They don't know what it is like to take a life, or to walk among the dead

Most of these soldiers have not yet experienced the indescribable sensation of realising another human being is trying to kill them

Share

I thought it would have been well started by now. But we slip towards another weekend of peace. There was a flap about an hour ago. Somebody from Fox TV rushed up the corridor saying the attack would come in exactly 48 hours' time (24 by the time you read this). Fox are known to be well connected. Mr Murdoch's channel is a cheerleader for the war and is well liked by the White House. But then someone from another American network said they'd been told that George W would wait until next week. By then the Turkish northern front would be open, the support of a previously truculent Turkish parliament now apparently assured. Not many will have noticed, but America obliged the Turks this week by remaining silent over the clampdown on the country's main pro-Kurdish party.

I thought it would have been well started by now. But we slip towards another weekend of peace. There was a flap about an hour ago. Somebody from Fox TV rushed up the corridor saying the attack would come in exactly 48 hours' time (24 by the time you read this). Fox are known to be well connected. Mr Murdoch's channel is a cheerleader for the war and is well liked by the White House. But then someone from another American network said they'd been told that George W would wait until next week. By then the Turkish northern front would be open, the support of a previously truculent Turkish parliament now apparently assured. Not many will have noticed, but America obliged the Turks this week by remaining silent over the clampdown on the country's main pro-Kurdish party.

The political mud-wrestling in New York continues, no longer (if it ever really was) a search for peace but a frantic attempt to work out who takes the blame for sidelining the UN. We are past the stage of politics. The logic of war, the timetable of men and machines, rules the hour. My colleagues with the British and American forces are enduring dust storms and rising heat. Here in Jordan we endure the strangeness of being next door to the biggest story in the world, knowing it is all but inaccessible to us. So there has been time, plenty of it, to think about war and to read.

I packed Evelyn Waugh's Sword of Honour trilogy to read again after a distance of 18 years, and some poetry, including the works of the great poet of the Samurai era, Basho. His words are more than usually apposite today. Basho was travelling in the Japanese interior when he came across an old battlefield and paused to contemplate the rusting debris before him. There were helmets, shields and swords; the bones of the dead had long gone into the earth. Wild grasses now covered the remnants of the struggle. Looking on, Basho wrote the following haiku:

"Summer grasses/all that is left of the dreams of soldiers."

As a fragment of verse it is melancholy and sobering. Long before Flaubert, the Japanese poet understood the literary imperative that "less is more." In his haiku, a few words tell us a great deal about the sorrow of war.

I thought of Basho in Kuwait this week, and now in Jordan. The Friday prayers are under way now and I hear the voice of the imam resonating across the rooftops of Amman. Everybody here is weary from the tension of waiting. As a Jordanian friend of a friend said over lunch the day I arrived: "Let it just happen. Let it be done with."

But what about the dreams of soldiers? Let us go back to Kuwait for a few moments. In Kuwait city, at the Hilton Hotel, the American military has set up the most efficient accreditation system for journalists this correspondent has ever seen. There in the glistening hotel mall, where Filipina shop assistants staff the boutiques and jewellery stores, where they serve excellent capuccino and sushi, you will find excited young men and women in combat fatigues mingling with excited journalists, all preparing to head for the front lines. I met old friends from other wars. Some were going off with the US Marines. "We're told we'll be first to Baghdad," one said. Another was linking up with the US third infantry. Those who had seen war before were more sombre. They understood how strange and terrible could be the road from this moment in Kuwait to a place of explosions and burning and death.

I was greeted by Treacy Golden of the US Army, a cheerful young African-American woman who promised to process my accreditation quickly. She was as good as her word. I had my photograph taken and looked, as I always do in these photographs, like a fugitive from international justice, or an East German newsreader from the 1950s. "Don't worry sir," said the young soldier on the camera "nobody will be worried about your appearance in the desert." Of course he is right. It is the last thing anybody will be thinking about.

Many of these soldiers, if not most, have not yet experienced the indescribable sensation of realising that another human being is trying to kill them. Nor will they know what it is like to take life, or to walk among the dead. Most of the ones I met seemed very young, very hopeful. They were educated and articulate and friendly. A lot of them too seemed innocent about might lie ahead. I doubt that I have ever encountered a more confident army.

The press pass declares that I am a "unilateral" – in other words I won't be travelling with the American or British forces. "Does that make the Iraqis collateral?" a colleague joked. The Marine who overheard this did not smile. Like the rest of the estimated 4,000 journalists in the region, I live in a world of whispers. We are tormented by rumour, alternatively transfixed and bored by the diplomatic wrangling in New York, everybody knowing, as we've known for a long time now, that a war is inevitable.

I know there will be certain unforgettable images. Like the reporter on an American cable channel telling the world that Wall Street is hoping a quick war will rally the markets. The connection between war and prices is a fact as old as war itself, but there was a shuddering lack of sensitivity about the way he, and so many others, make that connection.

I will remember too the plump owner of the house we've rented near the Jordanian border with Iraq. In the café owned by his brother, we sipped sweet tea and listened aghast as he renegotiated our rental agreement. "We agreed one month" said my producer Nick. "Three months. It is three months," said the landlord. Nick is as tough a producer as they come. We eventually settled on two months with the landlord supplying heaters. In Jordan we have yet to encounter the fabled heat of the Western desert. It is cold and rainy here.

So often this past week I've wondered what the locals make of all of this. I don't count the words of the taxi drivers or waiters or the others who are economically dependent on the visiting journalists and soldiers. They tell us what they think we want to hear, most of the time. Instead I wish I could see into the thoughts of the young Arab men who see us come and go, watching silently the build-up of the armed legions of America and Britain, the arrival of the powerful western media with all its money and technology. I asked the Jordanian friend of a friend and he replied: "It makes them feel what you would feel if it was happening in your country." And what was that? "Impotent... angry," he said, "but only in the future will we really know."

The accepted wisdom among the journalists is that there will be a swift victory. A matter of weeks, some even say it may only be days. But victory of course has a cost, a cost those who have not known war cannot truly understand. I will end with the words of the Duke of Wellington after Waterloo. Surveying the carnage of that battlefield, the wounded and dead, he said: "Nothing except a battle lost can be half as melancholy as a battle won."

The writer is a BBC Special Correspondent

React Now

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

Financial Control Manager - Regulatory Reporting

£400 - £550 per day: Orgtel: Financial Control Manager - Regulatory Reporting ...

Lead Application Developer

£80000 - £90000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am current...

Senior Networks Architect

£65000 per annum + 15% Pension, Health, Travel & Bonus: Progressive Recruitmen...

SAP BW/BO Consultant

£55000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP BW/BO CONSU...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

How silly of me to assume it was Israeli bombs causing all the damage in Gaza

Mark Steel
 

Careful, Mr Cameron. Don't flirt with us on tax

Chris Blackhurst
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices