General Sir Richard Dannatt has claimed that soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq can receive "dismissive or indifferent" treatment from the public.
Sir Richard’s intervention reminded me of this extract from a recent Platform article by Liam Fox:
"Before I left for Washington I met a young soldier who complained that he was being given (verbally) a hard time in his local pub about the war in Iraq. He rightly resented the fact that, rather than having pride in the work our forces do with professionalism and courage, parts of the British public were blaming him for what they regard as government failures. That simply does not happen in the US where membership of the armed forces produces an automatic respect and generates unchallenged benefits.
I watched in Dulles Airport as two soldiers went through security and noted the warmth and courtesy with which they are treated. Are we so out of touch with our Military in the UK that we cannot understand the sacrifices they make on our behalf? Is it because so few people in modern Britain have direct contact with the armed forces that there seems to be so little comprehension about what they actually do or is it part of a general decline in respect for any form of authority? Is it because we see too few servicemen and women in uniform nowadays?
I wonder whether the endless anti-war diatribe from parts of our media does not carry a heavy responsibility for failing to point out the distinction between those who make the policy and our service men and women who carry out their tasks with such distinction. As a young infantryman put it to me in Iraq “the only way we could ever get on the BBC would be to get killed or injured. No one cares about the good things we do”. It is a long way from the open pride the Americans show towards their armed forces."
Many disagree with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but that should not affect society’s support for our servicemen – who fight where they are ordered to fight. Sir Richard highlighted America’s "outstanding" support of its soldiers and veterans. Within his remarks there were ideas that could be adopted here: discounts for soldiers from businesses, free tickets for sporting events, homecoming events organised by local councils and a general willingness from passers-by to shake the hands of soldiers in uniform.