When Drummer Lee Rigby was hacked to death in a London street last week, he was wearing a Tshirt, in support of the British military charity, Help for Heroes (H4H). To some extent this charity is the new ” Royal”British Legion, which seems increasingly like a dinosaur and too “establishment”
Of course, it would be a mistake to think that H4H is not “establishment” . The patronage of Royals like ” Prince” Harry gives a modern take on Establishment. And I suspect that at some point Help For Heroes will be given the seal of approval of having “Royal” added to its title.
The genesis of the charity is interesting.A s Rudyard Kipling observed in “Tommy Atkins”, the British are a bit ambivelant about its military. Colonial adventures such as India, South Africa, Kenya are offset by being on the “Good” side in World War One and World War Two. The Malvinas (Falklands) War is too associated with Margaret Thatcher to tick the “Good” box and Iraq and Afghanistan too associated with a LIE to tick the “Good” Box.
Which leaves the average British ” Tommy” in a bad spot. Or it DID…prior to Help For Heroes. Hard to see it as anything other than a deliberate …and successful…attempt to rehabilitate the British military with the British public. It is after all a volunteers army. They choose to shoot and they choose to be shot at. For Queen and Country.
With no conscription/national service and no war to fight that actually bothered the British…did they really care about Norn Iron and its seven hundred dead. There was no Wootton Basset-style ceremony to greet the body bags from Belfast and South Armagh.
Yet I think that the joint adventure with United States over the past decade…initially at least…saw the British attitude to the military compared unfavourably woth the American attitude. The Americans wrap themselves in the Flag more easily than the British. They place their hands over their hearts as the Flag passes and say “thank you for your service” to veterans in TV Detective Dramas.
Of course the Americans may be guilty of hypocrisy. The real “thank you” would be employment opportunies, benefit opportunities and educational opportunities for retuning servicemen and women.
But certainly ten years ago,the perception was that the families of serving British soldiers lived in poor accomodation and that soldiers themselves had a low social standing, compounded by a public perception that the wars they were fighting were unjust. Effectively the “top brass” at the Ministry of Defence played an Ace…the notion of a military “covenant” was drawn up…the Military played on the fact that they were “needed” and that the Public “owed” them.
Thus…the perception of OUR BOYS changed. Soldiers became more visible…given places of honour at sporting event
And significantly the soldiers were wearing battle dress or fatigues. Relatively unknown in England where the notion of Military is of pageantry and ceremony…the rows and rows of scarlet-tunic wearing men trooping the Colour and playing their part in the British Tourist Industry.
Help For Heroes is one such manifestation of this “covenant” between Military and Public. And of course it is backed by “The Sun” Rupert Murdochs tabloid rag.
There was a time when celebrity support for the Military was confined to sexist, racist, homophobic comedians like ardent Thatcherite, Jim Davidson. And of course guest appearances by The Sun’s Page 3 girls in Aghanistan.
Nowadays, its respectable to be seen supporting the Military. Mainstream celebrities will give of their time and be seen to give of their time. There may after all be a MBE or OBE further down the line.
The death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan has been high but it would be much much worse if it was not for the treatment of injury near the battlefield. People have suffered appalling injuries with which they will live for a very long time. Nobody would envy them.
One aspect of H4H has been that some people with terrible injuries have been extremely visible and extremely active in raising money for the Charity.
Lee Rigby was wearing a H4H tshirt last week and it can be no surprise that many ordinary English people have been overwhelming the H4H website and buying loads of merchandise. But a sinister aspect is that the far-right English Defence League…xenophobic and islamophobic has been exploiting the situation.
I have never taken the view that Patriotism is a bad thing. In factgenuine patriotism is a good thing. But when the patriotic genie is let out of the bottle…chauvinism and jingoism and downright fascism often follows.
It can be no surprise that the EDL has been collecting money for Help for Heroes and H4H is now so embarrassed that they will not take donations from people they believe to be extremists. But theres a certain irony that serving soldiers are often themselves supporters of the English Defence League. English soldiery with its imperialist record is not noted for liberal views.
The Charity itself…organising a cycle ride in Paris, France is distancing itself from the English Defence League but it cannot really distance itself from the underbelly of xenophobia at the heart of British imperialism.In England, they do at least make an effort to marginalise fascist scumbags. But in Norn Iron we facilitate them by setting up a forum where they can discuss their disenfranchisement. Make no mistake that the loyalist fleg protestors are from the same scumbag gene pool.
But with the English political parties in freefall….how does Help for Heroes decide on extremism. Is UKIP “extreme” ? Is DUP “extreme”? Is TUV “extreme”?
I suppose anyone who dresses up in a Nazi uniform could be regarded as a fascist and H4H would not want to accept assistance from such a person. Well actually that “Prince” Harry fella did exactly that. And yet he is one of the four main patrons of Help For Heroes.
And I suppose stating on TV that striking trade unionists should be taken out of their houses and shot in front of their families is a bit …ya know…”extreme”. But Jeremy Clarkson said that and funnily enough he is another one of the four main patrons of H4H.