Posted by: the watchmen | November 6, 2008

Faugh A Ballagh.___________Gail Walker.

What’s so bad about Army’s fighting talk


Captain Doug Beattie’s assertion that Col Tim Collins’s now famous eve-of-battle speech in Iraq actually had the effect of demoralising the troops should give cause for concern.



In his book An Ordinary Soldier, the Portadown man says that, during Collins’ address to the 1st Battalion of Royal Irish Regiment, he noticed “heads starting to go down” and “more and more frowns on men’s faces”.

Collins’s rhetoric — which contained “a little too much reality” — left him, as a captain, with a major problem: “He had left the men somewhere they shouldn’t have been: thinking about home, wondering if they would ever return there again, fearful of the dangers that faced them.” Collins says that his speech was never meant for public consumption — meaning he resents the implication that he was seeking a wider audience. While it’s sad to see two of Northern Ireland’s best-known Tommies if not exactly at loggerheads then not seeing eye to eye, and while the truth is that it is a case of differing perspectives, nonetheless Beattie’s anecdote does raise disquiet about the morale of our military and about the wider culture of modern warfare. Naturally, soldiers have moments of fear and naturally they have moments of homesickness but really, “heads going down”?

One doesn’t like to sound like Blackadder’s Lord Melchett, but what exactly did those soldiers blanching at Collins’s words think they were in Iraq to do? Surely joining the Army — or any branch of our armed services — in itself is a recognition that one may have to make the ultimate sacrifice for their fellow citizens. Indeed, that one in the very last resort is prepared to do so.

That is why we — as they patently do in the US, regardless of political persuasion — should regard them with great respect. That we so evidently don’t is to our shame.

But if an eloquent, tough yet compassionate pep talk leaves them with their courage in their boots, what hope for us? Could it be that our ambivalence about anything appearing to glorify martial valour is spreading to our armed forces?

Earlier this year, men and women from RAF Wittering were banned from wearing their uniforms in nearby Peterborough in case it inflamed anti-Iraq war sentiment. Instead of wearing the uniform proudly, the service personnel were advised to be prudent, take the cautious route, and don’t, heaven forbid, offend anybody.

The howl of public outrage gave cause for a rethink. But the Army’s first instinct was to back off. As if there was something to be ashamed of. Sometimes, you would think that we really want our soldiers to be more akin to special constables or paramedics — to be there in an emergency, even indulge in mild heroics if so inclined, but essentially they are to be men and women ‘much like us’. Which, in some ways, is very democratic but Heaven help us if the chips are ever really down. Hence, in recent times, members of the armed forces are lauded in the Press for publicly querying the legality of the Iraq war.

Indeed, even last week, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith informed us that the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan was one that could not be won and that we should preparing ourselves to strike a compromise with the Islamo-fascists.

He sees the job as ‘holding the line’ until something can be worked out. He may be right that there will never be a clear-cut military victory, but it all sounds defeatist.

The deal used to be that the Army just did what they were told by our politicians. The correctness of any action was the preserve of our elected leaders and, by extension, the people themselves.

Not so much my country right or wrong but just doing their job and keeping their opinions to themselves. In other words, to behave like an officer and a gentleman. But in these incontinent, touchy-feely days, such sentiments seem hopelessly passé.

No more heroes any more.


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