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British forces in Afghanistan and Iraq


RAF uniform problem is not a new one

March 7, 2008 12:23 PM

A busy media morning for soldiers. Andrew Motion, the poet laureate, popped up on the radio to read his tribute to Harry Patch, the 109-year-old last survivor of the Flanders mud and mayhem of 1914-18. And the papers were full of medals given to brave soldiers killed or wounded in the Afghan field protecting their mates in ways Harry Patch would understand. There's a lot of family about the army, you see it at their weddings.

Meanwhile, in Peterborough, servicemen and women from nearby RAF Wittering have been told not to wear their uniforms off-duty for fear of attracting aggravation in the street. Wittering indeed. This is a locally made decision which has predictably outraged the usual suspects on frontline duty in Fleet Street and Westminster. It's a familiar problem. Kipling wrote Tommy on the subject as long ago as 1892.

In 2008 you'd expect the citizens harassing RAF Wittering personnel over Iraq or Afghanistan would be Guardian- or Indy-reading peaceniks or, possibly, members of the city's Muslim community. But no, they are identified as young-and-white yobs. Why am I not surprised?

I have some sympathy for yobs. They usually look miserable because they are miserable. Their lives have taken a bad turn and they cannot yet see a way forward. Perhaps that is why they abuse squaddies, suspecting that contemporaries who joined the forces were smarter in avoiding the dead end into which they themselves drifted.

It's a lottery, and some volunteers in a professional army get killed, horribly wounded or psychologically damaged. Homelessness among US veterans is notoriously high. But most who come back in one piece seem to do so as serious adults - not what all were when they left. Cornet H Wales, for example, seems more sensible.

Whenever I talk to serving soldiers - not that often but I did recently - that's the impression they leave. They moan about government policy and about being asked to do too much without enough money; they don't complain about the danger. There's another thing, an experienced officer explained in my hearing the other day: soldiers are much-better equipped nowadays but some of them love to buy their own customised boots, body armour or whatever.

Naturally, as in civilian life, it's easier to explain the new boots on the credit card bill to the wife by blaming the government for not providing, when the real motive is wanting to be a bit flash. Another thing, said my military source: soldiers sometimes say: "Don't tell the wife I volunteered to go back there." It's easier to say the army - or that Gordon Brown - ordered me to go.

Tommy and Harry Patch would follow that laddish logic too, I expect. Old soldiers who live to be 100 are usually pretty sharp, much as they were when they dodged the Kaiser's bullets.
Vote: Should those who oppose the Afghanistan and Iraq invasion - Muslim and non-Muslim - verbally challenge services personnel?

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Members Comments

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dignitas 17-Jul-2008 10:4
of course people for whatever reason should have the right and freedom to verbally express what they feel on whatever issue.

Whether I agree with the comments or point of view being posed or challanged has little to do with it.

however, as has been pointed out, there IS a difference between verbally challanging and expressing ones views and blatant abusive behaviour. Which I feel is not acceptable.
future8 30-Apr-2008 20:44
I agree our country is at least partly the way it is because of the right to free speech, but there are two clear images here - that of that young soldier leading his units parade from a wheelchair minus half a leg, and the hooded, faceless yob hurling abuse, bricks and who knows what else. You tell me who has a right to speak up!
jeffreymarshall 12-Mar-2008 0:19
Michael White writes for the Guardian. Therefore he has a vested interest in hinting that the abuse might come from BNP or NF supporting type of yobs.

Never let it be carelessly asserted that the Grauniad will ever allow the truth get in the way of a good anti-BNP story.
Andromeda 11-Mar-2008 21:48
I have already made very clear every time I mention challenging the armed forces that the challenge is MERELY VERBAL and does not extend to physical abuse or damage to property. I was not suggesting that the BNP would condone physical abuse of armed forces personnel, although, according to Michael White's blog, he seems to think that the abuse comes from white yobs (and hints it might be the BNP or NF supporting type of yob) rather than terrorists claiming to act in the name of Islam.

What if a loved one is doing something that is fundamentally, unarguably wrong, eg serially killing people, drug-dealing, drug-taking, producing litters of illegitimate children all by different male partners?

Should you just support such a person unconditionally or challenge them verbally?

If I had a son foolish enough to join the armed services now and end up being sent to Iraq, I think I would feel a combination of disappointment, contempt and pity for his powers of judgment. If he was already a member of the armed forces then I would disown him if he did not go AWOL at the next available opportunity and be court martialled, rather than die ignominiously as a fool to who gave up his life to do something dishonourable and stupid.

Fortunately, I do not have a son in the armed forces but I hope I have demonstrated the strength of my feelings against the Iraq invasion. What I will certainly not do is unquestioningly and unconditionally support everything done by an competent and dishonourable leader claiming to be acting in the national interest when only wishing to be seen to be fighting "shoulder to shoulder" with the most powerful nation on earth but who was led by the most incompetent leader advised by the most unwise advisers on earth.

People would rather do and die than ask the reason why, it seems. Perhaps that is why people get the government they deserve?
jeffreymarshall 11-Mar-2008 19:20
"Andromeda" is in very serious error if she imagines that the BNP's opposition to the Iraq war would ever lead them to condoning the abuse of service personnel. If she is in any doubt about this, she should refer to this subject on the BNP website. Loyalty to British service personnel themselves - in whatever misadventures the politicians of the day happen to have placed them - is an important aspect of the party's policy.

Indeed, the BNP's opposition to the Iraq adventure is largely based on the needless waste of British servicemen's lives, to which other considerations are most definitely secondary.

Andromeda 11-Mar-2008 18:47
I note that "evansthespy", a BNP supporter has taken the opportunity to tell us all to vote BNP to stop the abuse of British armed forces.

It may be news to him that the BNP were against the Iraq invasion and demonstrated in the Hyde Park anti-war march in 2003.

How is his position consistent with the position of the BNP, who have always been against the war?

How is one to make one's feelings clear, unless one can verbally challenge members of the armed forces, and to ask them what they think they are doing and what good they think they would serve by risking life and limb in a dishonourable, unwinnable and unpopular war, for the benefit of Bush and Blair and their Neo-Con advisers?

The best thing that could happen - for those of us who oppose the war and have loved ones serving in the Armed Forces - is for them to go all go AWOL.

Who now still believes that invading Afghanistan and Iraq is a triumph of British foreign policy?

You cannot both oppose these invasions and then claim to be support the armed forces unconditionally. Some way of verbally indicating to armed forces personnel that they could be dying for nothing but dishonourable and incompetent politicians must be attempted, surely?
jeffreymarshall 11-Mar-2008 18:33
The justice or injustice of government policies in Afghanistan or Iraq are utterly irrelevant to this question. Any civilian 'leftie' abusing military personnel on this basis should simply be placed for a few days in a military jail without charge.

Of course, I am obviously not suggesting here that it is wrong to criticise government policies on these matters; but abusing our soldiers, sailors & airmen when they happen to be on leave is certainly not the way to go about it.
evansthespy 10-Mar-2008 14:39
Incredible but true: after serious threats of kidnap and murder by Islamist fanatics were made against personnel at RAF Wittering in Peterborough, the official order has gone out: RAF servicemen are not to wear their uniforms in public. According to a local paper in the town, fears for their safety has led to personnel at RAF Wittering being ordered not to wear their uniforms in public after incidents of verbal abuse in Peterborough.

Station commander Group Captain Ro Atherton has told troops to keep a low profile after taking advice from RAF police.

The move - which has come to light after a Birmingham Islamist fanatic was jailed for planning to kidnap and behead a British Army soldier - was described as a “sad day for the city” by mayor Marion Todd. She said: “I honestly think it’s despicable.

“It’s a sad day for the city and for the country when the RAF can’t wear their uniforms, particularly when they hold the Freedom of the City honour.

“A small minority of people shouldn’t be able to dictate to us, particularly at the moment when we are so proud of what they (the forces) are doing, serving queen and country.”

This is the second time that the British armed forces have issued such a decree. A while ago, service personnel from the Territorial Army in Yorkshire were also warned not to wear their uniforms to and from bases after credible threats had been made by Islamist fanatics to kidnap and kill members appearing in public in their uniforms.

The question is this: how much longer will Britons accept this state of affairs? How much more denigration will be tolerated before the British lion rises again? The time has come for every true patriot to get out there and ensure that the only party which can save Britain from the Third World invasion, the BNP, comes to power as quickly as possible.

Andromeda 9-Mar-2008 13:49
How odd that Tricks thinks that "yobs have a right to abuse soldiers". It is even odder that he does not go through the trouble of distinguishing between verbal and physical abuse, and believes that soldiers should be allowed to beat up people who verbally challenge them on the wisdom of blindly following the orders of a dishonourabe politician.

If Tricks does indeed mean that he believes that it was a good idea to invade Afghanistan and Iraq and would like soldiers to "beat respect" into those who verbally challenge them in an unpopular, pointless and disgraceful war, then he may be inviting unflattering inferences as to the quality of his judgement in choosing to say so here.
Hally40 8-Mar-2008 17:26
A good write-up on this topic (by March 7th ??) There's nothing wrong with being verbally challenged, always providing the challenged is allowed to give an answer without being shouted down. It's mindless verbal abuse which is so unneccesary. And, indeed, I would suspect the law probably already caters for taking these morons before the courts, if they could be caught with enough witnesses to testify.

No comment has been made about the days when we service personnel (ex - RAF myself) were advised not to wear our uniforms in public during the worst days of the conflict with the IRA. And yet you had to get to/from work, do the normal shopping chores etc, and mixing uniform with civvies was a fate worse than death. Infinite changing of clothes was really not an option.

So what do you do? Risk personal and worse still family, harm by wearing your uniform,or concede to the mindless bullies. I'm afraid the latter just allows more of the same, and encourages the weak and easily led to do the same. Cowering before the enemy solves nothing. Give them a legal hammering with exemplary (not a tap on the wrist) punishment when caught. Or perhaps put them in the front line with no equipment and no weapons and no training!!
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