Bang Bang, You’re Dead


My father was an army man.

Whilst my brothers and I were running around pretending to be commandos, cowboys or invading spacemen, someone asked him what he would do if this country re-introduced conscription into the armed forces.

Emigrate, he said.

He had seen soldiers killed around him, felt what a battle wound really does do to you and experienced more than a few of those frustrations that taking orders brings your way.

We, on the other hand, thought fighting was fun.

My elder brother was always on the winning side, well, he was bigger and stronger than me and my very small younger brother.

I tended to be the leader of the bad guys and my very little brother was, let’s admit it, cannon fodder.

Apparently recruitment to the British Army has leapt up since the economic recession. Jobs are scarce these days and young lads, laddettes too, school leavers mostly, are beginning to think that joining the armed forces might well be a cool thing to do.

They are not put off, apparently by the deaths of British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and, if anything, many of them are excited by getting “a bit of the action.”

Just like those policemen at the G20 Summit who, unlike the majority, I am sure, went into battle with more than a touch of gung-ho spirit.

Well, don’t misunderstand me, I know that there are bad leaders in the World, Robert Mugabe and his like; people who ought to be given more than just a gentle push. I know also that there are national interests to defend; the oil supply, the export market, things like that.

I know also that if all the World’s armies were made up of kids between the ages of, say, 7 and 9 and if their weapons all came from Toys-R-Us, then things would be sorted out quickly, ferociously and hilariously long before it was time to come in for tea.

I was involved once in an experiment into whether children were naturally disposed towards war games or whether they were led astray by the toys we give them. We chose a creche at a well-known and very liberal British University.

All guns and other replica weapons were banned for a term, at the end of which, instead of seeing these little cherubs playing Dalai Lamas and Hippies, they were running around using God’s original firearms, those always reliable fingers with a barrage of sound effects roaring from those infantile mouths.

I hope these potential new recruits know what they are letting themselves in for.

A young lad, aged 20, was interviewed in one of the newspapers over the weekend and he explained his reasons for wanting to sign up for the real thing:

“The job I have now has a fairly low pay. The Army will pay so much more. I have tried to look out for other work but there is nothing at all…especially recently.”

He added, with equal candour: “I have seen the lifestyle soldiers live and that’s what I want.”

He wants to join the artillery, this particular young man. Guns have not lost their attraction for him and far be it for me to put him off his ambition, but I do wonder if he really knows what life on the Afghanistan front line will really entail.

Not death, I sincerely hope, or a permanently disabling injury.

It would be a terrible cost if he were to find that bullet with his name on it just because he was bored working in a British cinema.

The fight goes on in Afghanistan, more British deaths were announced over the weekend but, sadly, it does seem to be a war worth the fighting. Unlike Iraq, the Afghanistan/Pakistani border really is Al-Qaeda territory and the Taleban, with its unspeakable laws and brutalities, won’t just say they are sorry and come running home for tea. They will only be stopped by politicians and generals putting young men like that cinema usher right up there, in the front line.

A new poem:

A Young Man’s Game

A young man’s game;
Flexing muscles,
Oiling engines,
Gun barrel proud.

Lungs at capacity,
Heart on maximum,
Legs at full stretch,
Manhood proven.

No pain, no gain,
You can do it,
Come on mate,
Just go for it.

Fraternity,
Camaraderie,
Buddies,
All together now.

The first kill,
Bloodied, shaken,
Hardened,
Hurt inside.

Hide the tears,
Don’t look, don’t let them see.
Get the bastards,
Make ‘em pay.

Limbless, bitter, pitied.
A couch-ridden loser now.
Game over.
A man, my son.

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