Damned if you do; honouring the fallen

Spelling counts

PM Gordon Brown has been at the centre of a penmanship furore.  Apparently it’s his practice to write to the families of British soldierswho fall in the line of duty.  The mother of  Jamie Janes, killed in Afghanistan, received such a letter from Mr Brown.

She wasn’t too happy.

In the hand written  letter, it looks like she’s being addressed as James.  This must be a common misspelling of her name, and one she’s fairly sensitive too.    Brown claims that it was his handwriting what’s to blame, or perhaps his poor eyesight.   Maybe or maybe not.   It looks like James to me, but it’s possible that’s just the way Gordon Brown forms his Ns.

The slain boy’s name was also scrawled a little messily, and although Mrs. Janes claims that it’s misspelled, I don’t think it is.

When Downing Street apologised, they made the classic mistake of  apologising for any hurt if she felt mistakes had been made.  The classic non-apology – we’re sorry if you felt that our excellent service failed to meet your over-exacting standards.   Blech…I’ve received those kinds of apologies, and they just make you angrier.

A colleague/acquaintance was defending Gordon Brown and suggesting that the mother was politically motivated, as when Brown phoned to issue another non-apology she had a go at him about resourcing the troops and the lack of helicopters in the Afghan theatre.

I’m not sure.  I’m not really willing to criticise a mother who’s lost her son.  And frankly, why shouldn’t she be political?  She clearly has bears a greater burden than most for the Afghan war policy and with another of her children still serving in the military she has a continuing interest in the proper resourcing of the military.

Gordon Brown’s handwriting may be messy and handwritten notes are the least he can do – but from where I stand I wouldn’t criticise him for the letter he sent (I cannot say that I wouldn’t have reacted angrily to it if it were my own son).   Mrs Janes criticism on that may not be fair, but as she’s lost her son and the buck stops with Gordon, he’s just going to have to suck it up.   Her criticism of the way the operation is being conducted is entirely fair, as Chancellor he was responsible for the budget and as PM he takes overall responsibility.

Captured moments in the fields of remembrance

Conservative leader (the opposition) David Cameron this morning receives criticism for taking publicity shots in the Field of Remembrance.  The Field of Remembrance is a central place for small poppy markers remembering the dead.  It’s a really special place a temporary memorial at Westminster Abbey, and I usually try to make a visit there every year around the time of Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day (Veterans’ Day in the US).

Cameron is a PR professional, so I have no doubt that he’s fully aware of the positive publicity potential for being shown honouring the fallen of war.  But the criticism seems slightly unfair on several counts.

In The Mirror it’s reported:

Mr Cameron had clearly been instructed on how to behave and moved briskly from pose to pose, often bending down to read the names on crosses as he was snapped.

Actually, you don’t have to be instructed to do that at all. In my several visits to the area over the years, that’s just the kind of thing that many people do and which I have done myself.

There does seem to be some criticism about the behavior of the photographer himself – that he was ‘barking’ orders. If that’s the case, that’s shameful – it’s a place of largely quiet contemplation. Not library quiet, as it’s in an outdoor area. But within the area of the memorial itself people are reflecting and when they converse its sotto voce or at the most normal conversational levels.

But the core of the criticism seems to be the fact that pictures were taken at all.

The Field of Rembrance is located in a high density photographic area, it’s in the grounds of Westminster Abbey, it’s  literally across the street from the Palce of Westminster and the Big Ben clock tower.   When I visited this past Saturday, I noticed – in contrast to the first time I visited – that a significant portion of visitors had digital camers in hand and were taking pictures.

I thought even then that things have changed with the advent of digital and the affordability of digital cameras.  Now the experience has to be recorded, shared, perhaps even published online or it’s as if it didn’t happen.  An unshared memory of an experience is not enough any more.  I don’t think that’s a bad thing either , as I certainly took pictures, too.

The American section

 

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