Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Friendly Fire

The 'friendly fire' incident in which an American A10 killed Corporal Matty Hull underlines my point about the contemporary quandary of knowing too much. The pilot was deluged with information and took, in the event, a wrong decision. Technology seems to made such incidents less likely - in previous wars 15 per cent of casualties were caused by friendly fire. But, though cases may be fewer, technology makes them more vivid and, therefore, more politically sensitive The publication of the A10's cockpit video dramatises the horror of the incident and reminds everybody of the cost of war. In such a climate, it becomes harder to accept the reality of the soldier's lot. As Tennyson put it, 'Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die...' The effect of technology in this case is to make us all know too much, too much at least comfortably to accept Tennyson's martial stoicism. Some will argue this is a good thing. But the reality is that it has not yet shown any signs of curing our species of its thirst for blood.


  1. I don't suppose Tennyson did put it quite as you have had him put it. "Their is not to reason why. Their is but to do and die."? No, I don't think so. That'll larn you for your gratuitous remark in re. the freakery of someone - not, obviously, quite as ruggedly stubbly as you appear to be - who uses an electric shaver. Such a fag, all that preparatory work, never mind the bloodletting.

  2. It will certainly not cure us of our thirst for blood. But it may very well feed our hunger for more graphic depictions. Most of us in the West are familiar with the language of war, the sights of war, the personalities of war, the politics of war, and so on. Yes, we all know a lot about war. And we want to get as close as possible to the real thing - but not too close. We don't want to smell it.

  3. For once - and only once - you are quite right, Grabber. It is fixed.

  4. Nineteenth-century Englishmen -- middle and upper class ones -- raised on a classical education (Iliad, Odyssey, fightin' aplenty) wanted to smell war. And then they got quite a dose of it in W.W. I: They smelled it in trenches they couldn't get out of, they smelled it in mustard gas that burned their lungs and eyes, they heard it in concussions that gave 'em shell shock forever after. And, it seemed, the survivors learned: They didn't want to make war anymore (unless forced by extreme circumstances, e.g., Hitler, a generation later).

    Now look at this war: All the leaders who had actually *been* to war (here, that was Colin Powell emphatically) were against it. Only those who have never seen the devastation wrought by war think it's somehow glorious. Bush stepping out of fighter jet on aircraft carrier an indelible image of that cluster of middle-aged men who wished they'd done what their dads did -- fought bravely in a world war -- but if they had, they would, like those guys, have been against this invasion. (One glass of pinot noir over my limit tells me this sentence has a grammar prob., but you get it, no?)

    What is Tony Blair's war experience, if any?