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Send in the troops

There comes a moment in every national emergency/crisis/brouhaha/mild inconvenience/storm in a teacup that someone, somewhere in the offices of a national newspaper will float that idea that it's time for the Army to be sent in to sort out the floods/pandemic/lack of toilet roll/desperate shortage of Peanut Butter Kitkats.

The idea is generally most loudly trumpeted/suggested/threatened by the sorts of papers that still haven't quite got over the fact that WW2 is no, longer happening, viz. most of them, and is often enthusiastically taken up by the sort of junior minister who has ambition which, shall we say, over-matches their actual ability. Send in the troops, that'll sort out whatever this is.

And so, with crushing inevitability, there are calls for the army to plug the gap left by the shortage of HGV drivers, because there is no policy failure which can't be instantly solved by the arrival of the boys in camouflage gear. I've never understood this. Requiring the military to intervene in domestic crises is basically waving a great big flag saying "we've failed, our ability to plan is atrocious, please come and rescue us". As such, I'm always amazed that it's floated so readily as an option.

Except that there is, as I've probably noted before but can't be arsed finding, a little part of the British psyche which rather likes the idea of troops on the streets. Ooh, guns. Tell us what to do. Bark orders at us, we love it. There is also, as observed above, a distressing inability to get over WW2, understandable, as it's probably the last time we were relevant as a nation, but tedious nonetheless.

I should, at this point, note that I am in no sense anti-military (apart from the killing people part, fairly anti-that). I've a lot of respect for the forces, indeed, I have a lot of relatives in the various services. And yes, it must be beguiling for a journo or politico to fantasise about the highly competent, highly organised Royal Logistics Corps coming in and cleaning up their mess, but the very idea they should have to do so is a damning indictment.

This is not a military state. It's a civil state that maintains a military for defence (and the odd misguided attempt at global policing which always ends in tears). We don't have troops on the street because troops on the street is a sign that normal life has broken down. It is a sign that civil systems have failed. We have a shortage of HGV drivers due to a combination of working conditions, Covid and Brexit, that's not the Army's fault, it's the fault of a series of disastrous policy decisions taken by the worst government in living memory.

What more would you have the Army do? Pick the fruit and veg that's rotting in the fields? Man the abattoirs that are short-staffed because nobody wants to work in them? Perhaps the RAF could carpet bomb herds of cows? I've got a few old appliances I need a hand shifting, can you send a couple of Grenadier Guards?

We have an HGV driver crisis because HGV drivers have been treated like shit for years. And the Government's response was to relax the rules so the ones left working can (have to) work longer. We have a driver shortage because we have become a society used to everything available at all times, and next day delivery for nothing at all. We place no value on delivery, we outsource our convenience to companies who are locked in a race to the bottom. There's nothing the Army can do to fix that.


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