Saturday, 28 August 2010

A hit off the action, a walk on the dark side.

Frequently I get asked about war and the people I meet in the course of my work in conflict or post conflict.  My heart, my prayers and empathy goes out to those who are caught up in wars, such as the civilian population, and those who have no choice such as conscripted soldiers, child soldiers; but the others ?

"Men and women who venture to someone else’s war through choice do so in a variety of guises. UN general, BBC correspondent, aid worker, mercenary: in the final analysis they all want to do the same thing, a hit off the action, a walk on the dark side. It’s just a question of how slick a cover you give yourself, and how far you want to go.. If you find a cause later then hold on to it, but never blind yourself with your own disguise,” writes Anthony Lloyd.





Author on the war in Afghanistan, Jason Elliot, goes to Afghanistan as an 18 year old English school boy during the Soviet occupation.
Photo: Jason Elliot.







In the winter of 1996 when the Taliban were bombing the little life left in  Kabul, (Jan-Feb) Anthony Lloyd stayed with me in my house. He and an English cameraman lived in the bunker in our house. We travelled  to Khord Kabul where the British were routed in their retreat from Kabul in 1859. This was the front line and we were with Masoud’s troops and could see plainly, Talban soldiers moving about with RPGs. Over 300 British troops had been slaughtered in this valley in 1859.

A few years ago, Lloyd published a book called “ My War Gone By, I Miss It So,  about the wars in former Yugoslavia. It's a remarkable book where a young misfit goes to war as a correspondent. He writes:

‘ Listen, said Peter, the Dutchman, ‘we don’t fight for the money, and we’re not in it for the killing. It’s about camaraderie and, sure it’s about excitement. Some are bullshitters, some are psychotics. We are neither. We are here because we want to be, and if there is a price to pay, then we are ready for that too.’



US Armed PCs during the Vietnam war. Photo: Bob McKerrow

"There was very little difference between them and anyone else who goes to war voluntarily. In their case they had taken a side and were ultimately prepared to kill. Though my reasoning for being there was still in flux, at its simplist I was there to watch, and that gave neither of us the higher moral ground. Men and women who venture to someone else’s war through choice do so in a variety of guises. UN general, BBC correspondent, aid worker, mercenary: in the final analysis they all want to do the same thing, a hit off the action, a walk on the dark side. It’s just a question of how slick a cover you give yourself, and far you want to go.. If you find a cause later then hold on to it, but never blind yourself with your own disguise.”

STOREHOUSES OF SORROW

Sometimes I wonder why I have spent so much time in conflict or post conflict regions and the answer comes to mind when I read Nicolas Bouvier, a Swiss writer and artist, He said, “ My belief is that one must have passed through fire oneself....to be able to sort out...the contents of those storehouses of sorrow, where fortunately we can also find, more often than we might have dared to expect...enough small miracles to motivate and encourage those in the field who are so often compelled, to quote a mediaeval Japanese poem, ‘to bear the unbearable and tolerate the intolerable.’

9 comments:

Ruahines said...

Kia ora Bob,
Excellent thoughts as always. I think back as a child looking at the writings of Ernie Pyle and the photos of Robert Capa from World War II and how they impacted me through words and black and white images of war. The bravery and dedication of such souls still carry on, but it doesn't seem we have learned very much.
Cheers,
Robb

Bob McKerrow said...

Dear Robb

Sadly, we haven't learnt much as exemplified by the US and allies being in Iraq and Afghanistan.

War correspondents have huge impact and your 2nd World War memories of Capa and Pyle are examples.

Martha Geldhorn was my heroine and her reports from the Spanish Civil War, Winter War in Finland, and travels with Gen. McArthur and legendary.

Enjoy the week.

Bob

Jamie said...

Hey Bob,

A while back I questioned you about your description of James McKie (the New Zealander who threw the grenade back) as a hero.

A tough cookie perhaps, quite possibly a courageous man, but I couldn't accept that someone who volunteered to be part of a force occupying Afgahnistan could be a hero, by mere fact of preserving his own and his colleagues lives.

The hero's, admittedly in my book, are those who fight the guns, the power and the bloodthirsty, not those who succumb to their attraction.

And as you point out we are attracted, there is definitely something very deep within some (or perhaps most) of us that longs for a cause and people to share it with. A worthy adventure...

As I do my day job, counting money, writing processes and managing people I dream of the endless hills of China. I dream of riding my bike into the remotest places on earth.

In the weekends when I adventure into the hills or organise plantings or beach clean-ups I dream about fighting the great environmental causes, being caught up in a natural disaster, or yes sometimes been at war. What would it be like to be chased?

But if I was to choose a quote of Bouvier it would be the following, a quote, straight from Wikipedia, that recognises the universality of the human condition, the "central insufficency of the spirit" that we must recognise so it can't be captured by forces that desire to use it for their own ends.

"Nothing of this nature is acquired definitively. Like water, the world traverses you, and for a while, lends you its colours. It then draws back, leaving you once again to face the emptiness that one carries in oneself, to face that central insufficiency of the spirit that one must learn to live with, to fight, and which, paradoxically, is possibly our surest driving force." (Translated from L'Usage du monde)

Thanks for sharing your thoughts Bob, which led to some great reading and reflection.

Take care

Jamie

Bob McKerrow said...

Dear Jamie

James McKie clearly volunteered for service in Afghanistan and I am probably guilty of wanting a ready-made hero in this age of lousy role models for me and my children. I take your point about volunteering to be there.

I liked your comment

"The hero's, admittedly in my book, are those who fight the guns, the power and the bloodthirsty, not those who succumb to their attraction. "

Some of the warriors without weapons such as Archibald Baxter and Gandhi come to mind.

Thanks for sharing with me what you during the week, and weekends and what you dream of. Didn't D.H. Lawrence say that men who dream during the daytime, are dangerous?

Thanks for your concluding quote. Powerful!

Take care my young friend.

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