Christina Patterson: The price of this war keeps going up

Sunday 23 October 2011 06:06

Fighting on the frontline is tricky, of course, but if you want real stress, try working for the MoD. Actually, if you want real stress, just try speaking to them. When I last phoned them up, about casualty figures in Iraq, I thought I was going to explode.

It's not as if I was asking for anything ridiculous, like the number of grains of sand in the Iraqi desert, or the number of Iraqis killed. I was asking about Brits, for God's sake. Our soldiers. The remit of the MoD, you'd have thought, but really one shouldn't take anything for granted. In response to my question, I was directed to graphs. On them, were entries for "aeromed evacuations" and "field hospital admissions" and "non-battle injuries" and, no doubt, tummy upsets, but could they tell me how many British soldiers had been wounded in Iraq? No, they couldn't. A succession of 12-year-olds explained to me why they couldn't. It would have been quicker to phone the soldiers' parents.

I put the phone down thinking that a Howitzer might come in handy – and with the uneasy feeling that Our Boys were not in the safest hands. And that, if you were to return from the battle field without a leg, or arm, or half a brain, or if the discovery of your mate's leg, arm or half-brain left you feeling a bit shaky, the first arms that you would rush (or crawl) towards might not be those of the MoD. On whom, of course, your future welfare would hang.

That, thank God, was just a skirmish. John Salisbury-Baker did not have a skirmish with the MoD. He was embedded with them. He served them. And he lied for them. He told the parents of young men whose bodies arrived back in plastic bags that the "Snatch" Land Rovers that had failed to protect them were just fine. He knew they weren't, but he was just following orders.

Salisbury-Baker is not a 12-year-old. He is old enough to know that to bring a child into the world, and love and nurture and educate it, and watch it develop into adulthood, and just when the major work is over, get it back in pieces, is not an experience enhanced by a silver-tongued official peddling poison. And that being that official isn't much fun either. Like many of the young men escaping the body bags, Salisbury-Baker has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Now, he's taking his employers to tribunal.

I hope he wins. I hope he wins because we need to remember that war is an evil that goes beyond dead bodies and wounded soldiers, it's an evil that affects a society at every level, and infects it, too. This was a war that started with a lie, and continued with lies. It was a war started in vanity by men who wanted a bit of glory on the cheap, men who wanted to be heroes and were happy to pay for it with other people's lives. But not money. Or not much money. You can pay to do things properly, or you can do them badly, or you can do them badly, and pretend you're doing them well.

That, I suppose, is what Salisbury-Baker means by defending the "morally indefensible" because it doesn't get much worse. "Once you've been there", as the general in Armando Iannucci's brilliant film In the Loop says, "once you've seen it, you never want to fucking go to war again." It's the one expletive in a satirically foul-mouthed film that's entirely justified. War is an abomination. It's a last resort. It's a thing you do when it's the only thing to do, and then you do it with thought, with attention, with money, with care, with whatever it takes to ensure the minimum of pain, the minimum of damage. And to those for whom the price is irrevocable you give the tiny, necessary, priceless gift of the truth.

Money can't buy you loyalty, Silvio

Money, as Silvio Berlusconi has discovered, can buy you an awful lot of things. It can buy you beautiful palaces and beautiful girls. It can buy you hair and teeth. It can buy you influence – lots and lots of influence. What it can't buy you is unstinting loyalty from your children. The man who recently made the shock announcement that he is "no saint", and who owns, and therefore controls, most of the Italian media – the man, in fact, who knows a thing or two about vanity – has just been castigated by his own daughter, in Vanity Fair.

"Political representatives, who are expected to govern well, [and] make the community prosper, are also expected to safeguard the values that it expresses, possibly to raise them," says Barbara Berlusconi. "I do not believe therefore that a politician can permit himself a distinction between public and private life." In a country which excuses the rich and famous pretty much everything, and in which family ties override most moral and legal concerns, and in which principles like equality of opportunity and a free press are as exotically alien as the American man with a tan darker than Berlusconi's, this is feisty stuff. Bravissima, Barbara! Now, all you have to do is say you don't want the dosh.

Give us a break from these posturing politicians

I never want to see Putin's torso again. I never want to see his biceps thrashing through wild rivers, or his thighs gripping a giant horse, or his khaki-clad form astride a tree trunk, like a lizard waiting to pounce.

I don't want to see Gordon, "relaxing" in his constituency in an open-necked shirt, and I really, really don't want to see him in a fluorescent yellow jacket, or a tracksuit, or pink pyjamas or whatever else they make ex-heroin addicts, or convicts, or failing prime ministers wear when they're doing community service. I don't want to see fragrant wives in floral dresses shivering on English beaches, or supermodel ones snogging hyperactive husbands on Mediterranean ones. I don't want to see, or hear, another word about politicians' holidays.

I don't care about their muscles, or their patriotism, or their inexplicable desire to eschew the children they've barely glimpsed all year for a bunch of strangers. I'd just like them to run their countries as best they can and then scarper. Naff off. Give themselves a break – and us, too.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments