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Every Remembrance Day English-speaking journalists across the planet wrack their minds to think of some fresh angle for their stories. In recent years the task has become easier because there is a new crop of dead and injured thanks to the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Every bright young thing journalist these days thinks they are the first to come up with a story idea about the unseen wounded - those suffering psychiatric trauma. Sadly, the stories produced are often superficial, patronizing, cliched and ill-informed. Not every soldier comes back from the wars with mental health issues. Some people cope better than others. Many journalists these days actually pressure soldiers to admit they have been traumatised and treat them as brutish freaks when they won't play ball. I'm sure some of the journalists, though not all, think they are helping in some way by giving soldiers the chance to talk about their true feelings. But sometimes the badgering can push someone over the edge and take them to places they would never have gone if they had been left alone. I can't help noticing that journalists who have actually been on the frontlines themselves seldom indulge in this sob-sister approach. Let's leave these matters to the professionals. But let's make sure that professional help is available for those who do actually need it. 

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What is it they used to say: lies, damned lies and statistics? I'm afraid I often take claims from the police that crime is down with a pinch of salt. One of the reasons for this is that the police forces which make this claim often appear to have little-to-no interest in tackling ordinary everyday crime. The police can't be everywhere, so when you phone in a crime in progress, say guys stealing tools from a building site, and are told "thanks, but we've no cars free at the moment" that maybe shouldn't be a surprise. Then the surprise comes in the shape of walking around the next corner and seeing two cops sitting in their car stuffing their faces with doughnuts. I guess what the guy in the police control room meant to say was "Sorry, it's doughnut time and that has to get priority over doing what we are paid for". If only that had been an isolated incident. Sadly, very far from it. So, when police claim that certain crimes are down, I wonder if they really mean is that reports of those crimes are down. Of course people are going to stop reporting crimes when they find out that they are wasting their time. So, we end up with a situation in which the worst police forces can actually be made to look like the most efficient.

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There's now a campaign afoot here in Canada to put the names of soldiers who kill themselves on war memorials. The argument is that they had all suffered psychological wounds as a result of their military service that led them to take their own lives. That seems to me rather a sweeping, not say patronizing, generalisation. The statistics suggest that some of them would probably have killed themselves no matter what their job had been. Suicide is the leading cause of death in England and Wales for males aged 20 to 34. Overall, men are three times as likely to kill themselves as women.  And what about the other victims of combat; the service personnel who take years to die from their injuries? Thanks to massive improvements in the medical treatment, hospital wards have many soldiers in them who 20 years ago would have died from their injuries. Governments keen to keep down the body count from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan put a lot of money into keeping these people breathing. But I wonder now that most of the NATO troops have been withdrawn whether the plugs will now be pulled. War memorials are never comprehensive lists of a community's fallen. Names are always missed out for one reason or another. There are undoubtedly soldiers and former soldiers who do kill themselves for reasons connected with their service. There are others, particularly younger blokes, who simply fail to make the transition from military life to the demands of adult life on civvie street. There is a difference between a dead soldier and a military victim of war. The subject is complex and separating the sheep from the goats is time consuming and, almost certainly, expensive. Perhaps the money would be better spent protecting and restoring mental health amongst service personnel.

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I was going to write about how lies are always found out. That notion was based on my time as a media advisor to the provincial cabinet in Saskatchewan. The basic rule of thumb was that lying was verbotten. The truth will always come out in the end and telling lies and attempted cover-ups only make things worse. Someone will always have a fit of conscience and blab. Or someone to protect their own hide will blow the whistle. Or, just once a while, someone will tell the truth because it's the right thing to do. I'd been reminded of my days in Saskatchewan when I found out that someone hadn't got the memo, or decided to ignore it, about the cover-up surrounding former SAS man Royal Farran's murder of a Jewish teenager in Palestine in 1947 and kept details of his confession to his boss on file. I bet there were some deep sighs of relief when that boss refused to appear in court and Farran's written confession was ruled inadmissible as evidence on a highly dubious legal technicality. But then I found out that the cover-up over who ordered the 1948 Batang Kali Massacre in Malaya is to continue. The United Kingdom's Supreme Court ruled that Her Majesty's Government cannot be forced to order a public inquiry into why a Scots Guards patrol murdered 24 ethnic Chinese rubber plantation workers. And that Government has lied from Day One and obstructed police investigations into the killings. So, what blame there is dumped on the squaddies and their sergeants. No sensible person can believe the 24 executions were carried out on the initiative of a sergeant. That the sergeant usually identified as being the prime mover at the scene of the massacre was eventually made a Regimental Sergeant Major raises a whole new raft of questions. All we can hope is that some civil servant filed the truth away in a file that now lies waiting for public inspection at the National Archives. Too much to hope; probably.

See Batang Kali Revisited

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So, the United Kingdom's Supreme Court believes that members of the Scots Guards did murder 24 ethnic Chinese rubber plantation workers in 1948 in Malaya. But the law as it stands does not demand a public inquiry, the judges announced with apparent regret. Crocodile tears? Certainly, there may well be a couple of people alive today breathing a bit easier. As things stand, the blame is focused on the squaddies who rounded up the male workers at the Batang Kali rubber plantation and them executed them in cold blood. The claim that they were all killed while trying to escape never really held water. No wounded? Unlikely. Then a couple of the squaddies  told a national newspaper in 1969 that there had indeed been a massacre at Batang Kali. Scotland Yard was called in but its detectives were ordered to shut down their inquiry by an incoming Tory government. Only the most gullible would believe that the Guardsmen were not acting under orders of some kind. Just what those orders were, why they were issued and who was involved in the cover-up of the massacre afterwards remain a state secret. That makes it easier for those who want to point the finger at all British people as being evil to do so. It is a price the British Government is prepared to pay. Why?

See Batang Kali Revisited

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