Alexi Sayle: The best soldiers are frightened of everything

Saturday 28 December 2002 01:00

Channel 4 showed a documentary on Christmas night about Derek and Clive, the foul-mouthed alter egos of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore who emerged in a series of improvised tapings in the late Seventies and early Eighties, before I was in showbusiness. Watching it, I recalled how at the time I had disliked these nihilistic, misogynistic, desperate recordings.

The documentary featured a queue of comedians saying how great Derek and Clive were but this fresh acquaintance showed me that I had been correct all along and the Derek and Clive tapes were just horrible and sad: two great talents squandering their gifts on drunken rubbish that should have remained a private joke. Those recordings are like listening to a four-hour long 999 call.

Then I thought a bit more about a lot of the other things that had happened to me over the course of my life, the moral dilemmas I'd been presented with, and I realised that I had always been right about absolutely everything always. (I did briefly let myself be persuaded against chunky Kit Kats for a while by a Jesuit sound engineer but I changed back the next day.)

Monetarism, animal rights, Blur vs Oasis, the impossibility of producing energy from cold fusion, the Falklands War, Sega Dreamcast versus Sony Playstation – on every issue that has divided opinion over the past 30 years, history has proved me correct. I'm not bragging about this; it's simply a statistical fact. Indeed, I find it a great responsibility, and it pains me to tell you that I suspect there's going to be a pointless war against Iraq in the new year.

I'll tell you what, though, when a couple of weeks ago the Spanish navy at the request of the US government stopped and boarded a North Korean ship in the Indian Ocean carrying missiles the Yemeni government had legitimately bought and paid for, I was absolutely outraged. I mean that's our job isn't it? Doing pathetic little jobs that the United States can't be arsed with is the one role the British armed forces have managed to hang on to, indeed are being actively groomed for by our leader, Tony Blair, Republican Senator for the State of Slavering Codependency.

However, even in this limited sidekick role I am worried that our air force, army and navy are about to come upon a big problem. There is, of course, the shameful state of our forces' equipment: the ancient battlefield radios that only pick up the Home Service, the Leyland bus-engined tanks, the SA-80 assault rifle that is only of use if you want to shoot yourself in the head five or six times but will jam on first sight of the enemy.

No, all these things were there at the time of the Gulf War and we still managed to play Boo Boo to the US's Yogi Bear. What we are running short of is the basic thing that the British Army has been built on since at least the time of Wellington, ie stocky, tough, psychopathic little hardcases. Sure the council estates, tenements and terraced streets are still producing their fair share of illiterate losers – indeed university top-up fees should see their number increase; the problem now is that our hardcases aren't hard anymore.

The sell-off of school playing fields that, despite the usual mealy-mouthed promises, Labour has done nothing to even slow down, added to the expansion of car use, so that walking to school is an unendurable ordeal for schoolchildren, never mind marching across the desert in full kit; plus a diet of Sunny Delight and chewing gum has resulted in a generation of young people who are massively unfit and full of self-pity.

So unless there is any tactical benefit in our special forces spending the coming war with Iraq strapped to a DFS couch in a centrally-heated flat with cable TV and microwave pizza, we are going to have to find a new source of soldiers for those dangerous missions that the Americans don't want to get killed doing.

What I propose is that in the short time we have left, rather than try to change our flabby cowardly youth into soldiers who do not know the meaning of fear, instead we recruit people who are fluent in fear to an enormous degree. I'm talking about those people who are suffering from acute anxiety disorders of all kinds: phobias, panic attacks, obsessive compulsive behaviour, intrusive fearful thought and so on – all the fun of the fear.

I have experienced such things myself, and if you are a sufferer you will know that getting out of the house in the morning can be the most frightening thing in the world – as frightening as, but no more frightening than... oh I don't know... let's say a midnight parachute drop into Baghdad: it's all the same to us.

If you are phobic about birds it takes as much courage to touch a frozen chicken as it does to shove a grenade down the barrel of a moving T76 battle tank; if you are scared nearly to death of the voices in your head telling you to take your pants down in public, then going up against the Republican Guard is going to be a cakewalk by comparison because you can run away or kill the Republican Guard, but the voices, mate, you're stuck with them.

Do you see where I'm going with this? I'm saying that rather than try to compose our élite fighting units from the lardy youth of Britain, we draw them instead from the growing ranks of the clinically anxious, because the clinically anxious are frightened of everything and are therefore frightened of nothing.

I reckon if we can all manage to get to the airport without running off screaming, then we've got a rather good chance of winning this thing.

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