Whatever our thoughts on the rights and wrongs of going to war against Saddam Hussein, it is now time to stop the arguments and protests.

We must burn the Stop the War T-shirts and destroy the Not in my Name banners.

No more parading through the streets, no more playing truant from school.

And, of those thousands of children skipping school, many were just ill-disciplined brats.

Throwing bricks and coins at police and council officials as they did in Birmingham can never be an acceptable form of protest. They were just enjoying making mayhem.

Now our forces are in the appalling conditions of the Iraqi desert, risking their lives on our behalf, coping with the horrors of 21st Century warfare.

They are our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, some of them only 18 years old.

In an ideal world, they would still be studying or starting careers, playing sport, clubbing, cinema or theatregoing, developing relationships and starting families.

But this is not an ideal world. They have a very nasty, very dangerous job to do.

The last thing these courageous young fighters need as they plunge into the hell of war is to hear people at home are still protesting about them being in Iraq, still arguing the toss about whether or not the war is even legal.

For the parents waiting at home, dreading the news their children have been captured, injured or even killed, it must be a galling experience to know even now, there are still so many who refuse to give our forces their moral support.

Those who are still strutting the streets, shouting their anti-war slogans should be reminded of their certain fate if they were in Baghdad protesting against Saddam.

At best they would be arrested and shot. Infinitely worse, they could be taken to the torture chambers and lowered slowly, feet first, into an industrial meat mincer.

Yes, we are lucky enough to live in a democracy. Yes, of course, we can publicly voice our objections or our support for war without fear of reprisal.

Yes, we can praise or sneer at our Prime Minister for the quality of his leadership, for the direction in which he is leading us.

But now the war has started, self-indulgent protest should stop.

At the very least, we should be able to reassure our soldiers they are out there risking their lives with our absolute, 100 per cent moral support. Anything less is unthinkable.

Accepting that responsibility is surely what democracy is all about.

It is worth remembering when America was fighting in Vietnam 30 years ago, the persistent protests, the vilification of soldiers when they returned home, the lack of compassion in the community for many of the injured and maimed were an affront to all human decency.

The bitter scars in the psyche of all those involved will remain for the rest of their lives.