Brits may be surprised by the furore over Kerry’s disparagement of the US military – that’s because Americans treat their fighting men with respect, whereas many Brits look down on their “squaddies”.
Toby Harnden in the London Daily Telegraph explains the difference:
US servicemen are revered in a way that the British squaddie can only dream of. Soldiers travel in uniform and are routinely ushered to the front of queues and given upgrades to business class with no questions asked. On an American Airlines jet from Dallas last Sunday, a flight attendant made a spontaneous announcement about “the sacrifice our young men and women are making to keep us safe”. The whole plane applauded her.
This is not just rah-rah jingoism. The aching reality of war is also apparent. At Houston airport on Wednesday night I pulled up behind a white hearse with two soldiers in dress uniform inside it. “That’s one of our boys coming home from Iraq,” said a sombre Avis representative, waving me past.
As Kerry has found out, you try to exploit this sentiment for political gain at your peril. The military is the most integrated sector of American society. Poor youths with a bit of get up and go about them use it to get funding for college to pull themselves up a rung on the economic ladder.
I have sat in Humvees and Bradley fighting vehicles with black sergeants from Alabama, marines from Mexico and good ol’ boy snipers from Kentucky in places like Fallujah and Ramadi as they described their hopes with an affecting optimism that belied the mortal danger they were in. In many ways, they embody what is great about America.
Amen to that.
Americans’ respect for their fighting men helps explain the very high re-enlistment rate among Iraq veterans. Conversely the British Army’s recruiting problems stem from the disdain shown by many Brits for the men and women fighting for them.
That disdain is clearly undesirable, and here are three small suggestions for the Brit government.
1. Stop requiring Brit soldiers to wear civvies when off duty. The rule was imposed when the IRA took to murdering off-duty soldiers. They won’t try same trick again – they won’t want to risk their state sponsored drug trade.
2. Stop calling soldiers “squaddies”.
3. Stop prosecuting them for war crimes.
Absent that, young Brit men and women seeking a military career are welcome in the US armed forces.