Monday, December 8, 2008

Moving on (at last)

Seeing as I can't run off and join the Foreign Legion (okay, I probably could if I really wanted to, but things ain't that bad), I thought I'd move things along here a bit - I've bored even myself with my whingeing about old news. Hope youze all had a good weekend, kids!

Being a softie liberal who believes that ‘awareness’ can make a difference to an horrific situation (hence someone who considers herself to be reasonably well-informed when it comes to global politics), I force myself to watch endless news footage highlighting the carnage and misery caused by man’s endless thirst for world domination. Apart from that, the nearest I’ve ever been to anything like a warzone was living in a flat in Toxteth, Liverpool when the riots took place, while the closest I’ve ever been to someone actively involved with the Armed Forces was when I gave 50p to a veteran in exchange for a poppy in the lead-up to Memorial Sunday. Until now.

Someone close enough to me to be called family – let’s call him Soldier X - has joined the Territorial Army and gone off to Afghanistan. Prior to the announcement of his departure, whatever debates about the current global, political climate have been brought to – and, on occasion, fought over – my dinner table have rarely involved an element absolutely intrinsic to the whole issue: were it not for the thousands of service men and women (all of whom, let’s not forget, today sign up for such a career entirely of their own free will), would any of us be in the luxurious position of being able to philosophise and pontificate so freely today?

While it’s an indisputable fact that many atrocities and wrongdoings have been committed by the west in the name of ‘democracy’ in recent years, it’s also true that, no matter how strong our allegiance to organisations such as Amnesty International and may be, most of us are far, far removed, in so many ways, from the people we so passionately want justice for. But I’ve sat and listened to armchair philanthropists - who claim to be diehard pacifists, natch - drone on about how al-Qaeda and/or the Taliban (who harbour and protect them) “fight to make a valid point”. Try telling that to the father of the waitress who burnt to death in the World Trade Tower, the daughter of the social worker blown up in a bus on Tavistock Square, the Afghani woman who last week had her back broken by a leather whip for uncovering her face in a public place, or the family of the Christian Aid worker gunned down in Kabul. Indeed, try telling that to anybody with a friend or loved one currently fighting for peace on the front lines.

The base salary of a private soldier in the UK army is less than that of a bus driver in Bath. Much of the equipment the British Armed Forces have to work with is older than the buses they drive. No matter how bad traffic gets around the Abbey, I doubt that 14% of drivers are likely to suffer the dire effects of post traumatic stress after a 13-month stint on the job - and to my knowledge, not many of them risk losing limbs during an average shift, either. Now you may call my comparisons ‘trite’, but I call them an awareness raising exercise. Prior to my current personal experience, I’d have probably been writing a very different piece today, perhaps being cynical about the X Factor charity single currently residing at the top of the UK charts (the profits of which are shared between the Help For Heroes charity and the Royal British Legion appeal) or blithely accusing those who join the Armed Forces of being part of a problem rather than a solution and disputing their national status as ‘heroes’. As it is, I now believe we have people like Soldier X – and all those who went before him - to thank for all kinds of freedoms that I used to take for granted ... not least of all the luxury of dinner table debates.

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