Wootton Bassett (population 11,000) is a small town near Swindon in Wiltshire, England. It is also the nearest town to the British Air Force base to which the bodies of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are flown. On the way to formal inquest, the funeral cars pass thru Wootton Bassett.
Some context here. After 9/11 and the decision of Tony B Liar to follow USA into War in Iraq, there was unease (to say the least) that the decision was unlawful and “the weapons of mass destruction” intelligence was (at best) exaggerated or (at worst) a lie. The illegality of the War and the “sexed up” dossier on Iraq has now passed into general acceptance.
The problem for Tony B Liar and his apologists was that they needed a fig leaf….or to be more blunt…..a human shield..to protect them from an angry public who felt they had been duped. The British Army are the human shield.
Some years ago, the most savage and convincing critics of The War on Terror were the families of soldiers killed. Notably a Scottish mother, Mrs Gentle could not be appeased by political platitudes. And Reg Keyes the father of a British serviceman killed in Iraq actually got 4,252 votes in the 2005 British General Election…….he stood against Bliar in a safe Labour constituency. Of course Bliar won easily (24,421) but Keyes was able to be a constant and embarrassing presence.
The War….the unpopular War…….allowed an unwelcome spotlight to fall on the Government. The impromptu respect of the residents became public and the attendance at each weekly repatriation of dead bodies was swelled by people coming from outside Wootton Bassett and immediate vicinity. I hesitate to use the words “tourist attraction”.
Yet it strikes me that none of the hundreds of British servicemen sent home in coffins from Norn Iron received any such honour in the near twenty five years of conflict 1971-1994. The sad fact is that they were buried without public honour on this scale. The question arises “what difference would it have made?”. Would people have sought a quicker resolution to the Norn Iron War? Or perhaps have gone for “victory” as a way of respecting the Dead?
The notion that there is a military “covenant” between Britain and its Armed Forces has grown in recent years. The standard of housing for example on British military bases is appalling. The after-care for soldiers discharged after service in Iraq and Afghanistan is poor. Decades of being institutionalised has resulted in many ex-soldiers living on the streets, turnin to alcohol abuse or imprisoned. Combat Stress and Trauma had in many cases gone untreated.
Iraq and Afghanistan and its cynical exploitation by military hawks is however a double-edged sword. Military Chiefs have managed to reverse budgetary cuts by getting newspapers on board to support “our boys” to the extent where soldiers acidently overpaidsalary or allowances are not being forced to repay as they would have to do if working in any other civil service job.
Military displays and outlandish patriotism has long been a feature of American sporting events and increasingly this is now the case in Britain also. But unleashing this degree of faux Patriotism will sooner or later have negative effects.
Alas British war dead are now repatriated several miles from Wootton Bassett. And the weekly line of hearses making its way thru the small town is confined to the History books. But in recognition……..it has had the title Royal Wootton Bassett conferred on it in 2011… the first time that a British town has been so honoured since 1909.