A brown paper package arrives from lovely Mrs Betty Box of Eastbourne. It contains a book: We Fought at Arnhem – Three soldiers remember a battle for a bridge too far, by Mike Rossiter. She sent it to me, says her charming note, because I mentioned I'd only found out my father was a paratrooper at Arnhem last year. My Ma didn't even know. He was shot at and wounded in the air over Holland, aged 19.
Thank you Betty, who was reading i for the first time that day. I hope you stayed with us.
As the mission creeps and we send troops to Mali, as soldiers flounder in Afghanistan, and others face potential lawsuits over Iraq, I find myself thinking ever more of my teenage dad parachuting in under fire. What terror. Edwin at least had the benefit of moral certitude. There was a direct threat to Britain from a belligerent enemy. But what did those boys know of how they would react when war hit them?
I recently saw the excellent Kathryn Bigelow film Zero Dark Thirty. You know the ending, but moral ambiguity is at its heart: do ends justify means? Torture, brutality, loss of reason, so much lost in the dirty fog of ugly war. Look at poor Aleppo today.
I thought of Edwin when listening to an ex-squaddie's earnest defence of his colleagues on the radio. He railed at the left-wing media's "bias". It is so easy to judge soldiers sitting here in a comfortable office or living room. What I do know is if they have the moral certitude of knowing why they are there and not resorting to torture, then it makes both their terror and the inevitable loss a little, just a little, more bearable.