Thursday, 10 February 2011

Shattered lives and broken promises

The BBC TV4 programme has screened some hard-hitting material in its time. Last night's episode was billed as examining how the Nation treats those who are unable to settle back into civilian life after the shocks of active service.
This is, of course, nothing new. Way back in the Crimea War, our troops were considered as little more than cannon fodder. When the heroes of Waterloo returned to their home soil strict legislation was introduced to deal with those forced to beg and scrounge. There was some recognition that they were not as other men when what was known as the military covenant was adopted.
Soldiers will be called upon to make personal sacrifices - including the ultimate sacrifice - in the service of the Nation. In putting the needs of the Nation and the Army before their own, they forego some of the rights enjoyed by those outside the Armed Forces.
In return, British soldiers must always be able to expect fair treatment, to be valued and respected as individuals, and that they (and their families) will be sustained and rewarded by commensurate terms and conditions of service.
In the same way the unique nature of military land operations means that the Army differs from all other institutions, and must be sustained and provided for accordingly by the Nation.
This mutual obligation forms the Military Covenant between the Nation, the Army and each individual soldier; an unbreakable common bond of identity, loyalty and responsibility which has sustained the Army throughout its history. It has perhaps its greatest manifestation in the annual commemoration of Armistice Day, when the Nation keeps covenant with those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, giving their lives in action.
Army Doctrine Publication Volume 5
Note that there is nothing in the actual covenant that is specific. Nowhere does it say what is included and what is excluded; it is meant to be unconditional and ever-lasting like a mother's love of her child. Once the covenant got into the purlieu of politicians of the modern day variety, it was adopted as a rally round the flag subject to be trumpeted when they showed their red blood on swift visits to the fighting cadres. They had no idea as to why it was and little care for how it was. It took them very little time to abandon their crusade to deal with it."David Cameron 'broke 10 pledges to troops'. Top of his list of empty promises is his failure to make law the Military Covenant, the historic pact setting out Britain’s duty to its fighting men and women. The latest manifestation of observing the covenant is a 'promise' by Liam Fox that he will provide an annual assessment of what the Government has achieved in specific areas; plenty of options there for weasel words and Civil Servant maths.
In the event, the programme really lacked anything of substance merely repeating statistics well published already. The presenter was Lt Col Collins who has himself felt the lash of MOD disapproval. We had the traditional scene where intrepid reporter goes back in time and repeats some stage in a witnesses past. Sleeping rough for one night cannot in any shape or form give an example or replicate the real thing when the 'one night' was in fact months of deprivation with no guarantee of a hot breakfast. Given his past form, Collins was strangely muted.
He identified successful charitable works where individuals had stepped in to help the otherwise abandoned former soldiers. A point missed here was opportunity to review the local authority cost cutting targets to see just whether these good works could continue where their meeting places were closed. We could also have benefited from a look at Simon Weston and what he did with his life after the Falklands. Weston was greatly assisted by his Welsh Guards regimental association which could be a model for what we do now.
Another factor that I would have expected to see was some reference to Cameron's army of volunteers that will run the country whilst the Cabinet sips white wine at Eton reunions. The Armed Forces are the biggest Army of Volunteers he is ever likely to see and the way they are messed about can only be a preview of the future. The plans for that are already going awry.

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