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 persons 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 its like on the other side of the story. Contrast the difference with the 30 years of the British armys 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