Adrian Hamilton: What politicians won't admit - our soldiers die in vain

World View


Every time a solder dies in Afghanistan, politicians immediately say how much the loss is regretted and how much we owe to our "brave heroes". Their sacrifice, it is gravely pronounced, has been in the cause of keeping us safe from terrorism back home.

To this is added a statement by the generals that operations are going well, indeed far better than expected, and that we are now in the process of handing over to the Afghan forces themselves.

Of course, one understands the need for such mantras. How could a politician say otherwise. That the heroes are mortal men who signed up for such duties? That the whole Afghan enterprise has ended in a fruitless entanglement and that our aim now is simply to be able to get out with some decency?

It doesn't pay for any politician to voice such sentiments in public (although it should be said that our MPs were rather more robust about the Boer wars and the Victorian engagements). But, even accepting that, it should surely be possible to conduct a discussion on the Afghan venture with a little more honesty than this.

Not all soldiers are brave and not all soldiers are brave all the time. Half the reason why we have been so bad at treating returning troops for stress and other mental problems is the reluctance to accept that these are human beings put under inhuman strains and not a group of invulnerable superheroes.

Afghanistan, like Iraq before it, has taken a toll on our armed forces much greater than is fully understood by the public. More than 400 deaths is bad enough (although it is relatively small by the standards of other wars), but the number returned injured and maimed is around 5,000.

What ministers cannot dare even broach is the thought that these sacrifices have been largely in vain. No one seriously believes, not even those saying it, the nonsense spouted by the Defence Secretary and his predecessors that the engagement has been necessary to stop jihadists coming over here.

If anything, the opposite is the truth. Our continuing occupation of a Muslim country only serves to encourage angry young men to think of us as the colonial power that must be challenged by unconventional means as the only way of hurting it. If there is a source of trained terrorists, it is far more in Pakistan and Yemen than Afghanistan.

Nor is it realistic any longer to talk, as David Miliband did yesterday, of "a strategy" to ensure stability in Afghanistan as we prepare to leave. We have given a date, and our departure now is entirely in the hands of Washington, not London or Kabul. What happens beyond that is not up to us to determine or really influence. If we are concerned about terrorism here, then we should be turning our attention to Pakistan and Yemen and helping those countries.

With luck, our troops can come back without the shame of defeat. But a victory it has not been, let alone a triumph. In that sense, it will be better, but not that much better, than Iraq. There we had to scuttle out of Basra, having had to be rescued by the Americans, and saved by the indifference towards us of the locals. The troops returned, without fanfare, to be quietly forgotten.

The Iraq Inquiry, still to publish its findings, was set up to examine the decisions to go to war not the conduct of it after. We don't go in for learning lessons in this country. It is not how the political system is structured. With 400 dead in Afghanistan, it's time we did.

Betrayal of the Japanese

It's a year almost precisely since the earthquake and consequent tsunami struck Japan. The disaster is being remembered there by solemn ceremony, and over here in a rush of documentaries and articles telling how near the Fukushima nuclear plant came to complete meltdown.

It needs to be said – after all the evasions and half-truths of the initial weeks – just how far the Japanese were let down by the power company that ran the plant, and the politicians who were complicit with it.

No single event since the war has quite so upset the consciousness of Japan, reminding the country just how vulnerable it was to natural disaster and just how ineffective was its corporate-political nexus in coping with it.

Outside, commentators cheerfully said that the Japanese sense of cohesion would see it through. It has. Economists hopefully said that investment on reconstruction would quickly return the country to growth. It hasn't.

The shutdown in nuclear production has caused energy imports to soar and the balance of trade to go into sharp deficit. The slow-down in Asian growth is hurting exports.

It will be the next 12 months which will really test the balance between cohesion and despair. The West didn't do so well in the immediate aftermath of the tsunami, very much leaving Japan to its own devices. We need to give it a lot more time, attention and understanding now.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Part Time

£10500 - £14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Part Time Accounts Assistant ...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant

£18000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company supply, install an...

Tradewind Recruitment: Reception Teacher

£120 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: An excellent three form entry scho...

The Green Recruitment Company: Commercial Construction Manager

£65000 Per Annum bonus & benefits package: The Green Recruitment Company: The ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
BoJack is the walking embodiment of why-the-long-face  

BoJack Horseman - the most depressing cartoon on TV - is thankfully back for a third Netflix series

Edmund Cuthbert

The world's population has reached 'peak youth'. This should be a wake-up call to world leaders

Perry Maddox
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Attwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
10 best waterproof mascaras

Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'