After the short-lived Defence Secretary John Reid wrote a sanctimonious letter to journalists explaining, as if to toddlers, that British troops were merely peacekeepers, we have rapidly reached a chaotic situation where Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the British Army, cautions that it can 'only just' cope.
One of the few former soldiers in parliament, Sir Peter Tapsell, adds: 'We couldn't do this job if we had a hundred thousand men there.'
The Prime Minister's response is to put on a sober tie and speak of 'standing firm', as if he was quelling a Cabinet-room squabble. He also coos about our 'capable, committed and dedicated Armed Forces'. So does Mr Brown. Yet note this: neither pays much attention to the treatment of those forces. It has taken Sir Richard to remind us that the military were never brought under minimum wage legislation, and that private soldiers risking death daily in our theatres of war often earn half of that minimum. He spells it out: a man with a year's training, engaged in Helmand, is taking (or more likely sending) home £1,10 a month. "Is that fair?"
Our soldiers abroad pay tax - unlike US servicemen, and unlike those Revenue-dodging offshore businessmen so dear to party fundraisers. A newly qualified squaddie facing suicide bombers, snipers and rockets round the clock earns two thirds of a British policeman's wage; in a combat zone the 16-hour watches give an hourly rate of £2.45 and in Helmand, getting off duty after 16 hours is often a pipe dream anyway - fighting goes on for days. After Reid gaily said that they could leave "without a shot fired", and beetled off to insult the Home Office, they are fighting a confused war in the hardest conditions possible. On peanuts. Even the separation allowance of £6 a day only kicks in after 12 months. Oh, and they pay council tax on their barracks rooms back in Britain.
No one ever remembers the name,
Of another proud man left out in the rain,
And no one ever needs him,
till they need him again.