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

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The traditional Boxing Day hunt in Lacock  

For foxes' sake: Don't let the bloody tradition of the Boxing Day hunt return

Mimi Bekhechi

Letter from the Deputy Editor: i’s Review of the Year

Andrew Webster
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all