Yesterday a film on TV, gave me pause for thought. The film, Cross of Iron, with James Coburn leading, was an old one I had seen long ago. It was so well directed, and was about a small element of the German Army, retreating before a hoard of Russians. The scenes were realistic, bloody and at times horrifying in the explicit portrayal of war’s sheer uncaring brutality. What caused me to think was a remark Sophie made, she said, ‘is war really like that?’ She is in her 80’s, lived through being bombed out in an air raid on Belfast and the Troubles, still intelligent and bright, and yet didn’t appreciate what war is really like for a soldier. I’m assuming she is not alone.
Only twice in my experience of war did I mildly discover the type of horrors our soldiers have faced and have to face. My father, who was twice wounded and gassed, when I was 8 years old told me of his experiences and forbade me to play ‘soldiers. At the time of Dunkirk with other boys and old men, all in the LDV, we awaited the arrival of German paratroops on the Sussex downs. The London Blitz; fire watching in Docklands; guarding blockhouses in Whitehall with the Grenadier Guards, as a Home Guard; and serving on convoys in the Navy, while having their moments, were not like the training I received in single handed combat, with detailed emphasis on killing, and avoiding being killed, by an ex-regular, training the Home Guard. It was horrifyingly graphic,
The other time was during the Northern Ireland Troubles, which from my perspective wasn’t a down-trodden under-class, fighting for their rights against a corrupt regime. It was two corrupt, criminal factions, making a fortune from protection rackets, theft, drugs and murder, some supported from afar, and trying to bomb the Westminster Government into surrendering us to a United Ireland. As I have already written, for my part, this came to a head when they were gratuitously shooting women and old men who had a tenuous link to the military and were considered ‘soft targets’, for young boys to shoot out of hand without being caught. My adrenalin rose to a very high level then and still does to some extent, when I think back. It was playtime, excitement, with no political or warranted outcome of their actions. As I have said, I joined the police reserve and several evenings a week relieved one proper policeman to police. If I had been in a life or death situation of confrontation I would have killed if it was necessary, my adrenalin was the driver.
Assuming that a large proportion of people are like Sophie, with no true knowledge of war in its brutal sense, I have written this to show the shades war can take. When a shooting war comes down to close combat, it is the adrenalin and the urge to survive which carries a soldier through the experience, and it is one no one should be subjected to. It seems to be part of the human psyche, not an animal instinct. The existence of turf wars among children in inner cities points to the fact.
Wars are not started by the man in the street, only insurrections. Wars are started by politicians, leaders and in the past, by kings and princes, like the others, for their own aggrandisement. War can be engineered by commercial pressures, or self interest, as was the Iraq war. What have the Iraqis, or we in Britain or Europe gained? More like what have we lost? It was all about oil. WW1 and WW2 gained nothing, on the contrary, and now we hear Bush, sabre rattling again. If Iran did fire off a nuclear rocket, surely Iran would be annihilated by Russia, Britain and America? It is oil again
Save the World? To do that our leaders must get their priorities right first. Let’s start by saving the soldiers.