Friday, November 05, 2004

martial arts

for all the talk about how the role of the modern soldier is different now than it used to be, it remains the case that, fundamentally, a soldier is a soldier is a soldier - a state-licensed killer who, from time to time, will find him or herself in a life-threatening situation. squirm as much as you like, this is definitive.
all British and American soldiers are, for the time being, volunteers. like it or not, those men or women who sign up to be soldiers, whether full-time or as reservists, are not being employed primarily in order to enhance their engineering, computer, or leadership skills, and those nifty bits of kit they're issued with - night-vision goggles, body-armour, lethal weapons - are not designed primarily to enhance their personal self-esteem.
politicians love being called war leaders - their comic posturings on the tops of tanks and in ill-fitting combat gear are tolerated by the professional soldiers as a necessary part of their own enablement - the charade of leadership in a situation where nary a man or woman amongst them them knows jackshit about anything. the last real wartime leader was Winston Churchill, who, for all his faults, at least knew what war was about, having personally killed more people than the monkey and the poodle have swatted wasps. and not at the clinical distance of the artillery or aerial bombardment either - as a cavalry officer in the 4th Hussars serving on the Indian North-West Frontier and in the Sudan between 1896 and 1898 he would frequently charge down on the heathen Pathan with a lance, would you believe, fatally skewering this thing into their writhing screaming bodies, time and time again. yup, when Winston warned wartime Britain that war was about 'blood, toil, sweat and tears', he was holding back on the worst of it.
now, of course, the newly deployed squaddy, fresh in from the battle sims and the bivouacing on the Brecon Beacons and the routine weekend binge-drinking in Aldermaston, believes what he's been told - that he's there to help the locals, to deal with insurgents, and to do the job he or she's been trained to do - and that, whereas this involves a certain greater element of risk than, say, working in the local MacDonalds, well, it's nothing that the platoon can't handle. until the first suicide bomber drives up and detonates himself a few metres away.
that guy, too, was a volunteer. he, too, believed what he'd been told - that he was there to help the locals, to deal with the invaders, and to do the job he'd been born to do.
and here, back home, the families mourn, the politicians cringe and justify, and another young man or woman decides, well, I'm not going to get a better offer than this with my qualifications in this deadend town, and walks into the recruitment office.
reality check - the definition of a soldier has remained unchanged for the entirety of human history. anyone who thinks they have legitimate grounds for complaint about a soldier getting killed or injured in the course of doing what they're recruited to do is living in a strange and different universe. the heroics last until the armour-piercing shell enters the battle-wagon and the heavy metal on the stereo gets displaced by the heavy metal of fragmentation. the honour lasts as long as it takes for some aristo to pin a medal on your chest and get you photographed in front of the war memorial.
the reality is that a soldier is and always has been an expendable unit in a much, much larger equation, wherein the device that killed your mates and left you a permanent cripple was, more likely than not, assembled in a factory owned by one of these politicians' cronies in an English or American town not dissimilar from your own, which depends for its livelihood, as so many of them do, on such cynical investment.
and right now, right at this moment, someone from Telford, or Derby, or Bethesda, or Lexington is doing a quality check on a device that, a few months down the timeline, after having passed along a nicely profitable chain from dealer to dealer, will kill or maim someone. and whether that someone else was born in Farnborough or Falls Church or Falls Road or Fallujah, whether they're allies or insurgents, our side or theirs, is of absolutely no concern at all to anyone involved in that chain (including, by default, the government that intitiated it). it's just the way things are. business as usual.

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