Odd thing about our "need" to invade Iraq. Don't much care for Blair, don't trust the swine one bit. Knew we'd had complete control over Iraqi airspace for about ten years and anything remotely suspect would be on film somewhere. So that business of weapons of Mass Destruction didn't sound at all convincing to me. Sure they showed photos of things that could have been the elusive WMD, and those that wanted to chose to believe they were. I didn't.
Heads of State in the Middle East knew perfectly well that Iraq did not have the expertise to develop anything better than some poisonous gas, which may kill lots of people but certainly doesn't qualify as weapons of mass destruction - certainly no threat to Britain. And they didn't keep this to themselves; throughout the Arab world they cautioned publicly and in private told our people they were complete prats who'd be opening a Pandora's Box that'd make things a whole lot worse. Boy were they right.
So no I did not support my government's decision to assist in the invasion of Iraq.
Same thing with the reasons they gave to invade Afghanistan. To kill Osama Bin Laden! Oh do so get a grip! It's similar in methodology to those self-appointed Jihadists who ran down, then beheaded an off-duty soldier - Lee Rigby - in London (1). Rigby wasn't the problem, that lies with the people in our Parliament and House of Lords who sent them to Afghanistan. If future Jihadists want to get it right, then go after the Hawks in either of those two places, or the journalists who egg them on.
By the time they'd personalized the issue, the network Bin Laden had established was far more robust than anything the IRA ever had; compartmentalized and perfectly capable of continuing after the death of any one individual. Osama may be many things to many people but there's no doubt he was a brilliant strategist, a superb motivator and a great role model to his followers. His legacy continues because he tapped into something our lot haven't come close to achieving. His organizations empower the poorest and least educated, trains them, feeds them, provides a supportive community and pays them. Now they offer career paths as well as opportunities for rapid promotion, based entirely on proven results.
So no I did not support my government's decision to assist in the invasion of Afghanistan.
But they did so anyway and while I was dismayed that our troops were deployed, I have always fully supported our Armed Forces at home or in combat. I was fathered by an ex-soldier and have known enough soldiers to say they're just ordinary folk who have been trained very well. I resent it when they're sent into combat without proper equipment. A lack of quality body armor in Iraq meant our guys were left to beg or borrow from the Americans. And those idiotic Land Rovers they used to transport troops were utterly lethal. Now they've been replaced by the Foxhound (2), a ludicrously expensive solution to a problem that could have been fixed at a fraction of the price using the tried and tested Mamba (3) that's also manufactured in Britain!
Our lack of preparedness and our underestimation of those we sought to destroy has resulted in a very high casualty count. Wiki lists almost 3,400 deaths by the coalition, with America bearing the brunt at more then 2,250 and Britain at number two with more than 450.
Looking at the detail for Britain I quote - from this (4):
"As of 30 October 2014, the British forces have suffered 453 fatalities and 2,188 wounded in action, another 5,251 have suffered from disease or non-battle injuries. Of these, 404 soldiers were killed as a result of hostile action, while 49 are known to have died either as a result of illness, non-combat injuries or accidents, or have not yet officially been assigned a cause of death pending the outcome of an investigation."
It's the 7,439 who came home after being "wounded in action" or "suffered from disease or non-battle injuries" that interests me. I had an uncle who lost a leg in North Africa and upon his return to New Zealand found the local stuff was pretty awful, so he set up a business producing prosthetic limbs. There was considerable demand for his products and because the materials he used were state of the art at that time, they were much lighter, fitted better, caused fewer sore spots or infections and, being one himself, knew the need amputees feel to look as normal as possible. He made good things and treated his customers as unique individuals, so none of that off the shelf rot. Post WW2 that was highly unusual.
Through him and our family Doctor / friend (who spent years in a Japanese concentration camp in Thailand), I learned very early in life that it's a crap-shoot. A couple of inches or a few seconds can change your life forever. Yet it's not all about service personnel; one of the mothers who lived in our cul-de-sac lost most of one arm because a German bomber screwed up and dumped its payload close to her childhood home. She hated the heavy thing they made for her with its straps and harness, so she only used it to go to church and for special occasions. At all other times she preferred to just be herself - and she could do everything a mother, wife and neighbour does without the slightest need of assistance. And she could muster up a fantastic vegetable soup, which I doted on.
Limbless people, severely disfigured people, those with burns were quite commonplace during my informative years. They were relatives, family friends and of course we had that Doctor who had none of those things, though he was abnormally thin. Now they'd probably describe it as "post traumatic stress disorder"; all we knew was he was driven to make up for all those deaths he had to watch because he did not have access to the most basic medicines. It cauterized a part of him, yet he was the most conscientious General Practitioner I've ever had the good fortune to meet. And he gave himself a tin of 50 Players Navy Cut each and every day, which he smoked with relish to make up for those years he was denied them.
All this taught me ignore everything and look into other people's eyes. I still do - and always will - with everyone.
There have been tremendous improvements in emergency care for our service personnel. One result is people who had no hope of any mobility can walk unaided, while air transport makes it perfectly feasible for those with severe traumas to be returned to the UK, or any coalition country, within a matter of hours of their being injured. But even modern medicine can't work miracles.
Iraqi war veteran with severe facial burns.
I got that photo of an American ex-serviceman from this site (5) and quote:
"This twenty-year-old young man was trapped for twenty minutes in a fiery ammunition truck in Iraq. He was left with disfiguring burns on his face, head, arms and legs. This is what he looks like after more than two dozen surgeries.
For the rest of his life kids will laugh at him and call him Frankenstein or a freak. For the rest of his life he will have to look at his face in the mirror in the morning. For the rest of his life people will silently stare at him - thinking that he reminds them of someone they saw in a horror movie. Finding a girlfriend or even a job will be a difficult thing."
Sadly that's the reality for most of the severely scarred. They shock some people because their wounds are so awful, and they're scared because deep down they'd never want to go through life looking like them. So the more juvenile laugh, snicker, mock, taunt and belittle them. That's something Tobacco Control exploits. They're experts at encouraging base sentiments in their frenetic race to lie, exaggerate, insult, dumb down and play mind games with the gullible.
Yes they'll be well satisfied when all employers and the general public treats smokers in the same manner. If you can't stop them, then at least try to handicap them, with liberal use of the inflammatory - and bogus - term "addict", as Redhead (who once was one) points out (6).
They claim to be in a "war" against tobacco. It's not a war, though it is a synthetic conflict that's been imposed on us; a conflict of ideologies that's being thrashed out in the political and legal arena. Their only "war" is to counteract any attempt to expose their lies; the only wounds they'll feel are to their ego and their only fear is that the funding pipeline might close. Yet their salaries, terms and conditions are such that even the most mundane, second-rate researcher can gross upwards of £34,000 a year, which is double what a Private in the army earns, while Deborah Arnott - on something north of £80,000 pa, plus perks - puts her on a par with a Colonel in the British Army. Andrew Black, Programme Manager for Tobacco Control at the Department of Health (7), is reputed to earn more - much more - than a Brigadier who, according to this Army pay scale (8), earns just over £100,000.
And they're terribly good at rewarding themselves, with free travel and hotel rooms - where a single night costs more than a Private in the Army takes home in a month (9). They too hand out medals to those who do their bidding, with Stephen Williams MP picking up a gong and something to hang on his wall (10) for his efforts in the "battle" to get tobacco displays hidden!
Ignoring their clout at getting their chosen one's into the House of Lords, they've managed to demean the MBE by honouring two jobsworths employed in Smoke Free South West (11). Smoke Free SW is known to have been paid, by Andrew Black's department, the sum of £468,462.06 of taxpayer's money to spend on advertising to encourage the public to lobby for plain packs (12). Oh and Smoke Free SW just so happens to be in Stephen Williams MP patch. So a gong for him and another for them! How wonderful.
During the Afghan conflict, every year at Christmas the public were asked to not send unsolicited parcels to our troops because they did not have the aircraft to carry the enormous volumes generated (13). Yet it costs the English taxpayer in excess of £200 million each and every year to finance the Smoke free Action Coalition (14). Scottish taxpayers may be dismayed to learn that Tobacco Control costs them in excess of £22 million each year (15). And each and every series of adverts - roughly four each year - on television costs a minimum of £2 million, with at least one run every year within a few days of Christmas.
And their latest "battle" is "plain packaging", which is nothing of the sort. Their aim is to try to instill fear and revulsion amongst users by slapping very large photographs of diseased body parts. I'm told the Australians had to search through thousands of images to get the most distasteful. Most are not of Australians; the one with the eye is shocking because the eyelids are clamped open, the chap dying of lung cancer - Bryan Curtis - started smoking at age 13 and died in June 1999 (16) while the black lung imagery had to be fabricated because it's not true, as Frank Davis points out (17).
So lets make up a mutilated face using faked images.
Taking the piss with plain packs.
However in Britain there's been a remarkable attempt to deal with the matter of disfigurement and loss of limbs. Brian Adams has compiled a book of photographs detailing 30 individuals - and sobering best describes what you can see here (18). He held an exhibition that ended on 25 January 2015.
Looking at their eyes where that's possible, there's stoicism, a certain dignity and an acceptance of what they are. They're our soldiers and whatever help they or their families need, they should get without question.
There is a scheme of compensation for those wounded or disabled whilst in service that's not been changed since 2009! A paltry £50,000 for the loss of a foot, or derisory £92,000 for the loss of a hand, arm or leg (below the elbow or knee). It is, quite frankly, pathetic and listed here (19). In addition to any pension they may be entitled to, if they go through a rigorous screening process, they may be entitled to a "Guaranteed Income Payment" that's supposed to compensate those "whose injuries would cause a significant loss of earning capacity" (20).
Instead of trying to buy themselves a place in the Kingdom of Heaven (or a parachute into a neat sinecure should they get fired) by donating obscene amounts of our money to "overseas aid and development". Or passing the time on gesture and feel good politics, senior politicians may find it far more immediate, popular and justified in this lifetime to practice what the preach and look after the welfare of their servants of the state.
Quick to place our troops in danger, frequently without just cause, oftentimes for little more than personal aggrandizement, they're absolutely dreadful at taking care of them when they return. Here I've concentrated on those with physical injuries, however there are oh so many with permanent psychological damage who will need help for the rest of their lives. And in 2012 a total of 50 British service personnel committed suicide - 21 whilst on duty and 29 veterans (21). More recent figures are not available for the UK, however suicide rates amongst American veterans appears to have been running at a consistent 22 per day since 2009 (22) and I suspect the UK will continue to see suicide rates for our veterans running at about 30 or so a year for a very long time.
It's obscene that the scheme of compensation has been frozen since 2009. Not only should this be subject to an immediate review with a view to increasing it by at least 25%, the entire process of returning to the UK needs to be re-accessed to make it far less stressful for soldiers and their families. Attitudes need changing from grudging handouts to absolute rights.
I find it scandalous that the Army is trying to recruit new entrants at a starting salary of £14,492 a year (23) and fully trained Privates are expected to survive on less than £1,500 a month before tax. Osborne may be trying to cut down on the cost of government, but this is definitely a false economy.
There's been some controversy about UKIP's decision to include in their manifesto:
"(58). Guaranteeing a job in the police, prison, or border forces for anyone who has served 12 years in the Armed Forces (24)."
I'd suggest all political parties take a very careful look at the whole "charity" sector. The Charity Commission (25) is unfit for task, it needs to be beefed up and become far more pro-active, most notably with any charity that receives any money, or discount, or payment-in-kind from the public purse. I find it incomprehensible that fake charities like ASH - that's nothing more than a belligerent pressure group - have not been investigated and made to re-classify. No more tax free status; all income accounted for and made public - and any profits from the sale of tee shirts and such subject to tax.
We must know more about these cabals and, aside from the money, there needs to be a far more aggressive system by which they can be overseen. I suggest the introduction of "Charity Monitors" with the power to inspect charities without notice to check everything from compliance with their Governing Document (26) to collusion, to the amount of money that actually gets handed over to those they claim to represent. Any charity that doesn't hand over at least 50% of what they receive to the end user should be shut down at once, or amalgamated with a better managed charity.
Any that exceed their authority should be shut immediately with charges pressed against each and every individual acting ultra vires. This would apply to the Lottery organizations and their system of disbursements. Anything that's even remotely suspect must be investigated, especially cronyism.
What would be very helpful is a system whereby members of the public can inform the Monitors of any suspicions they may have regarding this type of behavior. And, following a period of training, I feel the entire unit should be staffed exclusively by ex-service personnel as well as IT specialists, especially those known to be hackers. These people know all about deception, camouflage, embedding, indoctrination, propaganda and zealotry as well as enemies within. And they're far less likely to be cowed by intellectual bravado or fancy titles, especially those from the House of Lords and the fake medical professionals who fester in their "Governing Bodies".
And their unit should be financed by Big Lottery. Not from money handed over by punters, no their funding would come from the income received from dormant bank accounts - about £31 million - that's presently handed over to Big Lottery (27). In many cases, the reason why money was left in bank accounts is because the account holder - and their family - was killed during a war. It's very likely they would see this as an ideal use of their funds - and it's about time our soldiers, sailors and air force personnel were treated in the same way as those currently engaged in this "war against (insert choice)".
If there's one image that shows what's inherently wrong with tobacco control, smoking bans, exiling people to the outdoors and a single solution for all, then Private Alex Stringer (lots more on this young man here (28)) comes top of my list. He may be aware there are exemptions to the smoking ban for artistic purposes and I suspect Brian Adams (the photographer) doesn't consider his exposure to cigarette smoke to be even remotely life threatening. Private Stringer didn't have to hold a cigarette, nor did he have to keep packet of Lambert & Butler, lighter and mobile phone on display. He chose to do so because he smokes and most of the warnings about damaging extremities, well they no longer apply to him.
Private Alex Stringer enjoying a Lambert & Butler cigarette.
photo © Brian Adams
He's given much in a war that we'd prefer to downplay. But he hasn't lost his pluck, his zest, his sense of humor nor his ability to savor the moment. Thankfully.
(For the record. Keep us out of Syria and Ukraine).