In May 1980, a masked band of terminators abseiled into the Iranian Embassy and disposed of the hostage-takers inside. One terrorist alone took more than 80 bullets. In 17 minutes, a leftover force with an honourable (but not unique) history of anti-Nazi guerrilla stunts clawed its way back into national mythology. Since then - through Ulster, the Falklands and the Gulf - the exploits of the Hereford hitmen have revived "a popular militarism that does not sustain Empire, but compensates for its loss".
With pseudonymous Gulf War tales from "Cameron Spence" and "Chris Ryan" already in the charts, this autumn sees an unprecedented literary barrage. In his novel Boat Troop (Orion, pounds 16.99), the media-savvy SAS veteran Johnny "Two Combs" Howard recounts some murky derring-do on the Argentine mainland during the battle for Stanley.
Meanwhile, the chart-topping mayhem artist still known as "Andy McNab" will follow up his behind-enemy-lines memoir, Bravo Two Zero (1.5 million copies sold), with a novel, Remote Control. The MoD top brass called in McNab's manuscript for vetting. That mutual distrust between the old-guard officer corps and upwardly-mobile pros runs like a red thread through this genre. As a Geordie whinger comments in Boat Troop, "The fuckin' Ruperts always win".
So broad is the SAS market that even bleeding-heart conchies can now share the fun. Baptism of Fire by Frank Collins (Doubleday, pounds 16.99) traces the crooked path that led its author - who stormed the Embassy in 1980 - to ordination as a Church of England priest. After his journey from hit squad to God squad, Collins serves as padre to the Parachute Regiment. Well, "in my Father's house are many mansions", as one seditious anti- militarist is reputed to have said.
Whether you treat this epidemic of gory yarns as harmless escapism or the pernicious "pornography of war" will turn on attitudes books alone can't shift. But spare a thought for a chef called Mohamed al-Sayed. In 1994, two crazed public schoolboys severed his windpipe, SAS style, after gorging on the deeds of McNab and co. The next time we have a futile media debate on copycat cruelty, why not (for once) put khaki scribblers in the dock instead of J G Ballard?Reuse content