Today the Tigers came to Lewes – 200 returning soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan. The regiment, The Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment marched down the very same High Street that saw the Thomas Paine celebrations only days earlier.
Hmm…..Iraq War, I thought. Afghanistan too?
Whatever you think about these wars and I have very different opinions about the two, it is a new initiative for England to revive the tradition of welcoming home local soldiers from the battlefront.
I went out to see, witness, support, or merely to photograph – I was not sure of my motives.
One thing is for sure though – these young men and women have been risking their lives and they are undoubtedly brave and almost certainly the children of loving parents. None of us, even the most anti-war protesters, wishes them any harm.
8 British soldiers were killed in short succession over the last few days and there is the predictable surge of feeling in the country that all the soldiers should come home.
Somehow populations tend to support wars unless anyone they know gets killed then they go to the opposite extreme and immediately say that every war is wrong.
They knew what they were signing up for and, I would guess, mostly had a sense of excitement and fulfillment in knowing that they were living their lives much more dangerously and, in their opinions at least, usefully in the armed forces than they would be in an unemployment queue or in an unsatisfying homeland job.
Soldiers are there to defend causes, kill people and risk their lives – if not then there really is no point in having an army except as a tourist attraction for ceremonial occasions usually involving the Queen.
So I admire them and feel sorry for them in equal measure. I wish them well too.
The wars that they have been engaged in are a different matter.
I marched with over a million people through the streets of London in protest about Britain going to war in Iraq. I felt that the Tony Blair government had lied to us about the reasons for the invasion and I think, with hindsight, that he was either being dishonest, naive or just plain wrong.
The Iraq War was a distraction from the really important war which happened almost simultaneously – the War in Afghanistan.
Let’s not regurgitate all those stories of Weapons of Massed Destruction, or the preposterous things that were said about Saddam Hussein’s relationship with Al Qaeda – we all know now that these were not viable reasons for war in Iraq and should never have been used as such.
Afghanistan is a totally different question. It is just madness to call for withdrawal just because our soldiers are getting killed – that is the tragic nature of warfare.
Whereas the arguments for the Iraq War were at best flimsy if not actually dishonest, the reasons for military intervention in Afghanistan are rock solid.
The Taleban supported and encouraged Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda and the Taleban planned the 9/11 atrocities and want to see more similar killings in the West. Pakistan has been allowing the gradual Taleban influence to grow within its borders and almost certainly has Al Qaeda hidden in its mountainous borders with Afghanistan. Pakistan teeters with its weak president and extreme Islamasist factions are a real threat to the country’s stability.
So what, you say, wiping the tears from your eyes at the thought of those dead young soldiers.
How does that effect us?
Well, atrocities apart, Pakistan has the nuclear bomb as does its neighbour India – two countries with a history of religious and political conflict.
If Pakistan were ever to be ruled by Taleban/Al Qaeda sympathizers, then we would a nuclear armed Al Qaeda.
It there was ever a reason to use armed conflict to prevent catastrophe then this war is surely it.
Not since the Second World War has there been a better reason to send our troops into battle.
Britain is of course a target.
This little island is isolated to the North of Europe, prosperous enough but no longer an international superpower. We could have decided decades ago that we were no longer in a position to be World policemen but we couldn’t face the humiliation.
Now we are tasting some of the consequences. America first, of course, then Britain, are the two most hated countries as far as radical Islam is concerned. Whether you supported our decision to cling on to the remnants of Empire or not, it is much too late now to think that we could just pull out our troops and think that Al Qaeda would shake hands and say let’s be friends. World Politics just isn’t like that.
So let’s welcome back these soldiers, supporting the fact that young people are still willing to die for a cause which is actually about the safety of everyone who lives within these isles.
One day, I hope, there will be no need for a British Army or any excuse for dead soldiers but that, I fear, is a long way away from us today. So I welcomed these Sussex soldiers home today and have to admit to a swell of emotion as they marched past to the sound of a military band.