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Have our veterans been betrayed?

OPINION: Professor Bernard McGuirk say more support is needed for ex-service personnel who fought in the Falklands

08 November, 2018 — By Bernard McGuirk

War memorial in Stanley, Falkland Islands [Photo: john5199 flickr]

THE former paratrooper and Falklands veteran, Gus Hales, 62, has gone on hunger strike to launch his protest against the “disgraceful” lack of mental health care for ex-service personnel.

This weekend, when we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, we might reflect whether Gus and his comrades who fought for Queen and country have been “betrayed”.

“I am not scared of the cold,” Gus says. “There are veterans living rough on the streets tonight. It’s madness. I know 10 men I served alongside who have taken their lives since returning from the Falklands. More soldiers have taken their lives in this country than those who were killed in the conflict. This isn’t political. All governments have been the same and neglected us.”

I have worked for more than a decade for the International Consortium for the Study of Post-conflict Societies and not enough time has been spent on the 74-day conflict in heeding the constructive dialogues of the veterans who were on those frightening, noisy-beyond-imagination and violent, battlefields where the full range of small arms and light weapons – from the bayonet to the portable anti-tank gun, heavy mortars, mines, light tank cannon and guns artillery and naval gunfire support – were in constant use.

And the air-threat was ever present as they endured such hell.

I have striven to bring together former Argentinian enemies and their British opponents, knowing that they know little about each other.

Yet if reconciliation between two former warring factions might be a responsibility for politicians, a more urgent undertaking is frequently left to individual veterans. Anyone committed to pleading life-long health care for former service personnel will find inspiration in such as Gus Hales and many veterans’ unrelenting quest for personal reconstruction of a life.

All may grasp that to follow orders and to execute a given mission in war must be prioritised. Yet phantoms trapped in a veteran’s mind, post-conflict, betray not just that schooling whereby to show emotion in the military is a sign of weakness but also the failure to teach that it is possible to exorcise the demons of war by talking and writing about them.

The ratio of those killed in 1982 and those who have killed themselves since is estimated as one-to-one in the UK. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is chronic and often long term; it does not go away.

When next we encounter those hunched in our doorways, neither ought we.

Professor Bernard McGuirk is Director of the Centre for the Study of Post-Conflict Cultures, Nottingham University and author of Falklands-Malvinas: An Unfinished Business. He gave a talk last week at London University at the launch of a new book on Latin America by Grace Livingstone, Britain and the Dictatorships of Argentina and Chile, 1973-82.


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