Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.
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Wednesday 22 June 2011

Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori.

EVERY Wednesday Prime Minister Dishface gets up on his hind legs in the House of Commons and announces the names of the servicemen and women killed in Afghanistan that week.

Ed Miliminor says how sorry he is to hear it, and all the politicians listen while carefully wearing the Sad But Serious Face they keep in a jar by the door.

Every week they say the same thing, with different names. Heads don't shake, frowns do not appear, and it's almost as though the latest bunch of body bags are no different to the last.

Well, as you'll see if you click on the links, they are different. It's a knock on the door for a new family, another empty chair at a kitchen table. Each one matters, somewhere outside Parliament.

I have had to break that news more than once. To friends, to my family, and sometimes because of the job - and because the police aren't always as thorough as us - accidentally, to strangers on their doorstep. I can remember each one, because it was horrific; you slice someone's world apart with a handful of words, and can do nothing but watch as it collapses in front of you. The best you can make of it is to break the news well and do your best for whoever has to hear it.

Dishface and Miliminor have never had to do that. They've never even watched someone do that. They read out the names and while I'm sure they think "oh dear, more people dead" don't stop to ever wonder how old they were, where they were from, why they joined up, if they were married, had children or still lived at home with mum and dad.

The Armed Forces are, in many parts of this country, the only decent job you can get. In the areas where mining has died, where manufacturing has faded and education has failed the military recruiters have easy pickings among young people who want to get out, get away, and get a trade.

They know the risks when they sign up but they only find out the reality when they're thrown in a 10-year-old unarmoured Land Rover and told to drive over improvised landmines in pursuit of an enemy who doesn't give a shit about living past sundown, and by the way before you go write a letter to your mum in case you don't come back.

Yet politicians think it is their job that's difficult. They bitch about having to furnish a free second home, employ their loved ones as their secretaries and complain about late-night votes sandwiched between drinking in a subsidised bar while being 'targeted' by pretty young researchers.

And then they vote through cuts to the military, decommission warships, ground planes, scrimp on service housing, let it take 10 years for someone to provide a bomb disposal robot and quibble about £30-a-week war pensions for people whose service broke their bodies and sometimes their spirit.

For the past few years every person I've met with links to the Armed Forces has spat acid at the very mention of Gordon Brown's name, blaming him for kit shortages, pension nalls-ups and bad decisions. A lot of them pinned their hopes on a Tory government being better. Yesterday members of 16 Air Assault Brigade - their numbers lighter by 22 after service against the Taliban - marched through Westminster to take tea with the PM, and I'll bet for most of them it was hard to swallow.

Because in the past year all they've had is more cuts, more work, and less thanks. They've been asked to get rid of Colonel Gaddafi in a £500million conflict no-one is allowed to call a war and without making a mess. When top brass quite reasonably pointed out the situation was unsustainable, Dishface slapped them down and said: "You do the fighting, and I'll do the talking." As though the two could be compared.

The problem with so many of those who sit in Parliament is they've never sat anywhere else. They haven't sat through a firefight, they haven't sat through an inquest, and they've never sat and properly listened to anyone. They just hear a political opportunity or problem, and never see the people in the middle of it.

They just read out the names. They do not weep, their voices do not shake, and they do not realise the wars they send those people to fight are never sweet.

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum es
Pro patria mori.