Living in a military community I often see the bumper sticker “If you don’t stand behind our troops, feel free to stand in front of them”. I can understand the sentiment. When you identify strongly with the military, either serving, retired, or connected to a military member in some way, it’s easy to feel protective when others question the cause. But these bumper stickers also make me uneasy. It’s a short step beyond that kind of protective instinct to jingoism and simplistic “my country right or wrong” patriotism.

In Canada the media is, I find, generally balanced and careful in its handling of the debate on the future of the Afghan mission. In the UK, with it’s famous rough and tumble politics, that debate is much sharper, especially as the Brits are talking about deepening their Afghan mission whereas we’ve sad we’re done in 2011. This piece in the Independent by British soldier and author Doug Beattie raises interesting and thoughtful questions about the impact of political debate at home on the soldier in the field.

“But what effect does this negativity have on the soldier getting ready to go to Afghanistan, and what effect does it have on the soldier living, fighting and working in Helmand on a day-to-day basis? “An unwinnable war,” say some. “A price not worth paying,” say others. “The military presence is making the whole situation in Afghanistan far worse.”

These are all headlines the soldier can’t understand, doesn’t agree with and makes him feel that his efforts in Afghanistan are both misunderstood and not valued. The soldiers’ voice remains silent, as those who have never been in Helmand give their analysis of how the campaign is developing and how badly we are doing.

In the isolated patrol bases, news reaches the men and women only sporadically. Newspapers, usually at least five to seven days old, carry the headlines of opinion polls saying troops should be pulled out, or that the Afghan people don’t want us there. Numerous interviews with MPs seem to use the military as some kind of political football, in an attempt to either attack the Government or defend it. In doing so, they undermine the very men they are trying to support.”

Read the whole piece here.