This post was prompted by a remarkable TV programme shown on BBC 3 on Tuesday night. Many British soldiers in Afghanistan now film their experiences on their own cameras, making this war the most recorded ever. It followed the experiences of 3 platoon of the First Royal Anglian Regiment in 2007, posted to a mud and dust slum in Helmand, Afghanistan. This had all the ingredients; the everyday working class boys of 19 and 20 looking for a rush and excitement, the middle class “Ruperts” – young officers from more privileged backgrounds and an unseen enemy of fanatics who appear like a nightmare and seem to keep coming regardless.
At first, there was plenty of gung ho from the young lads, excited by the possibility of their first “contact” with “This lets you know you’re alive” and “I was like, yeah, rock-on back.” . I half expected to see that Apprentice Winner, Lee McQueen in desert fatigues saying ” Now that’s what I’m talking about”. This all changed when the patrol was effectively outmanouevered and ambushed in the maze of mud walls by the local Taliban and a poor private on his first tour gets shot and killed. It stopped being a computer game for young lads at this point and becomes a struggle for life in sharper focus for grown men.
Thr programme was at once predictable and impossible to stop watching. The head cams brought it all home for the privileged millions who sit on the sofa eating kitkats while the latest generation of young men taste blood, dust and despair. They are the ones carrying out the dirty work in the “great game” of politics and ideology. Is this “Our War”? I don’t think so. We should come out of Afghanistan because, as history tells us, we cannot win there. As Rudyard Kipling wrote in 1886 after the second British Afghan war, training and superior weapons are not always a fair match for local knowledge and cunning:
A scrimmage in a Border Station
A canter down some dark defile
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail.
From “Arithmetic on the Frontier” by Rudyard Kipling
Whilst researching that poem, I came across another piece written by a squaddie in 2009 as a parody of another Kipling army poem which deserves recognition:
Afghanistan (With apologies To Kipling), by an anonymous British soldier
When you’re lying alone in your Afghan bivvy,
And your life it depends on some MOD civvie
When the body armour’s shared (one set between three),
And the firefight’s not like it is on TV,
Then you’ll look to your oppo, your gun and your God,
As you follow that path all Tommies have trod.
When the gimpy has jammed and you’re down to one round,
And the faith that you’d lost is suddenly found.
When the Taliban horde is close up to the fort,
And you pray that the arty don’t drop a round short.
Stick to your sergeant like a good squaddie should,
And fight them like satan or one of his brood
Your pay it won’t cover your needs or your wants,
So just stand there and take all the Taliban’s taunts
Nor generals nor civvies can do aught to amend it,
Except make sure you’re kept in a place you can’t spend it.
Three fifty an hour in your Afghani cage,
Not nearly as much as the minimum wage.
Your missus at home in a foul married quarter
With damp on the walls and a roof leaking water
Your kids miss their mate, their hero, their dad;
They’re missing the childhood that they should have had
One day it will be different, one day by and by,
As you all stand there and watch, to see the pigs fly
Just like your forebears in mud, dust and ditch
You’ll march and you’ll fight, and you’ll drink and you’ll bitch
Whether Froggy or Zulu, or Jerry, or Boer
The Brits will fight on ‘til the battle is over.
You may treat him like dirt, but nowt will unnerve him
But I wonder sometimes, if the country deserves him.
A fair assessment I would have said. To read more about the programme see here and if you get the chance, catch it on Iplayer.