marching is slower than the 120 beats per minute they were used to. But they are there, fewer in number every year; dignified, solemn, and admirable. They bring a lump to my throat every time.

Honouring your country's soldiers is no longer fashionable. It's OK to send them to war to make grandiose political statements about human rights abroad and Britain's military interests. But the money that ought to go with them, to ensure the right equipment and supplies, is spent on more domestic concerns - more outreach co-ordinators, more diversity champions, more money for the benefit-hungry client state. And so we had the Wootton Bassett phenomenon, both wonderful and shameful at the same time. Wonderful, because it showed a spontaneous outpouring of gratitude and respect for our servicemen from the ordinary people of the land; and shameful because it shouldn't be necessary. Wootton Bassett crowds and Help For Heroes didn't exist twenty years ago. There was no need for them. People respected the Armed Forces and valued the contribution they made to our safety and security. The Government recognised its duty to the old and the maimed and, although the provision was never generous, it was never grudgingly withheld either.

It has to be said: Tony Blair and Gordon Brown treated our armed services shamefully.

And that contempt has trickled down to the ignorant masses. Soldiers are now advised not to wear their uniforms outside of their barracks, for fear that some local hard nuts will attack them. And when a woman is in court for urinating on a war memorial and the local veterans turned up to show their displeasure, this is what they get from her boyfriend:

Iain Dale has recently made a trip to the war cemeteries near Arnhem and has been very moved by his experiences there. Anna's uncle was killed in Operation Market Garden and is buried nearby at Oosterbeek, and I visited there to pay my respects when I passed through last September, so I can appreciate how he feels. This is part of what he says about it:

In America it's different. There's no reservation at all. There's an outgoing nature among Americans which we just don't have. That's why you see videos on Youtube of troops being clapped through airports. But it's more than that, they treat their soldiers and veterans with a respect we don't. Soldiers are invited onto aircraft to take their seats first. They're honoured at sports games. In their hometowns their treated like minor celebrities. In Britain our troops are told not to wear uniforms outside barracks in case they are attacked. What kind of country does that makes us? Charities like SSAFA and Help For Heroes have to step in and do the things for veterans which in America would be done by the Department of Veteran Affairs.

That's right. In America, there is a whole Government department for looking after veterans. In the UK, it's a charity.

I urge you to read the article and watch the video clips. And then imagine you were in a UK airport and some British soldiers walked through, and everyone there stood up and gave a spontaneous round of applause.

Unthinkable, isn't it?

You'd probably be arrested for hate-crime.

I'm going to do what Iain suggests, and next time I meet a soldier I am going to shake his hand and thank him (or her, of course) for what he is doing. Or toot my horn and give a wave when I pass a convoy on the road. Perhaps you might consider doing this too.


  1. Thumbs up Richard, great post.

  2. Thank you, Gymi. Much appreciated.

  3. I agree entirely.

    My grandfather died at sea, blown up by a German mine, in WW2. I don't suppose his last moments were very dignified. I remember him and others with the deepest respect, and I include all those service personnel fighting today.

    Sadly, it might be necessary to legislate to make disrespecting the armed forces an offense. At least it would send out a signal that abuse of them is wholly wrong.

  4. I understand why you would say that, and I appreciate your sentiments, but I don't agree that disrespecting anyone should be a matter for legislation. That would interfere with people's right to say what they think, however abhorrent, and we are too far down that road already. Now, if they were to amend the laws on assault, so that disrespecting the armed forces was considered "sufficient provocation" for giving someone a right bloody pasting, that might be something I would support. That turd of a 'boyfriend' in the Mirror story needs his head kicking. He might understand that - he obviously understands little else.

  5. Excellent post. It should always be remembered that soldiers don't pick the wars. However dishonourable a cause might be, that is not their doing and nor is their sacrifice any the less as a result. At the very least, the country owes them gratitude and respect for that.

    As for America, there were some pretty shoddy episodes during and post-Vietnam: an indication, if any were needed, that an unjust - and worse, a lost - war does polarise public opinion and the military take a lot of the fallout from that. Something Blair should have taken on board before committing to several of his own. Or perhaps he did, and just didn't care. Shameful on so many levels.


Comment is free, according to C P Scott, so go for it. Word verification is turned off for the time being. Play nicely.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...