29 April 2010

Screw the Defence Review

Official inquiries are the tired old mechanisms employed by British politicians and officials to buy time for the heat to go out of whatever issue they are supposed to address - with a side order of easy money for those appointed to direct the inquiries. The reductio ad absurdum is the Saville inquiry into Bloody Sunday, which has poured untold millions into shysters' pockets while ensuring that its final report will be utterly irrelevant to the changed circumstances in Northern Ireland.

Spending reviews perform much the same function. Currently all discussion of defence matters is being kicked into touch pending an eventual spending review, despite - or rather because - the deficiencies in the armed forces are scandalously the product of systemic dysfunction and corruption at the highest levels. One such is the inhuman treatment of those actually doing the fighting, who are grossly underpaid, return to sub-standard housing and, if crippled, to shockingly inadequate medical care. Once they leave the army, ex-soldiers are on their own.

Contrast this with the example of the USA, where bipartisan support has brought about the greatest improvement in the Veterans Administration (VA) since the GI Bill. As The Washington Times reports:
All sides agree the President Obama has made big strides on promises he made in 2008 when competing for military votes against Republican nominee and Vietnam veteran Sen. John McCain - to fully fund the Veterans Administration, expand access to care in rural areas and improve treatment for mental health conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. 'The accessibility with this administration has been outstanding. They listen, they reach out to the veterans' service organizations, they see the value in communicating,' says Peter Gaytan, executive director of the American Legion, the nation's largest veterans' organization, with 2.5 million members. 
The VA has been a stench in the nostrils of America for some considerable time. That US politicians, in the midst of a highly partisan struggle over health care and, now, immigration, have quietly moved to give priority to the needs of those who have risked all for their country, speaks of a residual sense of decency.

Not so in Britain, whose ex-soldiers would fall to their knees in thanks if they could only have the level of support their American peers received from the VA at its worst. It's not the only example of the basic shabbiness of British society, but it may be the most rank.

The eventual Defence Review will concern itself primarily with big-ticket procurement items because those are the ones ministers and senior officials can ride to generous pay-offs when they retire. There is no money for the self-styled great and good in looking after those used up in the wars to which they were sent underfunded, ill-equipped and badly led.

Many things have changed over the last century, but the essential meanness of the British state towards its soldiers remains the same as when Kipling wrote:
Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an' they're starvation cheap;
An' hustlin' drunken soldiers when they're goin' large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin' in full kit.
Then it's Tommy this, an' Tommy that, an' "Tommy, 'ow's yer soul?"
But it's "Thin red line of 'eroes" when the drums begin to roll.

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