Saturday, 25 June 2011

UK Armed Forces Week

After decades of obscurity and no public recognition for the work they do, the members of the Armed Forces are finally being given the recognition they deserve.  To an extent.  This is the UK, after all and not the United States.  Our servicemen and women are still not given the level of support given to those in America, but it is a lot better than it used to be.

It's been a hard struggle to get this far.  Many have called upon the government and the people to acknowledge the service and sacrifice of the members of the Armed Forces and many have failed to make any significant impact.  It took death and dismemberment in order to get the ball rolling.  Numerous conflicts and operations have taken their toll and for that sacrifice a level of recognition has been accepted.  The struggle for greater acceptance continues especially for the support for British Veterans.  For example, the struggle for an identification card for veterans has been ongoing for years with little or no progress.  Government promises have fallen by the wayside and, because the public don't know any better, there has been little or no outcry.

There are members of the public that still refuse to acknowledge the work that the Armed Forces do for the country as a whole.  I remember reading an article written by a member of public who stated that he saw no reason to support the Army, Navy or Airforce as they had done nothing for him.  They were all off fighting a war in a foreign country instead of protecting our country.  This is an example of the level of ignorance of the British public and it's a complete contrast to our cousins across the water.

Things are changing, though.  The coming week is dedicated to those who are serving or who have served.  It aims to increase public awareness so that ignorant comments, as the one I mentioned above, become a thing of the past.  Well, that's the hope and although I support it wholeheartedly, I think they are hoping for too much.  There are still too many people who wouldn't admit that the Armed Forces are worth recognition, even if their lives depended on it.  Ignorance is bliss and while people still think that we are fighting a pointless war in a pointless country, that ignorance will grow.

On a more positive note, it is heartwarming to see members of the younger generation acknowledging the service and sacrifice of members of the Armed Forces.  Also, it shouldn't be understated, the sacrifice the families of these servicemen and women who stay at home.  Their lot is as difficult as the service personnel, not knowing how a loved one is faring and having to maintain the family unit without them for months at a time.  There are organisations that can help and each and every one of them deserve our support.

I hope that next week promotes a greater understanding as well as support for the Armed Forces.  I hope that educating the public engenders greater support for them as well as the organisations that help them and their families.  I also hope that the need for greater support to veterans is highlighted.  With the increased number of younger men and women who have left the services as a result of horrific injuries, the need for greater support has never been so prevalent.

Finally, on a personal note, I hope that those injured service personnel who have sustained an injury and are fighting with the British insurance system have greater support.  The fact that insurance companies can latch onto the smallest detail or misprint to deny an injured soldier compensation is akin to fraud and I hope each and every one of them are punished accordingly.  It's not enough that they have gone through enough trauma without having to fight the companies that promised them financial protection should the worst happen and then renege on their promises.

All in all, Armed Forces week can only be good for the Armed Forces.  Education promotes understanding.  Understanding the sacrifices they have agreed to in order to protect our society and it's values is just as important as doing the job itself.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Smokers Unite!

I am a smoker.  A pariah.  An antithesis of what is currently acceptable.  A second class citizen.  All because I smoke.

I started smoking when I was eleven years old.  It was the 1970s and smoking was all the rage.  My mother and father smoked, my friends smoked, in fact nearly everyone was smoking.  It was natural for me to be curious about what everyone was doing.  As a result I became addicted.  I enjoyed smoking.

Time goes on and perceptions change.  The western society as a whole went a little health crazy with the condemnations of the use of chemicals in farming and the freedom of livestock.  Health issues became headline news and more and more people began to tell us what was good for us and what wasn't.  Gone were the days where you could eat what you wanted and live a long life.  Now, if you ate a certain something or did a certain something, it would knock years off your lifespan.

Our society went insane.

The older generation sat back with their pork fat sandwiches (on white bread), a pint of whiskey and a packet of full strength cigarettes and thought everyone had gone mad.  In fact, they had.  If you didn't conform to what was good, then you were reprimanded and criticized for having no concern for your own welfare.  It was a wonder that mankind had survived as long as it had, considering that everything had become dangerous to our collective health.

At the top of this new list of what was bad was smoking.  Anything that had to do with smoking was fair game for the self appointed health experts.  Advertising, marketing, sales and the actual act of smoking was attacked.  It was a war against tobacco and smoking.  Human rights was touted and health issues identified.

The first to fall was the advertising.  Tobacco manufacturers could no longer use billboards, television and, most significantly, motor racing.  The loss of this revenue had an adverse effect on those that depended on it, but the do-gooders had only just gotten started.  Once advertising was banned, they went on and managed to ban smoking in bars and restaurants.  Once again it was the businesses that were affected, customers no longer being able to smoke resulted in fewer customers.

From there it spread like an infection.  Offices, public buildings, train stations, airports and public transport.  The health and safety extremists professed that passive smoking (the smoke off cigarettes being inhaled by those that didn't actually smoke) caused serious health issues.  Although, to date, there has been no solid proof of this (bearing in mind all of the toxic chemicals already in our atmosphere) but that didn't matter.  They had more ammunition and they have now taken it to the next step.

In New York they are trying to ban smoking in Central Park.  In the UK, a law has been passed that makes it illegal to have tobacco in plain sight in shops.  Tobacco has now become an under the counter item!

Changing tact, medical institutes were pressured to prioritise organ transplants to non-smokers first.  It was decided that smokers were already killing themselves and so giving them life saving transplants was pointless.

Am I the only one who believes that our human rights have been thrown out of the window of common sense?  Not only have smokers been ostracised from society but our welfare has been dictated by zealous public servants influenced by the tide of health conscious fanatics.

Isn't it time these people were reigned in?  Soon it will be illegal to smoke!

It wasn't my fault that I was raised during a time when smoking was considered the norm.  I became addicted and, after many failed attempts to stop, I have made a decision to smoke.  Should I be marked as a pariah or ostracised for my legal choice?  What happened to my rights as a human being?  Why, after hundreds of years have we suddenly decided that it should not be allowed as it can kill us?  Driving can kill, drinking alcohol can kill, especially if the two are combined.  Are they going to banned too?

I have donated a regular sum of money to Cancer Research UK for over twenty years.  Although the chances of me getting cancer are more down to my genes than me smoking, I have, in a small way, contributed to saving hundreds of lives.  Our atmosphere is so polluted that in London people wear masks in order to clean some of the air they breath.  Do you really think that some cigarette smoke is going to make matters worse?  No, of course it wont but tabacco was targeted and now I am paying the price.  The tax on tobacco in the UK is extortionate.  It's so bad criminals have begun to make fake cigarettes, containing sometimes lethal levels of toxins.  Those that cannot afford the insane prices being charged for a packet of cigarettes are turning to these fakes.  How are the health nuts going to justify the increased risk to the health of these individuals as a result of their crusade?

Enough is enough.  We all know smoking isn't healthy but there are so many other things that are unhealthy too, far too many to list.  Why pick on us?  How about giving us a break and allowing us to exercise our human right to chose what we want to do?  Stop making it difficult for us to exercise that right.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

The United Nations

If you were to visit the United Nations website, you would see that the UN was founded in 1945, after the second world war, by 51 countries committed to maintaining international peace and security, developing friendly relations among nations and promoting social progress, better living standards and human rights.  Apart from being an ostentatious paragraph (riddled with grammatical errors) it infers that the UN is committed to peace.

I believe that the UN has spectacularly failed to uphold it's raison d'ĂȘtre.  If good intentions pave the way to hell, the UN have managed to pave a highway!

It is not the first time that an organisation with good intentions has metamorphosed into something other than that for which it was conceived.  There are numerous other guilty parties including Communism and NATO.  However, unlike the others, the UN promised peace and security, the two fundamental blocks by which a society or country succeeds by.  The proof of the failure are the conflicts and political turmoil of the last few decades.

Based in New York, the ostentatious UN building and its occupants have either forgotten or choose to ignore the ideals on which it was built.  The UN no longer (if ever) serves a purpose.  If anything, it hinders progress, aid and the principles on which it was founded, all the while costing the taxpayer a lot of money.

Recent political and humanitarian upheavals in Africa and the Middle East have highlighted the impotence of the UN and the fact that it has become an obstacle in the way of peace and security.  The ongoing debacle in Libya, the refusal to acknowledge the humanitarian issues in Syria and Yemen all point to an UN that is locked down by political one-up-manship and separate international alliances.  For weeks now, the government in Syria has been (reportedly) systematically killing peaceful protestors yet nothing has been done about it.  The UN hasn't even been able to agree sanctions against the country and its President, Bashar al-Assad.  The British and French representatives are hoping to present a proposal this weekend and have been trying to garner votes from the other permanent members whilst also hoping that Russia, who have historic ties with Syria, don't veto them!

So, the maintenance of peace and security is ok as long as enough votes are obtained and no permanent member uses their right to veto?  How anyone can see this as a viable organisation is difficult to fathom.

Sanctions against a country or individual is the least effective method of curtailing their actions.  The UN does have the ability to send 'peace-keepers'.  These are soldiers from the member states, sent into the troubled country in order to maintain peace and security.  In other words, inserting foreign troops, under the flag of the UN, to watch and be able to do nothing to stop whatever atrocities are happening.  Something I have experienced first hand when I was deployed as part of the peace-keeping mission to Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1995.  It doesn't work.  All it does is place additional people in danger as they watch on with horror and the inability to intervene.

Bosnia isn't the only debacle the UN have deployed troops to.  There was Rwanda in the early 90s and, if I remember correctly (I was there too), that didn't turn out too well either.  There was Sierra Leone in 1999/2000 (I was there at that one, as well, but not as a member of the UN) where the peacekeepers the UN had sent refused to get off the plane as the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) members would chop them up and leave their body parts dangling on the trees.

All of these incidents and more have proved that the UN is considered impotent and toothless.  During all of those incidents, the UN sent soldiers into harms way without any clear plan of what they were trying to achieve.  Even to this day, the UN procrastinates and haggles while people are dying in the streets, all the while, they are safe in their luxurious New York building enjoying the lifestyle the UN has given them.

Enough is enough.  The UN has had numerous opportunities with which to prove itself as a viable organisation.  In each and every incident, the UN made no difference at all and in some managed to put even more lives in danger.  The UN has become another platform with which politics and political might has had the opportunity to haggle and argue like fishwives during market day.  The UN consistently fail to identify issues and head them off, preferring to sit on the sidelines and watch as hundreds of innocent people die and countries are torn apart.  The UN sucks in money from nations that can no longer afford to pay for an organisation that is impotent and time wasting.  The UN is no longer (if it ever was) a viable and productive organisation.

The United Nations was a great idea, but then again, so was communism.  It just doesn't work.  Communism failed because people can never truly be equal, that is just human nature.  The UN will never work because political intrigue is more profitable than peace.  When you gather politicians from different countries, no matter what you say, their own political agendas will rule them.  From the outset, the UN was doomed to failure but we refuse to admit it.  It's the ideals that keep it alive and the people who profess to support those ideals that have killed it.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

War Crimes

The British press is all over the fact that Ratko Mladic has been taken to the Hague to face accusations of war crimes committed during the Bosnian war.  Apparently he had been on the run for 16 years and had been finally apprehended, coincidentally, when Serbia was told that his arrest would be a condition for consideration of Serbia joining the European Union.  Why Serbia would want to join the EU is beyond me, but that's not the point.

The fact that Mladic has to answer for his actions during that brutal war is fair enough.  He was the Bosnian-Serb commander at the time when paramilitaries and regular troops were fighting for the Bosnian-Serb cause.  In the end, the actions of the men serving him must fall on his shoulders, such is the price of leadership.

What I cannot understand, though, is the intensity of the negative reporting about the man.  I served in Bosnia in both 1995, 1996 and 1997.  I was in Sarajevo when 122mm rounds were falling all around us and I know it was the Bosnian-Serbs or the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS).  The Serbs were fighting for their survival, as well as the Bosnian Croats and Muslims.  The UN and NATO had regular meetings with Mladic and I met him several times while the Dayton agreement was being ironed out.  He was what I would call a hard man, a man who had seen things and done things that no man should have to.  You have to remember, it was a three sided war and all parties involved did some horrific things.

I am not condoning anything that was done in his name or anything that he may have done or ordered himself.  I am merely questioning the media frenzy surrounding his arrest and subsequent extradition.

It is a well known fact that there is no love lost between the US and the Serbs.  I know, as a fact, that the Americans I served with held the Serbs in low regard whilst supporting the plight of the Bosnian Muslims.  Historically, the British and the Serbs have been allies and the British tend to be pro-Serbian.  I, personally, held the Serbs in higher regard of the three factions, as I believed them to be more professional.  The Serbs, however, didn't do themselves any favours during the war, tending to deal with matters on their own while the other factions made very good use of the media in spreading propaganda.

My time in Bosnia opened my eyes to the real horrors of ethnic disputes.  All of the factions in Bosnia were guilty of horrific crimes, many of which will remain untold for years to come.  One of my functions whilst serving over there was to collect evidence for the War Crimes tribunal.  Needless to say, I was exposed to the unimaginable things that man can do to one another.

Mladic will face the court and will, no doubt, be sentenced in due course.  His men, or men fighting for the VRS, did many things that need accounting for.  It's a pity that they cannot be tried individually because not all of the brutal activity was organised or ordered.  It was, in some cases, a war of opportunity, where men from one faction or another would wander into an area populated by another and they would react like rabid animals.  Mladic and his opposite numbers (the commanders of the other factions) must answer for those crimes too.

My one hope is that people see this trial objectively.  Not the people who were actually involved; that would be too much to ask of them.  I mean the rest of the world, who weren't there and did not see what was actually happening at the time.  Mladic is one part of the history of Bosnia Herzegovina, but a part that should be considered in context with the others.  There is no doubt that if he is guilty of crimes against humanity then he should be punished, as those who ordered the murders of any of the Bosnian population at the time should be punished.  The media should bear that in mind before they spout off sound bites that attract attention.

The media should also take a close look at themselves as they aren't as innocent as they may think they are.  During the war in Bosnia, the media reports did more damage than good and the crews themselves caused incidents that could have been avoided.

Bosnia Herzegovina was a terrible time in mankind's history.  It's amazing how little we learned from the atrocities of the second world war.