Another remembrance day has passed by. In the past, such events would generally be understated and dignified, with a ceremony at the cenotaph and a minutes silence observed, with poppies tastefully worn in the few days prior to the event. However, in recent years, it cannot have escaped your attention that there has been a veritable explosion in the hype and attention given to such events.
With ‘Help for Heroes’ becoming a national institution, monstrously large poppies adorning the chests of B-List celebrities attempting to make some sort of fashion statement, the abuse suffered by those who choose not to wear poppies (oh the irony), and the increasingly prominent role of servicemen in public life, the national discourse and psyche.
For the record, I have no problem with our soldiers getting greater credit and attention. I have nothing but respect for our servicemen and women and the sacrifices they have made over the centuries to keep this country safe, and in some cases in upholding freedom itself. Yet I have to admit, in the last couple of years, I have found the constant veneration of our armed forced a little unsettling.
What really riles me is that the increased veneration plays right into the hands of unscrupulous politicians, who are not friends of the armed forces at all. In recent years, politicians have become far more prominent when it comes to the armed forces and remembrance events, unfortunately politicising them to a degree not seem before. Whenever there is some perceived slight at the armed forces, whether that is an unpatriotic news presenter or Google not putting a “spectacular” enough poppy on their front page, you can bet that a third rate politician will be chief rabble rouser of the backlash at the supposed lack of respect shown.
The inescapable fact is that the armed forces are a political entity. As much as we want to, we cannot decouple our respect for the services and the government policy they obey.
Unfortunately, there is little doubt that the increase in veneration shown for the armed forces has a political purpose. It distracts from the fact that these same people who are leading the patriotic charge are at the same time cutting the army’s budget, laying off soldiers, failing to deal with the deficiencies in equipment that have plagued the armed forces for years, and failing to provide decent accommodation for their families. Moreover, it also provides a useful avenue to head off criticism of the UK government’s foreign and military policy. Despite the fact most do not trust politicians, it is very difficult to criticise the highly popular armed force. Such a disjuncture is an extremely useful tool of preventing greater questions to be asked about their policies as no-one wants to be down on “our boys” once they are in action. Yet the problem is that this is quickly being extended to all times, and the opportunities for an even-handed and non-emotional debate about our foreign policy is quickly receding in the sea of saccharine sentimentality.
Whilst I have no objection to our soldiers receiving praise and attention, it seems that we are increasingly going down the American road where the armed forced are irrationally eulogised to an unhealthy degree. Such veneration is never healthy and will lead to a increasingly militaristic society.
Instead of the increasingly gaudy and nationalistic celebrations of recent years, we should return to the more simple and reflective celebrations, free of politicians and more in keeping with the aim of remembrance. Moreover, on the other 364 days of the year instead of making ourselves feel better with praise that essentially does nothing, we need to try and achieve something substantive by holding their bosses to account to make sure they get the equipment and treatment they deserve. Surely most servicemen would prefer decent equipment, accommodation job security over vacuous, fawning praise and free tickets to an England game?