What Do We Remember?

‘…a war begun for no purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, brought to a close after suffering and disaster, without much glory attached either to the government which directed, or the great body of troops which waged it. Not one benefit, political or military, was acquired with this war’.


These remarks were penned by the Reverend GR Glieg the Chaplain General, who recorded them in 1842 at the end of the First Anglo-Afghan War; – Plus ça change

In 2021 The British Army scrambled the last of its troops out of Afghanistan, bringing to a close two decades of campaigning that also encompassed operations in Iraq. Regardless of the complexities of what we think these 2-campaigns might have achieved, strategically they were failures. Based on the simple benchmark that strategy demands creating a more advantageous future to your interests no matter what the asinine comments of some very senior military figures might try to suggest.

Both campaigns reflect an endemic characteristic of UK ‘strategy’ – which repeatedly fails to match objectives and resources and rather than having the integrity to limit the objectives or increase the resources, papers over the gap with bullshit.  This is an abject failure of our Government(s) and senior military and civil service advisors. Despite the inquests and inquiries, I have no real sense that we have learnt the lesson – remarkable, given how obvious it is.

November the 11th is Remembrance Day, the annual occasion on which we pause briefly and remember the sacrifice that others have made in war. This year for many remembrance will be harder because we are asking what was this for? Friends, comrades, colleagues killed or injured and living every day in a profoundly altered state because of these campaigns don’t have the assurance that the hazard was worth the game.

For me Remembrance is not just about the sacrifice of soldiers and service men and women it must also be a remembrance of why things happened and it must be a challenge to remember the lessons of our past. It must be a contract between us the living and our dead, that those of us that are lucky enough to live whilst others did not have an obligation not to squander that gift. President Lincoln pointed out on the battlefield at Gettysburg that it was not enough to honour the dead but it must also be for the living to be rededicated to the task of a better future. We must strive to make some meaningful contribution, to leave something better than we found it; a place, a community, friends, family, people whom we can help or serve.

What you leave behind you is not what is engraved in stone monuments but what is woven into the lives of others.  Pericles



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