I’m glad someone has said it at last

With fastidious care but still with a provocative edge, Matthew Parris has called for a end to the extreme sentimentality in the public debate and news coverage over British army casualties in Afghanistan. He does so in a spirit of deep respect for the troops and their families. But he points that this is a volunteer army and that

a young person’s decision to sign up for the Armed Forces has not invited a greater career risk of death or serious injury than the decision to sign up for a career in railway lineside track maintenance.

His awful paradox may be right.

We are sending people to die in a military cause that our leaders know is probably lost and that this could be the right thing to do


Or maybe not; we hear so little about what it’s like on the other side of the story. Contrast the difference with the 30 years of the British army’s role in Northern Ireland where it suffered over 700 casualties. The troops out movement never got off the ground. British public opinion seems to have thought it was their grim duty to stick it out. Think also of a climactic period of history when after suffering 20,000 fatalities one terrible day in July 1916, the British army went on to lead the push for victory in 1918. This was an army conscripted (in GB not Ireland) from May 1916.

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

  • willis

    I know this is an awful comparison but it actually goes to the heart of why Blair’s messiah complex was indulged.

    “Would you rather be in the Dutch Army after Srebrenica or the British Army now?”

  • Padraig

    [i]British public opinion seems to have thought it was their grim duty to stick it out. [/i]

    What nonsense. Repeated public opinion surveys during the Troubles here showed that the majority of the British Public wanted their troops out of Ireland during the war here.

    Sept. 1971, MORI poll – 59% for withdrawal
    Dec. 1975, Gallup poll – 64% for withdrawal
    Feb. 1977, Gallup poll – 53% for withdrawal
    May 1978, Gallup poll – 53% for withdrawal
    Sept. 1978, Gallup poll – 55% for withdrawal
    Nov. 1980, Weekend World poll – 50% for withdrawal
    April 1981, Marplan poll – 58% for withdrawal
    May 1981, MORI poll – 59% for withdrawal
    Aug. 1981, Gallup poll – 54% for withdrawal
    May 1984, MORI poll – 53% for withdrawal
    Jan. 1987, MORI poll – 61% for withdrawal
    Nov. 1987, Marplan poll – 40% for withdrawal (after Enniskillen bombing)
    March 1988, MORI poll – 50% for withdrawal
    Dec. 1989, Harris poll – 51% for withdrawal

  • Brian Walker

    ah the old blogger’s slap-down! Not utter nonsense at all, whatever you may like to believe. I never suggested the troops’ presence was popular. Despite your invocation of a few polls, the easily observed fact remains it never translated into the sort of pressure we’re seeing on Afghanistan, nor did they have to the sort of anguished debates we’ve seen recently. I don’t recall one.

  • willis

    I’m not sure Brian.

    The Right wing press are giving Brown a hard time, unlike over N.I. but the strange thing is that Brown’s current upswing started when the Sun over-reached itself.

  • RepublicanStones

    Unfortunately Brian there will always be idiots screaming ‘Gates of Vienna’ and demanding they fight to the last drop of everyone elses blood.

  • Dave

    Terrorism has exploded (no pun intended) since the US/UK muppets began their ‘war’ on it. It will rank as the most spectacularly unsuccessful war in history. I think we should get them to launch a war on prosperity next – with that track record, we’d all be billionaires within a decade.

  • Wilde Rover


    “Terrorism has exploded (no pun intended) since the US/UK muppets began their ‘war’ on it. It will rank as the most spectacularly unsuccessful war in history.”

    Come now Dave, if you’re making your money from the Military-Industrial Complex then these wars without end have been an unqualified success. It’s only unsuccessful from the point of view of the ordinary citizen, and what they think really doesn’t matter one iota in the grand scheme of things.

  • “Contrast the difference”

    There’s another difference: it was an internal campaign in the UK compared with external ones in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • Panic, These ones like it up em.

    Well said “Wilde Rover”

    Lets be completely honest here, just follow the money.

  • Belfast Greyhound

    Let’s not get too much into comparisons her between N.I. and Afghanistan and the British Army involvement, for there are major differences that separate both conflicts and that will directly influence public opinion.
    The Army had 30,000 soldiers in N.I. with Rules of Engagement that were very restrictive as the operation was in Support of a Civil Power and not a war with insurgents.
    Helmand Province where the British Army is doing the majority of its work is very much bigger than N.I. and is an all out war where the majority of fighting is now being done at very close quarters and for the first time in a great many years with bayonets at the end of the rifles.
    With just less than 10,000 soldiers doing the work!!
    Secondly this is an all out war with the opposition using all the tricks that they can to emphasise the ‘peaceful civilian’ nature of them going about their daily business of organising peacefully for the ambush of British soldiers.
    They, the Taleban, have moved completely away from the just line up to die for Islam approach of earlier years to now engaging in vary carefully planned ambushes which occur after IED incidents.
    Matthew Parris is entirely correct in pointing out the ‘volunteer’ aspect of the British Army, which is’ as always, made up of a substantial number of soldiers from the Republic of Ireland, as citizens who are willing to accept that they may be killed or injured in the pursuit of their profession.
    Soldiers accept the risks but the sad fact is that many of the amputees who come back now actually consider themselves ‘lucky’ because of the numbers of double or even triple amputees who are coming back, who in previous years would simply have died from the complex nature of their wounds.
    The usual soldiers’ worry of ‘is my tackle still there’ still being the first question on their lips.
    There is considerable growing notions that the reasons that we are involved in Afghanistan are not being made and anyone who listened to the cliché driven drivel which Bob Ainsworth the SoS for Defence babbled on about when asked during made his recent visit to the ‘front line’ made no-one any surer why we are sending people there and probably simply convinced most people that he really doesn’t know.
    I have not hear what the Prime Minister has said about his visit today as I have been out of contact with just about everything until this evening, but no doubt another buzz blizzard to numb us into compliance with out critical though being given to waht he is not saying or what he is meaning!!
    Politics eh – doncha luv it!!!
    This is a democracy and it is right that we should have a debate about what and why we are doing what we are there and most importantly it must be a debate that does not allow soldiers to feel that the public are turning against them and their actions but questioning is what we are doing there being prosecuted in the best possible way to ensure the safety of our soldiers who are carrying out the mission they have been given.
    Soldiers pick the career not the conflict the are employed to fight so we need to ensure that whatever debate we engage in is conducted in an adult and reasoned way.
    People who are risking their lives at our command deserve nothing less.

  • Brian MacAodh


    Great post.

  • Padraig

    [b]not a war with insurgents.[/b]


  • i wonder

    Its not unusual for two old dears like Brian Walker and Matthew Parris to share the same opinions but its a bit hard on these young men and womens relatives to have to read it in the newspapers and on blogs.It also wouldnt be unusual for the relavties and the maimed not to share the old dears opinions.