Cristina Odone worries about the boys at the front
Out there in the Gulf, our boys can't phone either their lawyers or their therapists
Spare a thought for the boys at the front. While we sit here playing armchair generals, British troops stand baking in the desert sun, reading demoralising reports of millions marching, and a minister threatening to resign, to protest the war that they're about to engage in.
Some of the soldiers have been in the Gulf for more than a month, waiting for D-Day. Thousands, as the Ministry of Defence has had to admit, are still without proper boots or desert clothing. Many have been issued faulty tank radios and ill-fitting chemical and biological protection suits. And, among the Royal Marines, toilet rolls are so scarce that the Sun teamed up with Tesco to send out a plane load.
Throughout this pre-war comedy of terrors (will my underpants be soiled? Will I starve to death if I can't get my family to smuggle me some Pot Noodles?) the soldiers have displayed a remarkable stoicism - the kind of stiff upper lip the rest of our culture seems to disdain. While retired generals send irate missives to the dailies, decrying the way politicians can't provide our boys with the necessary tools of war, the troops keep mum. (OK, a few have written to Mum to complain about the rotten food and the unbearable tension, but they're the exception.)
What an example they set. Their Boy Scout spirit - all for one, one for all - flies in the face of our me-first mentality. Their stoicism before adversity runs counter to our self-indulgent, whingeing culture, where the first setback (a reprimand from the boss, a slight from our partner, a road rage incident) sees us reaching for the phone to ring 1) our therapist for comfort; 2) our lawyer to sue; or 3) the Priory, to book ourselves in for some nerve-soothing group confessionals.
Soldiers even today cannot afford any such luxury: regardless of the pressures, they must bear the abuse, the bullets and the bombs. And so onward they march, like the brave lads in the Henry Newbolt poem: "The sand of the desert is sodden red,/ . . . And the regiment blind with dust and smoke./The river of death has brimmed his banks,/And England's far, and Honour's a name,/But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks:/ 'Play up! play up! and play the game!'"
These young people in uniform may prove the only good thing about the war. They have unearthed a mould we thought had been broken and lost for ever: the stiff-upper-lipped Brit.