Saturday, 14 November 2009

I'm a British soldier. Keep me out here

A couple of posts ago, I tried to explain why there is the apparent contradiction between the majority of civilians who want our troops out of Afghanistan and the soldiers who say there is good work being done and more to do; we will stay. I would like to think my crayoning on the walls of my padded cell created a response but I am not that big-headed. However, there has been a relevant blog and it goes deeper into the attitude of the blokes out in the hot and sandy places. There are those who do not 'do' links and for their benefit, I will include some of that excellent post by Major Smythe.

Every reporter will have experienced it and every one of us fails to actually tell the real truth when we are asked this recurring and obvious question: “Stuart, another soldier dead in terrible circumstances. Opinion polls show the public is against the war. Surely it must affect morale?” The real answer “Does it chuff, they love it.” Nothing wrong with that; no one can pass through the training and indoctrination that precedes deployment and be unaware that it is not all milk and honey. But then comes this: "why you and I and everyone wringing their hands about the poor soldiers facing horrendous conditions and danger totally don't get it. It is why they can kill people without question. It is why they joined up in the first place. If you think about it logically do soldiers, first and foremost, really want to build schools for poor Afghan kids? No, they want to kill Taliban. I am not saying this lightly, I am not saying they are bloodthirsty or in any way unprofessional. It is a simple fact: they are soldiers and soldiers fight wars and they are in one"

Now we are, in my opinion, entering the world of reality TV. Susan Boyle with stripes. "It was f****** great mate. The lads f****** loved it. Thank f*** we didn't lose anyone but we f****** twatted them – every time we went out. We knew where it would start, we knew what they would do and we just went out and tried to f*** them up. F****** brilliant." An opinion redolent of Sandhurst's finest is "Stuart, the lads did a great professional job. I think they relished the opportunity to engage with the enemy and implement the changes we and the ISAF forces have been tasked with achieving. The goals are difficult and achievements will sometimes be difficult to quantify but we feel we achieved a fair, if modest, degree of success." If you read of the extremely limited area they dominate and what that control costs in basic living conditions, still less lives, one must come to the conclusion that this particular group are achieving very little that is productive. Too small and lacking the power to spread their ground. What merit in holding a few square yards of terrotory? Would we have applauded guys who dug in and stayed on the Normandy beaches? Lived below Monte Cassino in a slit trench? Nothing is actually being gained. They are there solely in defiance of the enemy. Neither the soldier or the officer will ever admit that emotion overrules reason. And discussion of withdrawal is met with the sentiment along the lines that our leaving now would in some way dishonour those who have given their lives. I have a basic objection to that statement - I think their lives were taken from them rather than they gave them. I would have serious qualms about the mentality of anyone stepping onto a 'plane at Brize who last words to his kith and kin were along the lines "I am off now to give my life for England and for Gordon Brown". I and may others have demolished the theory that our mere presence in Kalbul keeps terrorists off the streets of Kensington. The latter day jingoism is supported by the eulogies for the deceased - framed again in that Officers' Mess style. In any case - even if every soldier really met the qualities attributed, is that any reason to be glad he gave his life? It is all rationalisation - the end scene of Life of Brian.

This desire merely to kill the enemy has further, darker, aspects. There is very little respect for the Taliban - he is just an animated Figure 11. Despised. Not an equal. Now, military training teaches the recruits that they are a organised and disciplined body. They live together, eat together and suffer together. When the physical toughening work is in train, they are shown that the failure of one brings extra pain on the others who have passed muster. It is left to the group to convince the laggard that he can and must keep up. He will, in the language of the barrack-room, be 'beasted'. I'll not detail the occasional cost of this process other than mention a few key words such as Deepcut, Danny Boy, Abu Mousa, Bread Basket. They will never appear on any Regimental colours. Some of our warriors have extended beasting to captured enemy and I am convinced this has a direct link back to the sort of sentiments expressed by the sergeant in Helmand. Looking back at the Americans in Vietnam and, even further back, the French in Algiers shows it is not a National failing but one connected with the warrior class.

Vietnam has, in my mind, a further connection. The call to leave Afghanistan attracts the response "What would happen if we did pull out (insert rhetoric re Pakistan, access to WMD, Islamic influence in the area, responses from Israel)" Exactly what was said about Vietnam. And yet, Hell did not boil over. There was Pol Pot but even he and his kind did not last. My mind does not venture into high moral considerations but I have a certain repugnance at the thought that we sustain highly trained military personnel whose only aim and ambition is to kill. Not just on a Ten Commandments level either. The only end for the 'Kill 'em all and let God/Allah sort them out' attitude is total eradication of the enemy. Getting them to an IRA-style realisation that they cannot win so should negotiate does not work with religious fundamentalists. We would have to kill every man and young boy child capable of procreation. Better kill the women of breeding age as well. That is Endex for such as portrayed in the 'Truth about our boys'. It isn't going to happen and employing the tactics there is immoral. Our soldiers deserve better thinking and action intended to do more than preserve status quo.