“For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot…”
(Rudyard Kipling: Tommy)
Re-reading Kipling’s poem “Tommy” revealed to me a sad truism: that those who defend us, we later deride or, at least, neglect. Perhaps these attacks stem from misunderstandings, misguided opinions, or ignorance. The recent verbal and physical attacks on uniformed military personnel are borne of all three.
The endeavour to protect our country is the most unselfish of struggles. So when Service men and women return home, proud, defiant and unbowed to face, at best, apathy and at worst, resentment or even disdain from those they served, my reaction is not one of resignation, but anger. For these personnel who are willing to sacrifice everything to defend what is sacred, nothing should be withheld.
That is why it appals me to hear stories of soldiers being refused service in shops, and verbally abused in the street. That is why I despair of Government ministers such as Quentin Davies MP who singularly misunderstand the situation our soldiers face in the Middle East. And that is why I am so disappointed at the Government’s disregard of the Military Covenant.
Conversely, it is also why I am so supportive of David Cameron’s proposals to increase defence spending and revitalise the Military Covenant. In these turbulent geo-political times, it is our duty as politicians to ensure that we match the commitment these soldiers have made to their country.
The truth is that, across the world, British personnel are involved in a lonely and often desperate struggle to protect values that Britons hold so dear. While we may not sufficiently value the privileges we enjoy, the soldier at the boundaries of order realises only too clearly the fragile nature of liberty and the weight of effort expended in its defence. Their commitment is to protect something much greater than themselves: the way of life with its itinerant freedoms which embodies Western civilisation. It is a commitment we must repay, by ensuring that they return home honoured, rather than marginalised.
So, if Kipling’s poem describes the moral cowardice at the heart of the mistreatment of our soldiers, it also reminds us that this is a cowardice betrayal that must be fought every day until veterans earn their rightful respect. It is a fight that I have taken up in my Lincolnshire constituency, and one I intend to carry on, until the last echo of “chuck him out, the brute” is dismissed, and veterans are rightly seen not just as saviours of our country, but as the defender of virtue