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British Soldiers Deserve Better than to be Attacked at Home
Last uploaded : Monday 9th Oct 2006 at 04:08
Contributed by : Carol Gould




A disturbing debate has erupted here in Great Britain over the appalling manner in which British servicemen and women are treated when they return from Iraq and Afghanistan.

A news story this week reports that Lord Bramall, a former Chief of Staff, is dismayed by the news of a British paratrooper being verbally threatened by a Muslim visitor to a public ward in a Birmingham hospital. Many of these men fear for their lives as they lie helpless in their beds with serious wounds and illnesses.

The intruder at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham had been seen more than once harassing civilian and military personnel at the hospital. Various reports indicate that the problem arises from the lack of facilities in Britain for returning and long-term injured veterans. One soldier is quoted as saying that British troops pray that they are sent to Ramstein, which they describe as the ‘outstanding American facility’ in Germany. If sent to Britain, they ‘have a mental health patient on one side and an incontinent geriatric on the other.’

In Datchet, Berskhire, not far from the Muslim-white riots in Windsor, four returning veterans who fought in Afghanistan were hounded out of their four-bedroom home by what the SUN newspaper reports was a gang of angry young Muslims shouting 'f*^^^ off' and throwing bricks through the windows.

In ‘The Evening Standard’ of October 4th, Nick Cohen makes the bizarre observation that American troops also have a miserable time when they return home because George W Bush provides tax cuts to the wealthy. What on earth this has to do with the welfare of wounded soldiers is beyond me. These are the times when I do believe Americans and Brits have more than an ocean between them where the processing of information is concerned.

Notwithstanding the daily drubbing America gets here in the United Kingdom, one of the many areas in which the United States is head and shoulders above any other nation in the world is its care for veterans. As far back as 1636, the pilgrims of Plymouth Colony passed a law providing assistance for soldiers from the colony’s resources. The United States Congress has passed laws over the years providing for ample care to veterans. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of veterans’ homes, rehabilitation centres and educational programmes available to service personnel and their families.

When the United States entered World War I programmes were put into place to provide disability compensation, insurance and vocational rehabilitation. Finally the Veterans’ Administration came into being by an Act of Congress in 1930 and of course after the Second World War the GI Bill of Rights was established.

I believe that had Britain had a GI Bill of Rights, there would not be the problem of literacy that continues today. The song ‘Why Can’t the English?’ comes to mind when one is out and about in London and rural Britain. One hears the abysmal English usage that one simply does not encounter even in rural America. Here is another fallacy to put to rest: Britons have constantly berated me about the lousy education I got in the United States and that ’Americans always have to take a year over to get up to the level of British students.’ Considering that Harvard is still top of the league in world university standards, education cannot be all that atrocious in the United States. One thing I notice when in the USA is the beautiful diction of American television and radio commentators and advertising voices. It is a falsehood that Americans are a bunch of idiots: here in the UK it is commonplace to hear an individual say, ‘I woz sat in a chair’ or ‘they done their Christmas windows early this year.’

The fact that the GI Bill of Rights enabled hundreds of thousands of war veterans and their families to attend university helped turn the United States into the hugely successful nation it is today. It is believed the GI Bill had more impact on American life and destiny than any legislation had had since the Homestead Act of 1844.

It is a disgrace that Britain’s brave fighting men and women are treated in such a shabby way; there is no British equivalent of Arlington National Cemetery nor is there an organisation as awe-inspiring as the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. When I was interviewing British war veterans for a documentary every man said he was envious of the generous schemes available to American servicemen that were non-existent in Britain.

I write about this issue because I am constantly being hectored about the monumental awfulness and ugliness of ‘ghastly ‘ America. ( See Margaret Drabble’s polemic ‘I Loathe America’ in the Daily Telegraph, May 2003.)

My late mother used to say that a nation’s humanity could be measured by the way it treated its Jews. One ventures to say that a nation’s greatness may also be measured by the way it treats its veterans in both war and peacetime.

Finally, in Nick Cohen’s article about the appalling treatment of British war veterans he mentions the fact that Lloyd George gave all working-class men the vote after the sacrifices of World War I. Well, I decided to do some research and discovered, as I had suspected, that the ‘ghastly’ and Drabble-loathed United States actually enfranchised all men, rich and poor alike, way back in the years 1820 to 1840. In 1860 all black men were given the vote by five states. In 1870 all black men were granted the vote and soon after, so were Native Americans. In 1920 black and white women were given the vote.

So, yet again the awful USA about which I am browbeaten every day actually beat Britain by one-hundred years in giving all men the dignity of suffrage.

Instead of constantly condemning the United States in the media and at political party conferences as has been done in the past three weeks here, the United Kingdom might like to look to the USA for new ideas, and the first might be a way to give its struggling veterans the dignity they deserve.

Carol Gould is a Life Member of Disabled American Veterans' Auxiliary
Read Lord Bramall's view:





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