“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”
It is a soldier’s job to fight wars, to close with and kill the enemy, to follow orders even though the consequence may be death or serious injury. It is the soldier who knows fear and faces hardship. Even if their endeavours are successful they are quickly forgotten. And if those endeavours are seen as ending in failure then abandonment follows faster still.
But if a soldier’s lot is to go to war it is the politician who sends them to war to stand by them. After all, it is often politicians’ failure to deal with global frictions that result in conflict and they are no less responsible for the fallout that follows.
Therefore, for soldiers like me, it is incredibly frustrating when politicians distance themselves from decisions they take individually and collectively, leaving it instead to the soldier to bear the blame.
The starkest example of this is surely the Iraq war. While I am proud of my actions and the actions of the men I commanded in Iraq, I fully understand how controversial the war was and still is. Yet I will never distance myself from that conflict; I will recount with pride the part that soldiers of my regiment played and I will do so without shame.
Yet I feel that some politicians are happy to pretend the Iraq conflict never happened; they find it inconvenient, embarrassing and calculate that it is potentially poisonous with the electorate.
David Simpson, an outgoing Member of Parliament and candidate in the 2017 General Election did not vote for the Iraq war – he was not an MP at the time. Though to his credit he did visit the troops in Iraq in 2008.
He could, quite rightly, have highlighted this show of solidarity as part of this campaign. But he has not.
Instead he airbrushes the episode from history, focussing instead on a visit made in 2010 to see serving men and women in Afghanistan.
The tragedy for the politician – and for politicians in general, for episodes like this taint everyone seeking public trust and public office – is that Mr Simpson never actually made that journey.
His trip was cancelled a month before he was due to depart; a month before the photo he has used in his latest campaign literature was posted on Facebook in an album entitled ‘Afghanistan’.
Only he will know why he sought to create something out of nothing; fabricate an occasion that did not happen; ignore the valuable trip he actually did make to Iraq. But it is not just Mr Simpson who has to live with the consequences, so must we all. The trust between soldier and politician is eroded; already-fragile public respect for our elected representatives is chipped away further still; democracy is sullied just a little more. And for me there is a personal element.
For back in 2010 when David Simpson was posting a picture on Facebook of him supposedly in Afghanistan and attracting comments such as “Well done, David, we’re proud of you” I was in Afghanistan, dealing with the death of a friend and colleague, killed on Remembrance Sunday.
The irony is that there are other members of the DUP – David Simpson’s party – who did visit the troops, notably Sir Jeffrey Donaldson who came to see my unit in Nad-e-Ali in January 2011.
He knows how important it is to hear first-hand the issues soldiers face, the real life and death challenges. He is also a man who will not distance himself from unpopular conflicts – not least because he, like me, has served in the armed forces.
Of course some will say this blog is political opportunism and I will allow them that indulgence, but I would have raised this issue had David Simpson been my political opponent or not. The truth being I am staggered others are attacking me for speaking out and challenging on this issue.
This is not a matter of party politics. It is more fundamental than that. It is about personal integrity. It is about how anyone believes they can look voters in the eye knowing they have served up a falsehood; knowing they have stood on the shoulders of the brave men and women of our armed forces in order to promote themselves.
“I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity” – but I will never hide or deny my part in it be that as a soldier or politician.
Note: Since this blog was posted David Simpson has withdrawn his election leaflet and removed the Facebook page in question. He has, however, not given an explanantion as to why he mislead the elctorate in the first place.