Comparisons can deceive but the public response to British soldiers dying in Afghanistan today is in marked contrast to calmness bordering on indifference to the fate of British soldiers during the troubles. Terence Blacker in the Indy defies the media consensus.
There is an alarming whiff of mass sentimentality in some of the scenes we have seen this week. Soldiers have been dying in Iraq and Afghanistan for several years but until recently, these tragedies would be covered in brief, routine news items. During the session in the House of Commons when MPs gathered to express their sympathy to David Cameron after his son had died, the death of two soldiers was announced almost as an afterthought to the main story. Now, suddenly, there is a feeding frenzy.
While much of this is to do with 24 hour media coverage, the sentiment behind the demonstrations is ambiguous- less anti-war than pride in the ideal of soldiering, combined with a plea for clarity on what the commitment is all about. The amazing tussle between the military chiefs and the government over helicopters has no precedent in the thirty years of the troubles. It now seems as if Gordon Brown is a beating a retreat from planned cuts under cover of a denial that he had been asked to authorise more troops. As usual he seems incapable of candour.
Despite the protestations from Gordon Brown and his ministers, there are still fewer than 30 supporting a force of 9,000; only four years ago, when the armed forces maintained a significant presence in Northern Ireland, they operated more than 50 helicopters
There were few Chinooks, known then as jolly green giants. Most were Wessexes with Pumas and Gazelles. Nobody in Bessbrook will ever forget them. Why the contrast between NI then and Afghanistan today? Can it be that the commitment was greater?
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London