Saturday morning’s do not begin with any fixed routine. Not in my house. Not in my head at least. The day drifts towards action. Recently we have acquired a second TV which is placed in the bedroom. It is not often used as we like to read or chat in there but somehow or other, as I was making the morning tea, it was switched on and my partner found a very interesting programme on one of those forgotten or hidden channels. The ones you never discover during normal watching hours but are found by that nervous absent-minded trawling which takes place if you watch at odd times of the day.
It concerned the accounts of British Soldiers engaged in Bosnia or Afghanistan. They could have been American Soldiers or any soldiers engaged in some UN style operation: that is not really the point. It was just accounts of actions they performed resulting in the receipt of medals. If the recipient was in the clip he told his story with all the drama of someone sent to the supermarket who could only buy green olives because they didn’t have black. There was a total absence of pride in their account. They acted as they did, they all said, through training and because they had no choice: to help a friend, not to inflame a situation further etc.
I have met a few old soldiers and I’ve never heard them boast about their experience under fire. In fact to hear them speak about it at all is very rare, but to hear of their conduct and courage in these situations was to listen to all that is best in man. Their selflessness, modesty courage and caution in the glare of the limelight would all fare badly in a career in politics or business. These are people I have spent some time with mucking about or drinking beers and many of them are capable of having great fun, and teasing those around them in a thoroughly amusing decent and open way. But put them in a situation were they have to be relied on and they stand as rocks beside you: their loyalty is beyond question.
I am a man who hates all game playing, posturing and self-importance so these men stand out as beacons of hope and selfless decency in a complex universe . Why we got involved in this war or that is often open to question. I have always thought the fight against Hitler was the one conflict where you could truly say it was the fight of good against evil. In many other battles the moral arguments are harder to devine but in these “peacekeeping” situations were ordinary men from the valleys or towns of our lands are thrust into a foreign conflict; and try to hold things together their unassuming courage and decency is truely breathtaking.
Baffled as I often am in the sight of some slithering courtier oiling himself up the food chain or some mindless airhead parading themselves around before they remembered to get dressed and driving off in a Bentley for their pains, to be reminded that such people as these soldiers exist is a refreshing and life affirming moment. They really are among the best of who we are