Medal News

Volume 40, Number 2, February 2002

Gallantry Still wins

Volume 40, Number 2, February 2002

According to recent press reports at least two, possibly four, members of the British Special Air Service fighting the Taliban and Al-Quaeda forces in Afghanistan are being considered for the Award of the Victoria Cross. If awarded these will be the first VCs awarded for 20 years (the last being posthumous awards to Col. 'H' Jones and Sgt Ian Mckay in the Falklands conflict in 1982) and the first to living recipients for nearly 40 years. After the Gulf War it had been mooted by certain sections of the press that in today’s warfare situations, with modern technology and long-range weaponry ensuring that much of the “groundwork” is done before actual human soldiers ever engage the enemy, it was unlikely that a Victoria Cross would ever be awarded again – there being fewer and fewer incidents where the sort of bravery required to earn the Cross taking place on the modern battlefield. To a certain extent this was an understandable position to take, anyone who saw images of the laser-guided missiles destroying bridges, gun-emplacements and Iraqi strongholds during the 1991 conflict or the B-52 bombardment of Taliban Positions in the recent war could be forgiven for thinking that modern warfare is war “at a distance” with “our boys” only going in at the end to mop up. Certainly the risks on today’s battlefield are very different, gone are the days when our soldiers have had to stand face to face with hoards of screaming Zulus or Sudanese not firing until they saw the whites of their eyes, gone are the cavalry charges against Russian guns and gone are the short range Naval battles that allowed Britannia to rule the waves. But just because these things are no longer with us, just because the wars waged in the twenty-first century are very different from those of the nineteenth does not mean that the bravery of the soldiers engaged in them is any less. Certainly long-range weaponry does allow for less use of ground troops but that can only be a good thing, no-one wants to go back to the days when the average foot-soldier was simply there as cannon fodder for the enemy to waste their shot on, but it must be remembered that no matter how many missiles are employed, however many high-altitude bombardments occur there is always a place for ground troops and, as soon as they go in, the risks they face are very, very real and whilst they are far more highly equipped than their Victorian counterparts they are not immortal, not bullet-proof and everyone of them who engages the enemy puts his life on the line. This being the case there is no reason why, in the wars of the 2000s, the criteria for the award of a Victoria Cross should not be met as assuredly as they were first met nearly 150 years ago. Indeed the argument could well be turned around and it might be said that if these Crosses are forthcoming then the men to whom they are awarded might well be far braver than any nineteenth century soldier similarly thus decorated, after all if even with all the long-range back up, modern training, modern weaponry etc they are still put in a position where valour enough to win the VC is necessary then that position must have been very tight indeed.

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