I usually manage to avoid QE2’s Christmas Day message to Her country and Her Commonwealth, but this year I came into the living-room and there it was, on, before I’d time to grab the zapper and zap it over to The Incredibles or whatever rubbish movie was playing on another channel. For a full ten seconds I stood goggling as the mother of all the Windsors told me about the importance of supporting ‘our troops’, and clips of British soldiers in desert-type gear paraded or patrolled or made soldierly synchronised movements.
It’s hard to think of area where more double-think goes on than that relating to armies and soldiers. If I had a son in an army – which mercifully I haven’t – I wouldn’t be proud of him, I’d be worried. Worried all day and all night that he’d be sent far from home, into somebody else’s country, to become the object of the hatred of the local people, who would (odd creatures) have the belief that their country shouldn’t be occupied by trained killers from hundreds or even thousands of miles away, and who might try to translate that hatred into killing my son. If I was asked, I wouldn’t say I was ‘proud of the job he’s doing’, and if he were – God forbid – killed, I hope I wouldn’t come out with an obscene lie and say that ‘he died doing what he loved’.
You’ll get British people, or people who think of themselves as British, who are at great pains to explain to you the distinction between the wisdom of a particular campaign waged by Britain, and the pride they feel in their ‘boys’ and the debt they owe them, as they wage that campaign. Not being a Daily Mail reader myself, I can’t get my brain to do the back-flips required for accommodating that one. Soldiers are trained to do two things. They’re trained to kill and they’re trained to threaten to kill. That’s why they carry guns. Even were the campaign a just one, how could any parent look at a son who was once small and smiling, and feel proud that he had now become big and trained to mete out death? And were the campaign unjust – Iraq, Afghanistan or Ireland – the double futility and perversity of a son’s death must be near to overwhelming. Except, of course, you let the Daily Mail do your thinking for you.
Yes, I know. It’s Christmas Day. I should have more to do than be tappy-tapping on about QE2 and her nationwide message. Just as QE2 should have more to do than come on TV to commend trained killers for their ‘work’, on any day of the year, but particularly on this day that celebrates the Prince of Peace.