Viewpoint: 'I lost my son in Iraq – we all need to question arms sales'
Fourteen years have now elapsed since my 21-year-old son Alex bled out in a Basra field hospital.
Over that length of time I have often wondered about the value of the life of my son. To be honest it seems to me to have counted for very little. the world has moved on but it has learned nothing. As for the UK, we are the second-biggest arms dealer on the planet. Vast fortunes are made, where does all that money go?
The question is often asked as to whether we actually require armed services, sadly, the answer to that has to be yes. The world is too unstable for any other realistic answer.
Thing is, if we are to have armed services then we are inevitably going to have fatalities. I can tell you from the heart that once your child is in the ground there is no support out there. There were times for me when the abyss was calling, picking up the phone and being told you can be seen in 12 weeks was shocking. I would imagine that things are far worse now. Other conflicts are nearing, it will happen again.
The UK public likes to think that being silent for two minutes once a year is enough. The regular Nov 11th PC street theatre has become polluted with disrespectful and cheap political statements. The ‘guest of honour’ choosing to wear his poppy of a non-red colour during the silence said it all, really. That same individual once told me that “he knows more about the war dead than me”. I actually hope he does not.
The reasons why young folk choose to join up are glaringly obvious. There is not much else for them, is there? Working for NMW in a takeaway or chasing their tail in a warehouse, it is my firm belief that recruitment numbers would fall dramatically if youngsters were provided with reasonable alternatives. Surely this could happen?
I campaigned a lot for minimum standards of care for militarily bereaved parents, it got as far as an Early Day Motion and quietly fizzled out. This was triggered by an NHS manager telling me: “You can have one day’s carer’s leave for your son’s funeral and we don't have to give you that", this could happen again tomorrow. Fact is, you soon latch on to the harsh reality that everyone will say warm words and then do nothing.
Coping is a complicated experience. You learn to adapt to the load. When people in the street stop you and say warm things it means a whole lot, however you also have to learn to make allowances for those who say “other” things. Most folk are altruistic, it is a case of realising that they all don't know what it is like. Anyone who has lost a child in this way will be different from that point on. Over time one’s focus moves to just fitting in with everybody else. You become glad of anonymity. Even after all these years people still come up and ask me how I am getting on. It fetches a smile nowadays. All those important people I met, MPs, ex-PMs, senior military officers, the media, church leaders etc, it has actually been the unknown ones in the street who have made the positive difference. A smile and a genuine word of encouragement really does go a very long way. For this I thank all of you.
Plato said “Only the dead have seen the end of war”, sadly that remains so very very true. Will a day ever arrive when the world is completely conflict free? I would ask the public to become at least vocal in asking why the UK is so efficient at designing and selling WMDs and where the profits go, whilst people freeze to death on our streets.
Weapons made in the UK are currently being used in the Yemen, I am certain that the bulk of the UK public are unaware of this. Hearing voices raised would be very pleasing to me and all those in my position. Opposing war is not much to ask, is it?
*In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.