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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