Up to six VCs for a reconstruction team?

In January of this year John Reid committed 16 Air Assault Brigade to southern Afghanistan. This list of actions is from the MOD website:

  • Deny terrorists an ungoverned space in which they can foment and export terror. 11 September taught us that terrorism thrives where there is no stability, no effective government, no security.
  • Help the people of Afghanistan build a democratic state with strong security forces and an economy that will support a civil society.
  • Afghanistan must be restored as a secure and stable state.
  • To support international efforts to counter the narcotics trade which poisons the economy in Afghanistan and poisons so many young people in this country. 90% of the heroin which hits our streets originates in Afghanistan.
  • The Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team will work with UK officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development to deliver a tailored package of political, developmental and military assistance. Specifically, its mission will be to help train the Afghan security forces, to facilitate reconstruction, and to provide security, thereby supporting the extension of the Afghan Government’s authority across the province.

I am particularly drawn to the last sentence.

Specifically, its mission will be to help train the Afghan security forces, to facilitate reconstruction, and to provide security, thereby supporting the extension of the Afghan Government’s authority across the province.

If you feel that this sounds slightly at odds with an intensity of conflict that warrants the recommendation of six Victoria Crosses, you are not alone.

I was spitting tacks after reading about this speech by Des Browne in the Guardian, but after my last tirade I have decided to pause before writing about defence issues. As a Conservative I feel that it is not only my right to highlight the inadequacies of the Labour defence team but my duty to. Trying to divert attention away from the issue in hand by accusing us of “undermining our troops” is transparent and cynical.

How does he justify this statement: “But we are not asking our soldiers to act as narcotics police. That would undermine the clarity of their mission and their ability to get the local people on their side.”

With this one: To support international efforts to counter the narcotics trade which poisons the economy in Afghanistan and poisons so many young people in this country. 90% of the heroin which hits our streets originates in Afghanistan.

Mr Browne if our criticisms are unjustified then counter them. If you can’t then, as I have said before, you should be looking for another job.

7 responses to “Up to six VCs for a reconstruction team?

  1. Here is an even sadder endightment from the Guardian.

    The fierce debate at the highest military and political levels in the MoD is reflected in a passage of a leaked memo written by a staff officer at the Defence Academy, an MoD thinktank. It reads: “British armed forces are effectively held hostage in Iraq – following the failure of the deal being attempted by COS [chief of staff] to extricate UK armed forces from Iraq on the basis of ‘doing Afghanistan’ – and we are now fighting (and arguably losing or potentially losing) on two fronts.”

    So the government have commited us to two conflicts for which we do not the capability. BUT It is the stated aim of the Army to be able to do just that “One large scal (Divisional) or Two medium scal (Brigade) size deployments at any given time.”
    So this rot was started a long time ago. Possible prior to 1997. James, can you remember the Army prior to Options for Change? It could have done these deployments and probably one more!
    Who was in power when options for change swung an axe through the military? No one (except possibly the lib dems) is entirely innocent on this one.

  2. It is dry military wit, Paulipoos.
    James described a moment of compassion in his life on Crick’s Newsnight report of the Primary last night. He removed a thorn from a dog’s foot whilst on holiday. I was just wondering how the dog was now??!!

  3. I just found this mention about VC winners
    ONE OF the most moving stories of recent days is that of Private Johnson Beharry. This mild-mannered 26-year-old, who last year became the British Army’s only living VC Winner in two generations, vividly describes the unhappiness which the medal has brought him.

    No one remembers him as he used to be, he says. ‘Everyone forgets the old person. They see this great person and, you know, they expect me to; be that person.

    Beharry is credited with saving the lives of 30 comrades after their column of Warrior armoured vehicles was ambushed in Iraq with an extraordinary exhibition of courage during the firelight which followed, in which he was wounded.

    Since that day in 2004, his marriage has broken up. It is unlikely that he will sufficiently recover from the injuries he suffered to return to active duty. He finds himself short-tempered and surrounded by suppliants, striving to cope with the strains of fame.

    Beharry’s account of himself in his forthcoming autobiography is dismayingly familiar to historians.

    Lt. lan Fraser of the Royal Navy, who won a VC in July 1945 for taking his “midget submarine into Singapore harbour to cripple a Japanese cruiser, wrote long afterwards: ‘A man is trained for the task that might win him a VC. He was not trained to cope with what follows.’

    In the l9th century — I do not-know the comparable Statistics for the 20th century seven of 111 VC winners subsequently, killed themselves, representing a suicide rate ten times the national average. Many young men have found it impossibly difficult to live with the weight of that bronze cross on their chests.

    Wing-Commander Guy Gibson, who won his VC leading the Dambusters in May 1943, never knew a contented moment again, until his death on another bomber operation in September 1944.

    Sergeant – Major Stan Hollis of the Green Howards, who won his VC on D-Day in 1944, was a remarkable man, never forgotten by those who met him, including me. But his commanding officer said sadly of Hollis: ‘I am afraid it was easier to get him a VC in the war, than a decent job after it.

    One of the handful of post World War 11 British, VCs, Lance -Corporal Bill Speakman, who won his award in 1951 defending a hill in Korea against the Chinese with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, scarcely drew a sober breath after his investiture.

    To brand a young soldier, sailor or airman with such a rare mark of honour is to confer a doubtful favour. Society’s intention is honourable: to show how highly we value supreme courage.

    But the humbler the background of the recipient, the harder he might find it to cope with the loss of personal privacy, with the people who want to pick fights in pubs, to scrounge money or merely-to ogle a celebrity. The truth is that prowess as a warrior often proves a doubtful asset in making a success of anything else.

    Military decorations are odd things. The old saying is true: that no one knows what a medal is worth except the man who wins it.

    Most ‘gongs’ are awarded straight forwardly enough, for acts of courage on the battlefield. However, especially in the case of VCs, there is often a political agenda not infrequently, to make everyone feel better after a military disaster. . .

    Many senior officers were furious about the award of 11 VCs for the 24th Foot’s defence of Rorke’s Drift against the Zulus in January 1879. The ‘brass’ considered this

    A politically -motivated gesture, following the Zulus’ massacre of a British column at Isandlwana on the same day.

    General Sir Garnet Wolseley wrote: ‘It is monstrous making heroes of those — who, shut up in buildings at the Drift, could not bolt , & fought like rats for their lives; which they could not otherwise save.’

    None of those given the Cross for Rorke’s Drift ever distinguished themselves again, and several met conspicuously unhappy ends. In more recent times, the initial impetus for the award of a posthumous VC to Lt. Col. ‘H’ Jones for his action at Goose Green in the Falklands came from Downing Street, not from the Army. Among soldiers, both then and later, Jones’s conduct of the battle was highly controversial.

    Many’ argued that charging personally at the Argentine positions was a gesture of despair, reflecting the fact that as a battalion commander, he had lost control

    In May 1982, however, in the early stages of the Falklands conflict, the Government was politically beleaguered. Mrs Thatcher needed heroes and made sure that she got them.

    The subsequent award or a second posthumous VC to Sergeant Ian Mackay, for his part in 3 Para’s battle on Mount Longden during which he destroyed an Argentine bunker in an exhibition of extraordinary courage, partly reflected a Whitehall belief that, ‘ after a colonel had received Britain’s supreme decoration, a non-commissioned soldier should be similarly recognised.

    Please do not mistake what I am saying here. All those mentioned above were brave men, who did extraordinary things. Likewise, I have met no modern soldier with anything but the deepest admiration for what Private Beharry did at Al Amarah in 2004.

    My point is simply that the scale of recognition for fine deeds is arbitrary and often influenced by non-military factors. Soldiers are’ acutely sensitive to the nuances of awards, which is why the British Army is still so cross with John Major for imposing his ‘classless’ decorations system back in 1994.

    In former times, only, officers were eligible for the Distinguished Service Order and Military Cross; while other ranks received the Distinguished Conduct Medal or Military Medal.

    CONTRARY to what foolish little Mr Major supposed, this arrangement had nothing to do with class distinction. It represented a recognition that officers and soldiers excel in different ways on the battlefield, because they do different Jobs.

    Holders of the DCM were deeply proud of their medals, which were often won by acts of courage worthy of a” VC. Many? were uncomprehending when the Prime Master interfered in military matters of which he was wholly ignorant, to abolish the decoration.

    It has often been argued — I think rightly — that it Is so difficult and invidious ,to single out a man for a Victoria Cross, that it should be awarded only to the dead. Air Vice-Marshal Donald Bennett. who led Bomber Command’s Pathfinders in World War n, declared soon after he took over: “There will be no living VCs hi this group.’ Bennett made only posthumous recommendations.

    By chance, not long before Private Beharry’s story was published last weekend, I found myself discussing ‘gongs’ with some senior Army officers. I suggested that VCs should be given only posthumously, partly because the medal imposes such stress upon on a living recipient.

    My companions disagreed. They believed that it would be wrong to allow the awards of VCs to living soldiers to lapse — only three such have been gazetted since Korea.

    in Iraq and Afghanistan, the British Army has experienced some of its heaviest and most sustained conventional combat in half a century. At a time when soldiers are acutely conscious that both campaigns are unpopular at home, recognition of courage and sacrifice seems especially important to sustain morale.

    The colonel of 3 Para in Helmand Province in Afghanistan is anxious that an awards list for his battle-group’s tour should be published as swiftly as possible, while memories are still fresh and maybe also. — though he did not say so — before some men make decisions about whether to stay in an Army by which they are disgracefully, monstrously underpaid.

    All this makes good sense. Yet I retain my own doubts, reinforced by reading Johnson Beharry’s account of himself.

    It is a fine thing to give a man a medal that identifies him as a hero. It makes the British Army feel good to award a VC. However, the medal’s history suggests that for recipients its specialness is as often a curse as a boon.

    A few men enjoy every moment of the celebrity which it confers. Most, however, find the burden hard to bear. It seems to me better to reserve the Victoria Cross to mark the gravestones of fallen heroes rather than to adorn the breasts of young men, however worthy, with lives to make beyond the battlefield.

  4. As I recall, the “mention” paulipoos refers to and posts is in fact a full page article in the Daily Mail by Max Hastings. Puting aside copyright issues, it would at least be a courtesy for paulipoos to acknowledge the author of this substantial and provoking article. (Incidentally, I do not know Max Hastings and have no personal interest in this matter)

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