Sunday, November 11, 2012

We Must Remember Them

One of the sadder aspects of the recent American Presidential campaign was the lack of dialogue about the war in Afghanistan. This is mainly because, as one American commentator said during one of the few mentions of the conflict, because Americans 'don't do defeatism'.

I doubt there are many people in the U.K let alone the U.S.A who can put hand on heart and say that they supported whole heartedly the war in Iraq, but the idea of the war in Afghanistan was sold to us, the voting public, on the idea that it was the ultimate war on terror and just as politicians had said on the eve of the First World War and again on the eve of the Second World War it would be the war to end wars. Just as they were wrong in 1914 and 1939 so they have been wrong about Afghanistan. Yes there have been some small symbolic victories but the loss of life since 7 October 2001 seems to have outweighed those.

There have been more than 40,000 civilians killed during the eleven years of the conflict, more than 3 million refugees have been created and  that's before we discuss the loss of 437 British army personnel and the other 2,589 coalition deaths and more than 6,400 evacuations of UK military personnel. It is the second longest war in history to involve U.S military personnel and the second longest involving the British since the Kingdom of Great Britain came into existence on 1st May 1707. Of course these numbers are tiny compared to the number of those killed or injured during the 'Great War' but that doesn't mean that we should allow ourselves to drift into a complacency about a conflict we may only be aware of when a soldier is killed.

It is not quite the forgotten war because thankfully we live in an age of advanced technology and communication which allows documentaries and films to be made about the conflict on a regular basis and the media coverage, whilst at times is sporadic at best, has been constant and in the recent years unencumbered by restrictions.

As with all 'modern' conflicts poetry from Afghanistan offers us non-combatants the chance to get a small glimpse into the minds of those who are serving on the front line. We will never of course experience the heat, the dirt, the noise, the constant threat of attack or the loss of those comrades on whom our lives are dependent but we can experience the poetry of war, the poetry of men (and women) under pressure, the poetry of people who have been asked once more to put their lives on the line for the vanity of politicians who are living tens of thousands of miles away.

Sunset Vigil

The news is spread far and wide
Another comrade has sadly died
A sunset vigil upon the sand
As a soldier leaves this foreign land

We stand alone, and yet as one
In the fading light of a setting sun
We’ve all gathered to say goodbye
To our fallen comrade who’s set to fly

The eulogy’s read about their life
Sometimes with words from pals or wife
We all know when the CO’s done
What kind of soldier they’d become

The padre then calls us all to pray
The bugler has Last Post to play
The cannon roars and belches flame
We will recall, with pride, their name

A minute’s silence stood in place
As tears roll down the hardest face
Deafening silence fills the air
With each of us in personal prayer

Reveille sounds and the parade is done
The hero remembered, forgotten by none
They leave to start the journey back
In a coffin draped in the Union Jack

Sgt Andy McFarlane, 2009.


Span Ows said...

Wonderful timing again! It makes you wonder how many 'forgotten conflicts there are throughout history - thousands I bet. One of my uncles is an author and he writes principally about smaller battles/skirmishes etc within wars that are all but forgotten.

Is the 'Sunset Vigil' meant to be link? it is quite hard to read (dark blue) and I wondered whether it was a link gone wrong.

And I won't point out the unfortunately last line running into the author's name on the bottom line...oops, I just did.

Paul said...

Sorry, wasn't supposed to be a link, I have corrected the colour (but it's still not a link) and the last line - thanks for the heads up!

I agree about the smaller battles. One thing that was mentioned on TV last week is that the two towns that have been invaded most in history are Jerusalem (no surprise there) and Berwick on Tweed. Facts like that make history worth the effort.

A Northern Bloke said...

I've heard it said thet, technically, Berwick on Tweed is still at War with Russia. This could well be an apocryphal tale but it's amusing none the less.

Paul said...

That would be great wouldn't it.

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