By Julian Lindley-French
Does Britain need Armed Forces Day? Years ago I was sleepless in Seattle having just flown in from Europe. I flicked on early morning TV and was greeted with a very American spectacle: an F-15 flying down the Grand Canyon against the ghostly backdrop of the stars and stripes and the US Army choir singing “Star-Spangled Banner”. It all seemed so, well, American and I could not for a moment imagine such on-yer-sleeve patriotism ever catching on in Britain.
On 30 June, Britain will celebrate Armed Forces Day, “…to raise public awareness of the contribution made to our country by those who serve and have served in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces…and to [give] the nation an opportunity to Show Your Support for the men and women who make up the Armed Forces community: from currently serving troops to Service families and from veterans to cadets.”
As someone who works closely with the British armed forces my allegiance is also perhaps on-my-sleeve. I have a huge respect for the Armed Forces community, the way they do their job, and the sacrifices they make, but I am not an unquestioning supporter. They could do an awful lot of things an awful lot better.
In fact Armed Forces Day is also about Britain today. When I watched that F-15 years ago, Britain had yet to face hyper-immigration, Scottish secession, loss of sovereignty to Brussels, and the profound loss of respect in national institutions and leaders consequent of all of the above. Back then, there was an unspoken belief that British society was still cohesive enough not to need the kind of ‘melting pot’ patriotism of the Americans. ‘God(s), Queen and Country’ albeit tattered was still seen as sufficient in and of itself. No longer.
Armed Forces Day and Help for Heroes thus represent a cri de coeur from a large segment of the British population who no longer believe political leaders listen to them or represent their concerns about change. The British military is perhaps the one institution of state in which people can still believe. They believe themselves to be denied patriotism by the politically-correct elite and here is one occasion when it can be expressed without the usual suspects citing xenophobia, a little Englander approach, or even racism.
However, Armed Forces Day must also be protected against such tendencies by remaining true to it is mission; to celebrate the work on behalf of all us by members of the British armed forces from all colours, creeds, and persuasions.
Britain today has its own society. There is no point in wallowing in nostalgia and Armed Forces Day must not become an excuse for that. There is still much to celebrate about Britain and I for one will be there on 30 June. Does Britain need Armed Forces Day? The answer is most definitely yes because the men and women of the armed forces have earned it.
Julian Lindley-French is Eisenhower Professor of Defence Strategy at the Netherlands Defence Academy, a member of the Strategic Advisors Group of the Atlantic Council of the United States in Washington, and a member of the Strategic Advisors Panel of the UK Chief of Defence Staff. Lindley-French is co-editor of The Oxford Handbook of War, which published this year.