- My latest piece in the Independent is a series of interviews with Afghanistan Veterans, some serving, some not. I asked them what they thought of David Cameron’s “Mission Accomplished” claim. They used bad words.
- I just wrote a piece on the real tyranny of drones for Souciant Magazine. The Royal Air Force and Ministry of Defence went on a drone PR offensive this morning, allowing journalists into the RAF Waddington drone facility for the first time. Defence Minister Phil Hammond’s Guardian piece is here. Mine is here. See what you think.
- Had the pleasure to meet journalist, veteran and photographer Stuart Griffiths last eve. He even gave me a copy of his book Pigs Disco, a Gonzo tale of drugs and soldiering in Northern Ireland. I urge you to check it out.
- David Cameron has declared mission accomplished in Afghanistan. The Prime Minister, who was accompanied by ex-England footballer Michael Owen, floated 2014 plans for a football match at Wembley between Afghan and British troops in the spirit of the 1914 Christmas truce. It may be of note that the Christmas truce was played between enemies and the ANA are officially allies despite the recent history of insider attacks by indigenous soldiers on coalition troops.
- General Sir Dave Richards was on the BBC today making noises about sub-Saharan Africa. He aired concerns over the legacy of the Libyan Intervention and how part of it’s fallout was the spread of arms throughout the region, and only hours after Cameron’s Mission Accomplished claims.
- Less well reported is the spiralling situation in the Central African Republic. My friend and occasional sparring partner Assed Baig is on the ground and filed an update in the last few hours
Just London, that is all.
- First, in Vice, my latest article on the silencing of UK and US veterans! Read, share, all that stuff. Fine people, in difficult situations, put themselves on the line to speak to me.
- The Afghan government is deep in talks over a “US security deal”. Should it not be called an Afghan security deal? I have no fucking idea. Only today the White House threatened to pull out all troops unless Karzai acquiesced. I thought it was just the Mayor of Toronto who smoked crack…
- Deep joy. Certain players within the Afghan government are considering bringing back stoning for adultery. Team Nato, which this week is wondering what to do with itself now that the war is “over”, has succeeded in replacing a violent regime with a violent regime. I for one think we all deserve another medal.
- Iran, something was happening, and now something has happened. Israel is angry and says Iran could have a bomb within weeks…again. This immediately tells me the “something” that happened fell short of a decision to bomb Iran to smithereens immediately. Iran continues to look on wryly, lending weight to my suspicion that Iran, for all it’s human rights flavoured shortcomings, is still cleverer than the rest of us. Has peace broken out? Unlikely. I think this is less a parley, more a shift. Empire endures.
- #Murika… Or Toronto anyway, which is America For Beginners, I think. Anything built before 1996 is accounted “historical”. The city is pretty, but blighted with dark satanic condominiums. I spend twenty days there in the haze of mayoral crack vapour, visiting with a nefarious colony of Americans. Canadian’s are very pleasant, but I knew that. I was elated to find that Americans are on the whole neither fat nor stupid – they are in fact hospitable, interesting, thoughtful and emotional in a way which is both disconcerting and endearing. In fact, I have developed a heretical love of Yanks! I was even happier to discover that they can not only manufacture but ingest in some quantity palatable beverage. We spoke on political platforms about war things, were hosted by Afghans and I pretended to be a public intellectual. Then we went to the woods. Germans filmed me filmed drunk-dancing to the Moulin Rouge soundtrack. A philosophy student told us at a public gathering that all public gatherings are fascistic. Deadpan.
- Jiu Jits News – I’ve had two weeks off. My instructor texted me asking where I was. I said I was back Tuesday. He said: “Oss, Guerrierro” or something. It made me feel like I belonged.
- Guardian Freelance Journalism Masterclass. This was great. Stylistic tips and practical advice about pitches and markets. It was also very Guardianista. I ate lasagne. Hobnobbing afterwards, I found an ale called Warlord and drank it from a horn. Not really. The horn part.
- Veterans for Peace UK marched to the Cenotaph. I remembered how to right-wheel. Within a week of our wreath laying, dozens of new veterans were making enquiries. I am sure that this was because of my crisp, exquisite drill.
The YPG and YPJ (People’s Protection Units) are the Kurdish militias, male and female respectively, that are fighting against the al Qaeda linked groups Jabhat al Nusra and Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) in Northern Syria. At their base in Kherbet al Binaat (literally “the girls’ corner” in Arabic) these women are on the frontline against al Qaeda, whose troops are just 2 miles away.
Stars and Stripes
November 23, 2013
In postwar environment, US and European troops work to prove relevance
By John Vandiver
HOHENFELS, Germany:The troops picked a good location to set up their mortars, down in a valley near the cover of a ridgeline.
But the shouts from the Slovenian mortar men, echoing off the hillside, threatened to give away their location.
Such scenes are playing out daily at the rugged training grounds in Hohenfels, Germany, where the Joint Multinational Readiness Center is hosting one of its largest multinational training exercises in recent years. As the war in Afghanistan winds down, such training initiatives will play a key role in ensuring allies don’t lose hard-earned combat capabilities achieved during a decade of war, U.S. commanders say.
The two-week exercise, which brings together 1,200 U.S. and European troops, tests the ability of soldiers to work as a single multinational combat brigade
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I’ve been away for a while. Not in jail this time though. In between researching a new book, visiting Toronto (with it’s dark satanic condominiums) and general frolics I have neglected my blog.
Why have I come back to the blog? Well, because I’m paying for the bloody thing. And also because I attended a Guardian masterclass on freelance journalism which was excellent in a Guardian kind of way. One of the speakers emphasised the value of blogging little bits of ideas as often as possible.
My last Guardian piece also saw me pick up dozens of email followers, and so I’d be rude not to write more…
Topics to be covered in the next few weeks (all subject to change on a whim)
- My musket-wielding, Crockett-hatted adventures in Canadia
- Veterans For Peace UK’s brilliant visit to the Cenotaph
- The “Security Deal” in Afghanistan and the wrangling with Iran
- Lefty cults. In the news again.
- Thoughts on the new book…
- My search for a hugely well-paid column which will allow me to sit in my river cottage in Surrey proselytising to the proletariat.
All this and more coming soon…
Imperialist he may have been, but Kipling brilliantly taps into the mind of the common British soldier of the late 1800’s and much of what Tommy Atkins says here still chimes true for today’s imperial henchman.
I went into a public-‘ouse to get a pint o’ beer,
The publican ‘e up an’ sez, “We serve no red-coats here.”
The girls be’ind the bar they laughed an’ giggled fit to die,
I outs into the street again an’ to myself sez I:
O it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, go away”;
But it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play,
The band begins to play, my boys, the band begins to play,
O it’s “Thank you, Mister Atkins”, when the band begins to play.
I went into a theatre as sober as could be,
They gave a drunk civilian room, but ‘adn’t none for me;
They sent me to the gallery or round the music-‘alls,
But when it comes to fightin’, Lord! they’ll shove me in the stalls!
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, wait outside”;
But it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide,
The troopship’s on the tide, my boys, the troopship’s on the tide,
O it’s “Special train for Atkins” when the trooper’s on the tide.
Yes, makin’ mock o’ uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Is cheaper than them uniforms, an’ they’re starvation cheap;
An’ hustlin’ drunken soldiers when they’re goin’ large a bit
Is five times better business than paradin’ in full kit.
Then it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, ‘ow’s yer soul?”
But it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll,
The drums begin to roll, my boys, the drums begin to roll,
O it’s “Thin red line of ‘eroes” when the drums begin to roll.
We aren’t no thin red ‘eroes, nor we aren’t no blackguards too,
But single men in barricks, most remarkable like you;
An’ if sometimes our conduck isn’t all your fancy paints,
Why, single men in barricks don’t grow into plaster saints;
While it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Tommy, fall be’ind”,
But it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind,
There’s trouble in the wind, my boys, there’s trouble in the wind,
O it’s “Please to walk in front, sir”, when there’s trouble in the wind.
You talk o’ better food for us, an’ schools, an’ fires, an’ all:
We’ll wait for extry rations if you treat us rational.
Don’t mess about the cook-room slops, but prove it to our face
The Widow’s Uniform is not the soldier-man’s disgrace.
For it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ “Chuck him out, the brute!”
But it’s “Saviour of ‘is country” when the guns begin to shoot;
An’ it’s Tommy this, an’ Tommy that, an’ anything you please;
An’ Tommy ain’t a bloomin’ fool — you bet that Tommy sees!
I go head to head with the BBC’s premier mauler Stephen Sackur. Either he having an off day, or the ‘ what about the fallen’ stuff doesn’t work with me any more.
Chelsea Manning keeps on giving and has yet to ask anything in return. A valuable debate has emerged on identity and class in the progressive cloister.
The Chelsea declaration stumped me at first and I’d be a lesser man if I did not put my hand up to a spate of eye-rolling and a rather pedestrian collapse into ‘what the fuck has that got to do with anything’ thinking. Behold, my ever so progressive consciousness had snagged on something.
Now this might be a legacy of being raised as a manful manly man/geezer bloke. Or a counter intuitive backlash against having a strong working class mother and a father who was no less progressive for recalling Grizzly Adams. Perhaps it is due to having been a soldier and all that comes with that fun gig, or having seen the destruction which can emerge from starting and ending your worldview with yourself and screeching tearfully about it in political meetings. Finding out is an on-going process.
But it’s a cast iron fact that for about half an hour I lumped this monumentally courageous coming out with the whiny, dead-end ‘me and my gang’ activism which, partially by neoliberal design, shackles, atomises and frustrates the superior and sorely needed art of rousing great, roaring hordes.
Exercising my near supernatural talent for whimpering regret and hindsight, I recognized I was incorrect and was thus handed a heady dose of self-knowledge by Chelsea Manning. All the better to address a stump of prejudice which, while worn down enough to be forgotten for a time, remains lodged in the brains of chappish chaps under capitalism.
On reflection, and by shameless leeching of the insights of some weightier brained and arguably less belligerent thinkers, I see that this individual, even on the grandest stage on earth that day, simply will not stay down on her knees as instructed and that is what’s important.
To be imprisoned, tortured, slandered and slurred, tried with vindictive bias for being true to your duty (military and moral), then told you will be interned for a ridiculous length of time and to then define yourself upon the very stand you were just damned on takes not only courage but a measure of panache.
Chelsea’s declaration, at that grim, beleaguered juncture, was mad-brave and noble and smacked of the kind of defiance found rarely and at places like Thermopylae – a thumb bitten not just at her enemy, but at our mutual one and to all the vileness and chauvinism and bigotry that foe puts into us. You might be bent on crushing me, she seems to say, but you will know who I am while you attempt it.
Far from exercising a set of politics wherein it all starts and end with the big, fat ‘ME’, Manning, more than any other individual lately, has conquered the micro and the macro.
That said, while individual resistance is very eye-catching and endlessly appealing to any passing liberal who is in a leftish phase that week, it does not resolve the contradictions which give us war, or oppression, or exploitation.
That class continues to take primacy is so clear it ought to be counted as mere good sense. The rest can only be grappled with and resolved under that umbrella… shit bust, that’s it, suck it up, embrace this grind or leave the matted area. But this reality, as hard as it can be for some folks to digest, does nothing to diminish Chelsea Manning’s contribution to, and I say it without irony, world peace.
I will continue to treat those versions of identity politics which are soggy and abstract, middling and liberal, with even-handed fairness (read: un-gently) which I have come to know is just, right and required. As any of a recent hit list of the bristling non-entities who alluded to my supposed ‘white male sexist Marxist colonizer’ attitude will attest. That is, if the authorities ever find where I am keeping them…
But for now I’m off to skim Henri Charriere’s Papillon, a superb prison book which, incidentally, I read in prison during what looks and feels to me today like a custodial sentence spanning entire microseconds. I will leave you, rugged man-brothers, with a final thought now I have finished sieving this piece for misplaced ‘he’s’, which are never to be uttered again. Can there ever be enough anti-war women? I suspect not.