When soldiers go to war, they face a grave peril. On the battlefield they face a danger that most of us back at home have no comprehension of. If we follow the logic of the Government regarding their policy of airstrikes in Syria, it is likely that boots on the ground may very well become part of the military intervention to defeat Daesh. Once again, young men and women will be asked to put their lives on the line for their country and for democracy. Irrespective of your view on a particular military venture, such men and women deserve our respect, but should our government really be sending our armed forces into war yet again, if they aren’t able to uphold their promises to look after them and guarantee their welfare when they come home?
The willingness of governments to send troops into battle should be a cause for concern.
In 2011, the Armed Forces Covenant became law but since then it seems that only a low percentage of armed forces personnel are aware of it and the financial assistance that it can provide. Agencies like the Service Personnel & Veterans Agency which administers the force compensation scheme, are already having difficulty dealing with the large number of ex-service personnel making claims. The MoD stated that “the average waiting time [for claims] is now around 4-5 months.”
A Ministry of Defence survey found that 32% of Service personnel were dissatisfied with Service life in general, up from 27% in 2014. Veterans Aid provided 21300 nights of accommodation for veterans during 2013/14. Combat Stress, a charity that helps veteran with mental health issues, says that the number of service personnel returning from active duty abroad with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is increasing. The Ex-Service Action Group (ESAG) carried out a survey in 2008 that found veterans accounted for 6% of London’s homeless population and 12 of Glasgow’s.
British troops are not being sent to Syria, yet. The willingness of governments to send troops into battle should be a cause for concern. Diplomatic options, while widely publicised as the preferable choice, seldom seem to develop the end of a conflict. War is business and business is good. After the government had won the vote on commencing air strikes in Syria, the share prices of UK & EU arms firms increased.
War is a touted as a fundamentally patriotic issue. The media will tell us the reasons we should be supporting our troops and rally against those who would disagree with war and the business of killing. Those who disagree with the purpose of war are unashamedly attacked and lambasted in the news. Those who have been in war and come out against it are also attacked. Four former US Air Force drone pilots argued against the drone strike program and the damage and suffering it causes. Their bank accounts and credit cards have been frozen yet none of them have been charged with any criminal offence. Pat Tillman, a former American football player who enlisted in the army and originally in favour of the war in Afghanistan, was allegedly changing his opinion as he became disillusioned with the conflict and killing. He was killed in friendly fire, shot 3 times in the head and his armour and notebooks burnt.
putting soldiers in this position in the first place is the real crime.
While there is no doubt that soldiers are dedicated and loyal in performing their duties, it is evident that war is beginning to erode that sense of duty. There are a number of cases of US and UK troops committing war atrocities and one only has to think of the horrors of Abu Ghraib to realise that something is wrong. Seeing fellow troops and friends gunned down and blown up will take its toll. But putting soldiers in this position in the first place is the real crime. In Nigeria 66 soldiers were sentenced to death for not fighting Boko Haram. The soldiers refused to follow in the footsteps of colleagues who had been killed with no chance of getting away or retreating. The 66 have been reprieved and sentenced to 10 years imprisonment instead. Another 600 soldiers are still awaiting trial.
It’s easy to criticise the military. Most of us have no idea of the physical and mental duress they undergo but what is worse is the treatment they receive when returning home. George Bush, during his administration in 2003, attempted to cut combat pay from $225 a month to $150. Many military families did not get many of the tax credits they were promised.
We need a government that thinks more about the people who it is prepared to send to war and this means thinking beyond a war, to how they are going to be looked after and helped to re-enter society. All too often a soldier’s duty is summed up by a politician as a dedication of duty and sacrifice for their country and its people. All too often these politicians are not prepared to make any kind of sacrifices themselves for the people they claim to serve.