Should we celebrate Armed Forces Day?

Today (28 June 2014) is Armed Forces Day. This event was first held in 2006 as Veterans Day and changed its name in 2009. What is it for? The Armed Forces Day website says

It’s an opportunity to do two things. Firstly, to raise public awareness of the contribution made to our country by those who serve and have served in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, Secondly, it gives the nation an opportunity to Show Your Support for the men and women who make up the Armed Forces community: from currently serving troops to Service families and from veterans to cadets.

The national mood seems to be very much one of “supporting our troops” and that service personnel are “heroes”. I have no doubt that many service men and women are highly professional, courageous and dedicated. But I do not accept that the enterprises they are engaged in must have my support. Most recently these have included war in Iraq and Afghanistan. And if MPs hadn’t refused to back David Cameron’s attempts to do so, we’d be adding Syria to that list too.

Despite what successive governments tell us, the main motivation for participating in these conflicts seems to me to have been the desire to be seen as an ally of America. Eleven years after the invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Chilcot enquiry has still not published its report. But it is clear enough that Britain’s involvement in that conflict was based on lies and misinformation. It is now well-known, for example, that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction.

And it is also clear that despite the military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, those countries are not better off.  You cannot look at the state they are in today and conclude that it has all been a success. The MOD website says

Getting rid of the Taliban regime and Al Qaeda is only the first part of the job. The second is to make sure they cannot return. Right now, this means direct military support, protecting the Afghan people and defeating the insurgency.

But although the influence of the Taliban appeared to have waned, they now seem to be back with a vengeance. Afghanistan still isn’t a good place to be a woman if you want medical treatment or an education, for instance. Job done? Apparently not. Perhaps there were better ways of improving the lot of Afghans than invading them.

Today is also the 100th anniversary of the assassination in Sarajevo of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, the immediate trigger for the outbreak of the First World War. Millions died in a pointless conflict. The “war to end all wars” didn’t. 21 years after it ended, there was war again. But political leaders apparently never learn. Instead of using the events of 100 years ago as a sobering lesson in how not to settle differences between nations, they still think they can make the world a better place by killing people.

Why do we have an Armed Forces Day and not, say, a Nurses and Doctors Day, or a Teachers and Lecturers Day? A Peace Day, perhaps? Individual members of the armed forces may be great people. But in the 21st century should we still celebrate armed force? I don’t.

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Making war unpalatable

There’s a story on the front page of the Guardian today with the headline How to sell wars to public – MOD study. Under the Freedom of Information Act, they’ve obtained a paper by a Ministry of Defence (MOD) strategy unit which looks at how to make British involvement in future wars more palatable to the public. (To be fair, “palatable” is the Guardian’s word, not the MOD’s.) They’ve also published the MOD paper in full on their website.

The main thrust of the document is that the MOD thinks there is a perception that it is becoming “risk-averse”. They put this down to a growing public distaste for going to war, which in turn has an influence on the political leadership of the government. They think that this is truer of more recent campaigns like Iraq and Afghanistan than it was of older ones. The problem, they say Continue reading

Choral evensong

York Minster smallRecently when I was working in York I went to choral evensong at York Minster. The building is beautiful and the choir was outstandingly good. But what struck me most was not the imposing surroundings or the quality of the music but the content of the service. You don’t get a brief bible reading – you get whole chapters from both the Old Testament and the New Testament, and long extracts from the psalms appointed for the day, as well as the regular items like the Magnificat, the Lord’s prayer, the creed and so on.

If you listen to what these say you get an idea of the church’s message (and presumably God’s priorities) that is very different from what is often portrayed.

For example, Continue reading

The long walk home

In the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) Jesus paints a compelling picture of the character of God. A simple story can sometimes communicate more effectively than a detailed theological analysis. There’s so much here – the folly of sin, the father’s love, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. I think that if I had to choose, this would be my favourite parable. Perhaps my favourite story of all time.

It illustrates well the meaning of repentance. The Greek word is metanoia which means to change your mind. Turning round and heading back home to God. We have become accustomed to thinking of repentance and forgiveness as instantaneous things. But that is not what we see here. Continue reading

Local democracy? I don’t think so.

Bristol is reported to have voted in favour of having an elected mayor. On a turnout of only 24 per cent, 41,032 voted for this change and 35,880 voted against. That means we are to have a change in the way our city is run because 12.8 per cent of the population voted for it, just over one eighth. At one polling station, only 6 per cent of the eligible voters turned out.

If this had been a union vote in favour of a strike, I have no doubt that the government would have criticised it roundly as being undemocratic and not a valid mandate. But no, one of our local MPs, Bristol West MP Stephen Williams (Conservative), hails it as a “major step forward” for the city. Continue reading

It ain’t necessarily so!

I work for HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and last week the department announced the launch of our new Tax Academy. Among other things, some of our trainee staff will be able to gain a degree accredited by Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU). I have been part of the HMRC team working with MMU on this project.

The same day, I saw two news reports about this on line – one on the Daily Telegraph site and one from the Manchester Evening News. Both of them had major factual inaccuracies. Continue reading