On 4th May 1999 an aircraft took off from the capital and started to climb. It slowly circled the limits of the city, eventually reaching the upper twenty thousands of feet altitude. It continued to orbit, searching, defending its land. For that is what its role was, to defend the homeland. A singleton aircraft, on its own, with a single pilot, bravely loitering above the capital city.
Another aircraft, capable of analysing the air battle, was orbiting hundreds of miles away. Through its avionics, the system detected this lone aircraft but the aircrew onboard were unable to identify it. It certainly wasn’t one of ‘our’ aircraft….so it must be from the other side. The aircrew had a long list of criteria to ensure that a prosecution, a successful attack on the aircraft, could be made. It satisfied these requirements.
I know. I was one of the aircrew.
We called on the radio, the fighter aircraft turned, the radar locked up the target and the missile was launched. Seconds later, felt that minutes, we heard the call “fireball, kill” together with the call sign of fighter aircraft, as it turned for homebase.
We hear a lot about bravery, but who was brave here? The fighter pilot for successfully prosecuting a target aircraft? the pilot of the lone aircraft circling its home capital? or even the aircrew on board the platform loitering for 8+ hours to detect any rogue aircraft?
I know that two of the three received a medal for their work.
Today we will mark, remember, those who have died in World War One, and of course successive wars that followed. I have served in conflicts in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, whilst also previously operating in the Falkland Islands post that war. I have flown with mates who have died in conflict, worked with Squadrons who have lost aircrew in tragic circumstances. I am not aware of those who have died on the ‘other side’.
What is this ‘other side’?
We were both defending our cause, our ‘homeland’, albeit it was not ours in the first place and it was there’s. We were part of the military and were ‘doing our duty’. We were fighting in a conflict which the politicians had been unable to resolve.
The First World War was ‘the war to end all wars’, according to H G Wells in 1914. It was Woodrow Wilson three years later who reiterated that phrase and also declared that it would “make the world safe for democracy” *1.
Oh if it had done.
Our military spending still dwarves many other countries expenditure on vital infrastructure and on 5th November 2018 we are told that there is a £7B ‘black hole’, potentially £14.8B, *2 in the current defence spending. Yet on Remembrance Day we will look back and note the tragic and continued loss of life we have experienced, that loved one and families have had to bear, because we have not made that statement “the war to end all wars” our focus. It remains a political aspiration, one that can waver if votes are needed, such as with one national leader recently tearing up a non-prolification nuclear treaty with the Russians and advocating spending more money on military hardware, despite having increased the deficit since coming into power.
There is some talk this year over whether it is acceptable to wear a red and/or white poppy. The MP Johnny Mercer has been outspoken in declaring that those who wear a white poppy are just attention seekers. *3 That remark is saddening given the origins of the white poppy back in 1933, just 12 years after the first red poppy. The white poppy remembered those remaining family members who were struggling to survive. Both poppies tell a story of tragic loss, together they combine to recalll that war doesn’t affect the soldier, the airman, the sailor, the marine but the family who has to try to come to terms with that loss and continue to survive.
Perhaps this year, at the centenary of the end of the WW1 we may wish to stop arguing over whether it is a red or white poppy, whether we should continue to hold such ceremonies and possibly consider that phrase “the war to end all wars” – how many more do we need to experience before we do something about it and work to achieve that aspiration, that hope?
*1 https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2017/04/04/world-war-i-quotes/100031552/, last accessed on 5 November 2018.
*2 https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/defence-budget-has-7bn-black-hole-national-audit-office-warns-mw9rn6fhn, last accessed on 5 November 2018.
*3 https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/10/25/people-wear-white-poppies-attention-seekers-hijacking-symbol/, last accessed on 5 November 2018.