Posted Under: Afghanistan,Anti-War
These are strange times in which we live. Not for a generation have governments had so many important political decisions pressed upon them by world events. Yet rarely has political discourse been so focused upon the personal behaviour of those in power. For the past few days, the serious issues surrounding Afghanistan – the fact that we have been fighting for 8 years in war that we can ill afford, and for which we have no plausible exit strategy – have given way to a national debate on an apparent spelling mistake made by the PM. It seems, sometimes, that as a nation we are practicing displacement, worrying excessively about smaller things to avoid worrying about the bigger things. Hence we are far happier talking about excessive parliamentary expenses – which for all their moral implications represent a drop in the fiscal ocean – than the systemic crisis that looks set to ravage our public services.
Yesterday Jacqui Janes repeated the now well established line that we need more damn helicopters. The now ubiquitous complaints that “our boys” are underequipped are arguably more a reflection of the politics surrounding the war than the actual situation on the ground. Compared with the grand sweep of even modern history, British soldiers today are incredibly well protected. Indeed it is worth considering that fewer British soldiers have been killed in this 8 year conflict than were killed during the falklands war. By definition the government cannot pour unlimited resources into making things safe for those who sign up to kill and be killed, but as things stand they are pouring in a hell of a lot.
What then is causing this near constant anguish and recrimination as to whether our troops need more stuff? It is perhaps instructive to ask why such concerns were more muted over Iraq. The answer, in my opinion, lies in the options available to those who are sick of seeing young men coming back in body bags. The war against Iraq split the poltical nation, and indeed the political establishment. Numerous newspapers rallied against it and it became normal to be anti-war. Where people were anguished by the sight troops returning without life and limb they could turn around and demand that the troops withdrew. The perception of Iraq as a war into which the big bad Americans had dragooned us decent brits made this easier. Getting out of there – rather than staying and trying to win – could be patriotic.
By contrast there was no serious opposition to Afghan war, whose declaration in fact gained support from across the political and media landscape. As such expressing discontent with its bloody consequences is a more difficult matter. Thus ill feeling at the sight of dead bodies is expressed in technical terms. Rather than blame the war itself – which surely makes these unnecessary deaths inevitable – many commentators cling to the idea that British hegemony can be maintained without British blood – if only the war were better fought.
In a sense then, the whole discussion about how many helicopters we have represents a war weariness that dare not speak it’s name. It reflects a desire to reconcile support for the war with an understandable distaste for it’s bloody consequences. The leader writers in the Standard and the Sun would like to believe that enough military equipment can square this circle. Bitter experience will prove them wrong.