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Excellent series of letters in the Herald today

#1
JOHN Reid describes as "unprecedented and unparalleled" the challenge that faces our troops in Iraq (February 20). Compared with what? Landing in Normandy on D-day? Trying to survive on the Burma Railway? The trenches of the Somme where my father's two brothers died? No, the only thing that is truly "unprecedented and unparalleled" is the degree of dishonesty of those who sent our soldiers to Iraq to fight for a lie and who have given al Qaeda such an unparalleled opportunity to grow.
Now he would like us to suspend our critical faculties – you can bet your life he would. I wonder whether, as he visits the jungle of some barracks in England in his ludicrous camouflage outfit, he is unaware of the contempt and loathing in which he and his kind are held by so many of us who once wore the Queen's uniform with pride.


No-one who has seen on TV the flag-draped coffins of young British soldiers arriving at RAF Brize Norton or the grief-stricken relatives at their subsequent funerals will fail to sympathise with the troops in Iraq. As a member, though, of the government that put them there, for reasons at best flawed and at worst mendacious, John Reid should perhaps be apologising to, rather than defending, them. He does no favours, to the troops or anyone else, when he attempts to play down as an "isolated blemish" the head-butting and testicles-kicking apparently perpetrated by British soldiers on detained Iraqis. The pictures of this behaviour came in the first instance not, as Reid implies, from the "uneven battlefield of scrutiny" – ie, from an intrusive media – but from filming by a soldier on the spot.
There are two arguments against such brutal treatment of detainees. The first is that, in this kind of situation, it is counter-productive. It gets known about, it hands propaganda victories to the insurgents, it increases local people's hostility to the troops and it tends to obscure what Reid calls "the fantastic job they do on all our behalf".
The second, and more important, argument is that it is wrong – whatever the context – to beat human beings who are outnumbered, detained and helpless.
Not to see, or to extenuate, this is to set ourselves on the road to what Orwell called "worshipping power and successful cruelty". This is a truth that should be held to and clearly articulated by all of us, including armchair moralists like me and dispatch-box warriors like John Reid.


GIVEN his record – promises of investigation into Gulf War Syndrome in opposition and mulish adherence to the MoD line as a minister; overseeing continued low pay, inadequate equipment and deteriorating conditions for servicemen as secretary of state – one has to wonder what John Reid is up to when he starts posturing as the soldiers' protector.
What he is actually concerned about, of course, is media spin, not the daily realities of policing a large chunk of southern Iraq with inadequate forces. The chief culprits in passing judgment on soldiers' behaviour in Iraq have not been the general public or opposition MPs but the News of the World. Dr Reid is trying to provide a smokescreen for this ornament of the Murdoch press. But he is also trying to win back the News International tabloids from an increasingly sceptical view of the attack on Iraq to the Back Our Boys jingoism of a couple of years ago. He must be a worried man – there are few more accurate barometers of British public opinion than the editors of the tabloid press.
His lavish praise of the Army itself carries a threat – I say you're the best so anyone who brings me bad publicity will be thrown to the jackals. And whom is he addressing? ". . . down to the level of a single private soldier . . ."
The NoW video was made during a riot in which young soldiers faced not only barrages of rocks but also mortar fire. In the Danish cartoon riots across the Muslim world, police and soldiers have again and again opened fire and dozens have been killed. Being on the receiving end of what Andrew Gilligan (in a Spectator article defending the troops for their restraint in a way that would never occur to John Reid) describes as "Her Majesty's toecaps" must be less than agreeable but it's a price rioters must reckon with and sure beats being shot dead.
These soldiers were in Iraq because of the treachery of the man who handed over the British armed forces to Bush. It is from him and his associates, such as Dr Reid, that the British squaddie and, indeed, facing suicide bombings, the British public need protection.


JOHN Reid "should be a little slower to condemn and a lot quicker to understand" our impatience at the pack of lies that has been churned out by the Blair government since long before the conflict in Iraq began. I, too, believe the UK's armed forces are the best in the world but, in common with many of those servicemen and women, feel that it is the government "which has made it more difficult for [them] . . . to do their job" by giving them the wrong job to do.
"First, we are a population with increasingly less . . . experience of military life." This shows most clearly in the gay abandon with which we were committed to the Iraq escapade by a government lacking any credible intelligence information and prepared to lie about the pitiful bit it had.
The message that has been totally lost since 1945 in the short memories of Reid, Blair et al is that war is always, and must remain, a last resort. In attaching itself sycophantically to the transparently immoral Bush regime, our government's ethics became those of the playground bully.
"Second, we face a new enemy . . . which revels in mass murder . . . which sees all civilians . . . as easy targets." Economical with the truth or what? This is where the reference to our "modern technology" should appear together with the phrase "collateral damage" which Reid avoids. "There is a third change. [Yes] . . . the enemy is increasingly unconstrained." Why? Because the terrorists saw their chance to expand and popularise themselves in the chaos left by the unfocused, un-thought-through UK-American attacks.
Nor can Dr Reid claim moral superiority in espousing "human rights" while supporting allies responsible for Guantanamo Bay and attempting to cover-up the truth in so many areas. The dreadful fact is that the government is responsible for the plight of UK forces in Iraq. For God's sake, accept it.
 

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