I used to live in an army town, so I'm quite sympathetic to people in the forces. I saw good soldiers and bad soldiers, just like any other group of people; sure, there were scuffles down the pub on a Friday and Saturday night, but it was a fairly male-dominated environment and those things happened. I have a respect for anyone who does a dangerous job for a living, be they a policeman, a fireman, a coastguard or a soldier - they're there to protect the public, like most public servants they're badly paid, and they're often dropped like a stone by the state when injuries sustained in the line of duty mean they've outlived their 'usefulness'.
But I've never gone in for the 'our boys' crap. It's outdated, patronising and unrealistic. I can't be happy that 'our boys' have shot some soldiers, or 'insurgents', when it's in a foreign country they shouldn't be in in the first place, taking part in an illegal war that I don't agree with. I have sympathy for them of course. I know their predicament isn't of their own making in that they didn't choose to be placed in those exact situations; they're not responsible for the choices and acts of governments that place them in the line of fire: they're just there to do their job to the best of their abilities. But, that said, I can't cheer on 'our boys' just because they're British. My patriotism, such that it exists, is restricted to hoping they come home safely, with as little harm done to them or by them as possible. That's all I can do.
I read today about some RAF being told not to wear uniforms in Peterborough because of getting verbal abuse and it struck me as a bit odd. Surely learning to cope with verbal abuse is all part of the job? I know these are RAF types who might not necessarily be down on the ground, but still - it's understandable as a soldier that you will come up against people who might object to your presence when you're in a foreign land. That goes with the territory, so to speak. It's not pleasant, of course, but learning restraint would be, I would have thought, a good lesson.
It's unfortunate that wearing a uniform does single you out for abuse from some more tragic members of society - be it a traffic warden's uniform or a security guard's uniform, people see an authority figure and some will behave very strangely towards it. There are psychological reasons for this which needn't detain me here, things like child abuse and/or upbringing, but the fact is that if you wear a uniform, unfortunately you're a marked person in some people's eyes. It's not right, but it happens. It's a disgrace that anyone should suffer verbal abuse because of their uniform, be they a copper, a PCSO, a nurse or a firefighter - or a soldier. It shouldn't be allowed, and the police should get involved. I don't agree with automatically respecting authority figures, but that doesn't mean I can condone disrespect. They deserve the same respect as any stranger, any citizen.
Gordon Brown thinks differently. It's almost a charming naivety, if you believe he really believes what he says and isn't just pandering to the press and the more rabid elements who defend every action of 'our boys':
Gordon Brown has condemned reports that RAF personnel at a Cambridgeshire base were advised not to wear uniform in public for fear of verbal abuse.
He said armed forces members should be "encouraged to wear their uniform in public and have the respect and gratitude of the British people".
Easy for you to say, Gordy. I imagine you've never worn a uniform and been subject to the red-rag effect that has on certain people, who feel they can call you every name under the sun. Unfortunately, for some, a uniform does not provoke respect - this isn't the 1950s, no matter how much your chum Paul Dacre would like it to be. Society has, for better or ill, changed. If members of the forces would prefer to be in civvies to avoid idiots targeting them, then why not?
I think it's the word 'gratitude' that makes me shake my head when I hear Brown say it. I know that the forces risk their lives to protect the public. Like I said earlier, so do the police, firefighters etc, all of whom get their unfair share of stick from drunken idiots, thugs and scumbags - but no gratitude is expected to be shown towards them. I have an idea that people might have more 'gratitude' towards the forces if their primary role really was defensive, rather than advancing a highly unpopular US foreign policy agenda in the Middle East and elsewhere which has killed thousands of innocent civilians and threatens to kill many more. Again, let me make it clear: I am not blaming the soldiers for this. They don't deserve disrespect. They didn't decide to create a concentration camp at Guantanamo. They didn't decide to torture 'suspects' on the basis of no evidence. But I'm not so sure they deserve my gratitude for doing their jobs, at least not any more so than other public servants who do a dangerous job and get very little pay for it.
I am being a little more careful with what I say than usual, because what I have to say next might be taken out of context unless I approach it this way. Please bear in mind what I've already said.
Because, I am afraid, there is as usual another agenda at work. I was listening on the radio earlier and the BBC had voxpopped a couple of citizens who said something along the lines of it was only Muslims who were abusing the soldiers. And my heart sank. Why must an anti-Muslim agenda be dragged into every single bloody thing in this country? Is there nothing that people won't twist to fit their campaign? If Muslims are abusing soldiers - and, let's remember, no complaints have ever been made to police as far as I'm aware, and the evidence for these incidents is at best apocryphal - then are they even representative of Muslims in general? Is there a problem or is this being blown out of proportion to serve another agenda?
As ever, BBC Have Your (Reactionary) Say commenters are clear on the matter. It's those pesky Muslims!
Would these taunters be of a certain religious following? And that because of "political correctness" or the "fear of upsetting them" no-one will say who they really are. I thought the BBC was strong and fair and ready to report the facts. Let us know who they are so that we the British public can stand up aginst these people and defend our Armed Forces, because no-one else will.
[adjl21], Portsmouth, United Kingdom
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Do you know, I think our armed forces can defend themselves. Isn't that, you know, kind of the point? But I do agree on one thing - let's have this out in the open. If there are documented cases that have been brought to the police, that's one thing. Rumour, suspicion and finger-pointing is quite another. What is the truth here?
So servicemen and women must hide their uniforms in the UK whilst the dresscode of other ethnic groups however offensive to the local population must be tolerated under pain of the race laws.
Those responsible for the abuse of servicepeople should be tracked down and punished with those who are newly arrived or foreign nationals expelled without appeal.
What sort of country have we become?
Ian Baildon, Bradford, United Kingdom
What kind of 'ethnic dresscode' is 'offensive' to anyone? Does he mean the niqab or hidjab? Are they really 'offensive' to anyone? Really? I don't find any dresscode offensive. People can wear Combat 18 t-shirts as far as I'm concerned. That's being a free society. No-one is banning these uniforms, it's just advice. It's up to the service personnel themselves to use their discretion.
Whilst I am utterly opposed to military action in Iraq and concerned by actions in Afghanistan I am fully aware that these brave individuals are not the ones who declared war. If you are anti war and feel the need to sling insults then at least direct them at Westminster where they belong.
Mark Topper, London, United Kingdom
I agree with this comment in the main. That's a fair enough view.
I hope there is a detailed investigation into exactly "which members of the public" have been hurling abuse, seeing as Peterborough and surrounding areas have been swamped by migrants.
'Swamped by migrants'. I see that phrase so often nowadays. It's always complete and utter bullshit.
I am Muslim and of Iraqi background. I have all the respect to the armed forces and will salute them if I see them in the public. I encourage my children to look at these people's achievements. People should separate between politician who probably took the wrong decisions in the past and the armed forces who are possibly the best professional army in the world
Well, some fair comments in there. I just wish that these stories wouldn't be hijacked by the usual suspects, trying to make a point based on no evidence other than their own prejudices. I just wish we could talk about these things honestly and openly. But sometimes that seems as far away as ever.