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Hanging on the new barbed wire – Writer-insighter

Hanging on the new barbed wire

It’s Rememberance Sunday. The Prime Minister has gone to the Cenotaph and done his very best SadFace, even if being David Cameron he looks like an eight year old who can’t tell Nanny he needs a new dog because he wasn’t supposed to set light to the old one in the first place.

Without the slightest sense of irony the BBC are happily broadcasting stories explaining why we have to invade Syria despite the fact that hardly anyone can even point to it on a map without names on it because as usual, “they” are threatening to destroy ‘our way of life.’ Unlike say, a Home Secretary demanding to be able to see exactly which websites you visited, when, all of you. Perhaps like Patrick Rock, one of David Cameron’s special advisors, who collected child sex images on his computer, but somehow that wasn’t specifically mentioned. When it comes to destroying our way of life we don’t need any help from outside, thanks.We’ve got it. If you want a job doing properly you do it yourself.

Meanwhile a Russian airplane has exploded in Egypt because the airport security is a joke, as everyone has known for always, so it’s going to be another bonanza at Luton for airport security who were wondering what they were going to do about Christmas again.

Everyone I know who has left the army tells the same story. One word out of place and you aren’t just out on your ear but the roof will fall on you. ‘ The Army won’t just turn its back. It’ll stab you in yours.

I remember being told about a soldier in Northern Ireland whose officer was shot and down on the ground. The soldier jumped into the armoured car they had which happened to have a .50 Browning on top and opened fire at the flats where the shots had come from. Brownings are serious kit. There is nothing on a High Street you could hide behind that would save you. The shooting stopped, chiefly because the flat disintegrated, along with whoever was doing the shooting.

The army thought, in the circumstances, that things could have been done a little more discretely. So they asked the soldier to resign. He didn’t think he’d done anything wrong so he wasn’t inclined to do this having done pretty archetypal soldier stuff. OK, said the army. We’ll give your name to the Press when they ask what happened. Your choice.

Someone told me how he personally got turned over when Operation Stakeknife was being investigated. He was arrested by Special Branch in his flat, mob-handed and armed with sub-machineguns. He said he was quite flattered that they obviously thought he was Jason Bourne instead of just a fairly junior staff officer. He was only reaching for his jumper as it turned out, which was why he was able to tell me the story. They hung him out to dry.  He hadn’t done anything, he wasn’t charged with anything, he’d served in Afghanistan and Iraq, killed people and almost been killed. The Army made it impossible for him to carry on there. The Prime Minister personally apologised to the journalist involved. The person I talked to is still waiting.

Another word for nothing left to lose

We pretend to remember. We don’t want to, or only to spin it into a version that suits the government better. The BBC’s Cenotaph broadcast this morning talked about ‘the dead of two World Wars,’ as they always do, then slipped in the compulsory bit about protecting our freedom, then reminded us that he who seeks peace must prepare for war/it isn’t over yet/brave little Belgium/Our Brave Boys are still dying by telling us about the two RAF men killed in Afghanistan last month.

Which only begged two questions, the first being since when did the Afghan crusade had the moral equivalence of World War Two, although the reasoning of Saudi Arabians working from Germany and living in the US with flame-proof passports justified invading Afghanistan and Iraq in much the same way that shooting an arch-duke in Sarajevo inevitably meant UK conscripts defending a canal in Flanders. Obvious, really.

The other question unaddressed by the BBC was exactly what the two RAF men were doing there, given that the Afghan campaign was supposed to have ended in 2014. Since they weren’t by definition ‘defending freedom’ (because freedom won, remember?) it would be quite hard to see how their deaths were the same thing at all. The British Army lost more people to traffic accidents in Afghanistan than it did to any enemy.

But it doesn’t matter. We’re wallowing in young men’s blood for another year,  dipping our hands like Jacqui Kennedy screaming out of the car in Dallas, but without the few shreds of dignity she had left, nor the justification. So far as I can see, we always will.


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