Christina Patterson: A war of terror and cynicism, but not security

In Britain and America we treat the men and women we expect to die for us appallingly

Share
Related Topics

When my friend Steve told his children that a black man had just become the most powerful man on the planet, they were confused. "But, Daddy, what about you?" said his three-year-old. They already knew that a black man was the most powerful man on the planet, and now he'd been supplanted. The response at the nursery, however, was more enthusiastic. The staff (all black) and the parents (nearly all black) were beaming. So were the "brothers" on the streets of Clapton, all, said Steve, holding their heads higher.

A few hours later, however, at a discussion on "What does the election result mean for us?", I discovered that their enthusiasm was unwarranted. "I never thought of America as a racist country," said the historian Andrew Roberts. "I think that's a 40-year-old story." This, he explained, was evident from the fact that the BBC had, during its election night coverage, used black and white footage. "I was under the impression," he also said, "that I was going to be speaking last. My opening line was that the panel are all extremely nice people, but they're all completely wrong." Nothing like a considered response to other people's arguments, is there?

But then, like those McCain supporters who stood, grim-faced and petulant, through his gracious concession speech, moving their pursed lips only to boo Obama, he has reason for sour grapes. This, after all, is a man who has been guest of honour at the White House, one of President Bush's favourite writers (along with the author of The Very Hungry Caterpillar) and one who has been spoken of as potential ghost writer of Bush's memoir. (Provisional title, perhaps, They Misunderestimated Me.) Roberts repeatedly told the President to ignore anti-US sentiment abroad and opposition at home in pursuit of "the Manichaean world-historical struggle" – more popularly known as the "war on terror". President Obama might not be quite such a fan.

A major lesson of history, Roberts told Bush, according to a fellow guest at a dinner, is that "will trumps wealth". And a major lesson of this week, Mr Roberts, is that cynicism is sometimes trumped by passion. The Iraq war, as we now all know, was a cynical enterprise, undertaken for cynical reasons, one which cynically (and ruthlessly) exploited the raw grief of bereaved Americans in pursuit of strategic aims. Cynical wars are unlikely to be won. To win a war, you need proper planning, proper execution and, yes, passion. Cynicism is the enemy of passion.

Tony Blair was passionate, all right, Tony Blair was idealistic, but he was lied to, and so, actually, was Bush. It was Dick Cheney and his neocon mates (people who share the world-view of Roberts) who dreamt of an American outpost in the Middle East, one that just happened to have a lot of oil. It was Dick Cheney who ran the war. We all know what happened. And some people still believe it's about keeping America safe. "I may have lost my job," said a pretty young estate agent from Wyoming this week, whose husband is serving in Iraq, and who was planning to vote for McCain, "but at least I can go to bed at night knowing that my family is safe."

And what else would you want to believe, if you spent every minute of every day wondering whether your husband would come back a drooling vegetable, or a corpse? How else would you get through the days and those long, long nights?

The truth is that in Britain and America we treat the men and women we expect to die for us appallingly. We give them terrible wages, and often terrible homes, and terrible food, and when they return, wounded or traumatised, we pretty much forget them. And here in Britain, we give them terrible equipment, too, equipment so bad that Major Sebastian Morley, the SAS commander in Afghanistan, recently resigned over it, equipment, according to John Cooper, QC, that would give families reason to sue the MoD. And we do this for wars we don't believe in, that we can't win.

Tomorrow, at services around the country, we will remember the men and women who died for us. Many of them died for our peace and freedom, but some of the recent ones didn't. It is nothing less than an abomination for anyone who accepts the position of prime minister or commander-in-chief to send young men and women to die for anything else.

Steve, by the way, has recently joined the TA. He's in the Paras and has just been cleared for duty. Now he's awaiting his call-up papers to Afghanistan. Of the 160 soldiers in the 2nd battalion of the Paras who recently served in Helmand, one in three were killed or wounded – about the same as on the battlefields of the First World War. I don't know how those of us who love him will get through those long, long nights.

React Now

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

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Women are working in some of the lowest-paid sectors such as cleaning, catering and caring  

Women's wages have gone backwards. Labour would give women the pay they deserve

Gloria de Piero
 

Taking on Ukip requires a delicate balancing act for both main parties

Andrew Grice
Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker