Wednesday, 10 February 2010

The parcel is the message

The government's National Recognition Study was designed to inspire the public to show their support for our Armed Forces and to rebuild the fractured links between the people and the military.

In that aim the project has been very successful - thousands turning out to welcome the guys home, approval ratings for the military shooting up, public awareness raised and shoebox collections taking place across the country.

One successful outcome from the scheme (certainly not envisaged by the originators of the Study) has been that increased public awareness has brought greater pressure on the government to correct its lamentable failings and to start providing the troops with better equipment, care, housing, etc.

However, in one way the scheme has also been the victim of its own success. The outflowing of public support for the guys on the frontline manifested in the sending out of loads of morale parcels led to bottlenecks in the Forces' postal service over the Christmas period.

The MoD is therefore now seeking to dampen down this sponaneous public enthusiasm by institutionalising the whole thing. Instead of an individual citizen collecting together a few goodies to send out to a soldier in Afghanistan so that they can show their personal support and appreciation, perhaps also sending along a personal message to boost morale, the MoD is asking that people should in future just send money to its Operational Welfare Fund so that they can manage and control the giving process.

However, sending a parcel is not really about "welfare"; supplying the guys with the right food, drink, washing kit, etc is the Army's job. Sending out a parcel is about "connection" - it's a direct, personal link between someone back home with someone on the frontline. It can also serve to bond a local regiment with its local community. I think the Beatles had some lyrics along the lines of "what I say is meaningless, but I say it just to reach you" or to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan "the parcel is the message". Prince Harry said: “I can tell you first hand what a difference [receiving a parcel] makes. It’s not just what’s inside that counts, it’s also the knowledge people are thinking of you back home.”

By de-personalising things, by effectively getting the public to outsource their commitment to the troops, the MoD is taking away the point of it all. They need to come up with a better solution.

MoD: Operational Welfare Fund