Many might feel that our involvement in many recent conflicts has not been in the defence of Britain at all; instead getting involved in other people's wars for material gain.
Yet, when you look back at our martial history, there have been surprisingly few conflicts that we've actually entered because we've been directly attacked. We declared war in the two World Wars in defence of Belgium and Poland respectively, certainly not being successful in the latter case as Poland spent almost fifty years under foreign control. In fact, we could have stayed out of both conflicts and remained independent.
What kind of nation would we be though if we did that? Certainly not as respected as we are. In fact, not entering the Second World War would mean that Hitler could have dominated Europe and be in a greater position to attack us.
I think Rudyard Kipling summed it up perfectly in his poem Dane-Geld:
It is always a temptation to an armed and agile nation To call upon a neighbour and to say: -- "We invaded you last night--we are quite prepared to fight, Unless you pay us cash to go away." And that is called asking for Dane-geld, And the people who ask it explain That you've only to pay 'em the Dane-geld And then you'll get rid of the Dane! It is always a temptation for a rich and lazy nation, To puff and look important and to say: -- "Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you. We will therefore pay you cash to go away." And that is called paying the Dane-geld; But we've proved it again and again, That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld You never get rid of the Dane. It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation, For fear they should succumb and go astray; So when you are requested to pay up or be molested, You will find it better policy to say: -- "We never pay any-one Dane-geld, No matter how trifling the cost; For the end of that game is oppression and shame, And the nation that pays it is lost!"
Our servicemen and women have not put their lives on the line for their country - they have put their lives on the line for something greater; the principle that people should be free to determine their own destinies, rather than dictated by strongmen. For that, I thank them.