|ISSUE 55 SUMMER 2007
|what covenant? what nation?
- conscience in cold storage
The state is and always has been mean with support for injured military personnel. Until Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries it was the monks that cared for injured soldiers; since then the state has grudgingly taken over. Arguably injured soldiers are far better treated today that they ever have been.
Whatever complaints soldiers may have about their treatment it is no reason for the Legion to try and implicate us all and make us complicit in the state’s war or try and guilt trip everyone with the ‘ultimate sacrifice’. Let’s be clear military personnel are state employees and some choose to be trained to kill and thereby put themselves in a position where they might themselves be killed. This is no covenant. The ‘nation’ is in no danger, and many would argue that Britain’s current military activities are in fact endangering us.
The situation was a little different in the two world wars where one could make a stronger argument for a ‘covenant’ when rightly or wrongly people believed to be under threat. Then men were forcibly recruited into the armed forces and could reasonably argue that the state – the nation ‘owed them’ extra care. The ‘nation’ is a slippery concept and today it appears that the majority of its components are far from enthusiastic supporters of Britain’s wars which no doubt is another reason for the ‘Military Covenant’ campaign.
Injured or otherwise afflicted people whether soldiers or the rest of us should not have to rely on charity in order to have access to adequate care. Many charities try to fill the gap between need and what is readily available. There is, however, a danger that such ‘good’ work may inhibit progress to the provision of universal and high quality service. This is not the place to discuss such issues but it is worth noting that charities also have their ideological side, which can easily get mixed up with their ‘primary’ function.
The British Legion says that it ‘provides financial, social and emotional support to millions who have served and are currently serving in the Armed Forces, and their dependants. Currently, nearly 10.5 million people are eligible for its support...’ 10.5 million is an incredible figure. The Legion also calls itself the de facto custodian of remembrance and it is this with its ‘glorious dead’ that give it its unusual status within the wider public, not its financial, social and emotional support work similar to that done by the NHS and countless charities and others around the country.
Some historians have argued that the parsimonious way the British government treated veterans after WW1 meant that by having to spend a lot of time and energy into survival, veterans had had little time (much to the government’s relief) for engaging in revolutionary activities in the grim post war years. Their German counterparts on the other hand were extremely well cared for and had a lot more spare time for mischief. Who knows how things might have turned out had Germany treated their veterans badly while Britain lavished them with resources.
Much of the Army's recruiting efforts in the last two years focused on economic issues, using a marketplace philosophy to sell service as a career opportunity. The recruiting page of the Royal Army's website proclaims: ‘As Britain's largest employer, the Army has over 15,000 vacancies annually for people of all ages, abilities and educational standards.’ The site asks potential recruits, ‘Do you want a career where you can earn £182 a week, in over 100 trades, with six weeks paid holiday and the opportunity to earn NVQ's and BTECs?’ and to potential officers, ‘Are you a graduate, under graduate or of graduate calibre and looking for an exciting and challenging career?’