Today is Armed Forces Day. If you’re not familiar with it, it was brought in by the Labour Government in 2006 as Veteran’s Day, and became Armed Forces Day in 2009.
I have a lot of time for members of the Armed Forces. Many of my fondest memories are of time training with members of the forces, and many of them are still my best friends. The bond you build with your ‘buddy’ is second to none and years later they are still like family.
However, rather than fill me with joy that these people, who endure extreme hardship for the sake of others, are being celebrated, Armed Forces Day always fills me with frustration and sadness.
Armed Forces Day is the day when celebrities and politicians go gaga at the military and tweet drivel to impress us with their patriotism. Words like ‘bravery’ and ‘courage’ feature a lot. It’s ironic, then, that not many politicians have yet had the bravery and courage to stick up for servicemen and women when it matters. Why, for example, were soldiers sent to Iraq without enough body armour? Why are ex-service personnel still without sufficient appropriate help following their departure from the Forces? Whether it’s homelessness, alcoholism, suicide, time behind bars or mental health issues, ex-service personnel are significantly more at risk than the population at large.
Armed Forces Day seems to me to be a cynical attempt to gloss over the real issues that face serving and ex-service personnel, whilst diverting the nation’s attention away from the difficult questions of why our Armed Forces got involved in Iraq and Afghanistan in the first place. ‘Veteran’s Day’ was one of Blair’s last initiatives in office; was it an attempt to silence critics of his military interventions by making it ‘un-patriotic’ to do so?
It might be nice to wallow in patriotic fever for a day, but let’s not forget the reality: Blair’s government sent the armed forces to war under false pretences. It then failed to equip them properly. Politicians of all colours have since failed to support them when they’ve come home. Some have never come home, and have left their loved ones wondering what it was all for. Rather than smiling at the camera and tweeting fake praise to make themselves look good, it’s time for politicians to join grieving families and ask themselves “What is it all for?”