Sunday, 3 November 2013

Why this country doesn't like its soldiers

This is not something I've come up with - it's what a friend has been trying to explain to me. But suddenly a few observations are beginning to make sense.

With a few exceptions, wars haven't actually been fought on this soil. Soldiers are sent away to fight. That means that this country has never experienced the feeling of welcoming soldiers as liberators - witnessing their sacrifices first-hand. I'm not suggesting that Germans welcomed the Allied Forces - but in the post-war period, they were greatly appreciated. And the liberation of France was a huge celebration.

But, in this country, something strange is happening:

Soldiers (please read "men and women serving") don't seem to be normal human beings. They are either monsters (child killers and constantly on the verge of a pub fight) or they are turned into victims. While homelessness among veterans and PTSD are real problems and some who are affected are still not getting enough help - not every soldier will develop a mental health problem. About a quarter of them might - which is the same figure quoted for the general population.

And if it isn't the negative image nor the mental health threat - then they are still viewed as different. I have witnessed it many a time when a service leaver applies for a job: they are rejected with very strange arguments. The problem is, no two applicants are the same and almost any choice can be justified. Fact is that people seem to be wary. All the positive characteristics of which ex-Forces people dispose seem to create a disadvantage - what if they actually get the job done? Get it done more efficiently? They fit into no box; they just come along and perform, without making a fuss about it - because that's what they are used to.

Somehow this isn't appreciated. Collectively, we have to insist that they are different. We call them heroes, we pity them, we donate to charities, we might even sign a petition. But "shoulder to shoulder" we stand not.

Yes, I struggle with the idea of them being "equals". Quite regularly, I walk across, shake hands and say "thank you". And I'm struck when one of them thanks me. We are in this together. They are part of us - thousands and thousands now being made redundant. They don't want to be called heroes or be pitied - they just want to be part. And they have a lot to give.

But each generation tells me how they were not welcome.

I started this blog almost a year ago. I have learned a great deal - and I have made a lot of friends among those who have served. They never hesitated doing what is necessary for us - now it's our turn! (And I won't tire making the case any time soon.)


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