Hagar is reading Sebastian Junger’s War, which was sent to me to review for BBC2 The Culture Show, but a change of editorial heart meant that this was dropped.
For 15 months, Sebastian Junger followed a single platoon based at remote outpost in eastern Afghanistan. His objective was both simple and ambitious: to convey what war actually feel like.
The book is a bloody, brutal account of soldiers who were born to fight. It made me think about war in a weird way. Bizarrely, I had a lot more empathy for the civilians of Afghanistan than I had thought about before. Not the enemy, not the Taliban terrorists, but the village dwellers to whom the US soldiers must seem like aliens. The soldiers are written like thugs for hire with no sense of why or who. They are full of anger and hate – if they weren’t fighting here, they’d be fighting in the streets. When they are not fighting war, they are fighting each other. It’s made me realise that there is a part of the male psyche that needs to fight with something or someone; men need war. To some extent sport fulfills these needs on a day-to-day level but I think there is some primitive hunting instinct in males that makes them need to fight.
There is a passage explaining about the platoon Junger is with getting blown up when they drive over an IED and set it off. Junger writes that he feels like it is ‘really personal’ and different to the juxtaposition of more tactical combat. Hagar has just read this. He then recounted a story about when he was in his bed in Afghanistan and a rocket, passed 10 ft over the tent, with a deep ripping rumble, landed, and exploded a 100ft away from where he was lying in his cot, sleeping. He said, ‘I felt the same. It felt really personal. I can handle it when I am being shot at in my helicopter and flying into a battlefield but when I am trying to get some sleep, it’s just out of order.’
I think this is what makes the Afghanistan battlefield so complex is that it’s asymmetric. The rules of engagement are not evenly fixed. It is not Country versus Country bound by International Law but terrorist insurgents fighting without rules, or conscience, for their own version of freedom, or incarceration, depending on from whose side you look at it. This means they don’t care who they kill, when they kill or how they kill. It reminded me of the CO’s speech in my Dining-in Night post, that “War is not the glorious adventure depicted on films; it’s cruel, destructive and worst of all, indiscriminate in the slaughter and maiming of women and children and non-combatants who play no part in the conflict.” If there is honour in your enemy, there is no honour in an enemy who fights on these terms, even if they are fighting men who are born to fight.