Earlier this month, the Prime Minister announced that his government is planning to shell out at least £50m to celebrate the centenary of the First World War, starting in 2014. Over 743,000 British citizens lost their lives in the ‘War to End all Wars’, and the Prime Minister has accordingly pledged to make its commemoration a personal priority. Yet while Mr Cameron is emptying the nation’s coffers to remember the soldiers of yesterday, his government is apparently reluctant to shell out funds to fully equip the soldiers of today.
Last week, the Court of Appeals ruled that the families of two servicemen killed in Iraq have the power to seek monetary compensation from the Ministry of Defence (MoD), due to its negligence in failing to appropriately equip its troops. Unfortunately, this was not the first appeal within the past several years that has addressed the government’s inability to provide its wartime staff with sufficient gear. Previous cases highlight three fatal incidences surrounding Snatch Land Rovers – which are commonly referred to as ‘mobile coffins’ due to their inability to withstand attacks – as well grievous injuries caused by friendly fire that occurred between two tanks.
How then, has the MoD responded? By asserting that all claims of negligence should be discarded due to laws surrounding combat immunity. What’s more, the MoD has gone on to argue that decisions surrounding the ‘proper’ use of equipment should be made at Whitehall; therefore the families of these servicemen should be ineligible to receive compensation.
That said, whether or not these families are within their rights to pursue legal action against the MoD is irrelevant – what matters is that UK servicemen are undeniably losing their lives because of financial negligence. True enough, the MoD maintains that the insufficiently protected vehicles in question were to be used predominantly ‘behind the wire’ on military bases – so the question then becomes as follows: why have three UK soldiers been killed whilst operating these vehicles outside of military bases three years in a row? It’s hard to say whether the MoD is simply being too frugal or too lax with security – yet they are unquestionably guilty of negligence with regards to one of the two.
Yet assuming that the day ever arrives in which all UK servicemen have left Afghanistan for good – however unlikely – the UK government’s lack of financial commitment to the region’s security will continue to result in allied fatalities.
Last month, one Afghan MP told Al Jazeera that the Afghan security forces who will soon assume full control over the country don’t have the confidence, nor the proper equipment, to maintain a firm grip on their nation. If UK soldiers are dying due to a lack of sufficient funds, how will an independent Afghan army fair?
The total number of British troops killed throughout the conflict in Afghanistan currently stands at 433. Is this figure comparable to the 743,000 British troops that lost their lives in the Great War? Of course not – but spending £50m on the nation’s ‘glorious dead’ won’t prevent that number from rising further. Meanwhile, £50m could have meant the difference between life and death for a handful of active UK servicemen throughout the past 5 years. In terms of large-scale foreign military campaigns, is £50m a particularly large sum of money? Not even close – yet if said funds could replace just a third of the unsuitable vehicles in question, at least two or three human lives could be saved in the future. Is that a good investment?
The Great War makes for an epic chapter in British history, and should therefore be celebrated accordingly. Consequently, Mr Cameron has already announced plans that include a monumental upgrade to the Imperial War Museum, funds to help school children visit historic sites of the Great War and numerous acts of remembrance that will take place on key anniversaries throughout the war. Yet perhaps Mr Cameron would do well to put said funds to better use – after all, if the government spent a little less money on remembering the dead, and a little bit more on properly equipping the living, there will be no need for a lavish, multi-million-pound memorial celebration of this trivial conflict 100 years from now.