Last week The Times cartoonist Peter Brookes drew two of the saddest and most poignant cartoons I have ever seen.
The second was a bulging eyed Cameron striding up to a lectern with the Afghan mission statement under his arm, he then read:
“Half a league, half a league, half a league onward . . .”
The other cartoon was even more heartbreaking. It was a military cemetery with row upon row of simple gravestones inscribed with the lines from the World War One song: “We’re here because we’re here.”
The drawings reminded us of the absurd Charge of the Light Brigade to the pitiful slaughter of the trenches at the Somme. Two battlefields where thousands of brave young men were sacrificed . . . for what?
For what did the young make the ultimate sacrifice? To satisfy the vanity of useless and careless generals or the ignorance of boneheaded politicians?
I’m not a pacifist and have always recognised that sometimes war is justified because unless evil and intolerance is defeated then civilisation itself ends. World War Two was just such a conflict.
It has to said however many other wars have been follies and demonstrations of hubris on a grand scale.
At the time of the ugly and brutal Vietnam War we helped many brave young Americans defy their monstrous government and dodge the draft. That war was an unjust and avoidable conflict that brought no credit to the United States and caused hundreds of thousands of needless deaths.
There is a “patriotic” view that says “My country, right or wrong”. Yet often the purpose has nothing to do with patriotism and everything to do with greed and expansion.
When some lardy politician gets up and talks about “defending our country” you can bet your life he’s not out there doing the defending. In the same way when the same parliamentary grotesque gets up and says: “We’re all in this together”, you know perfectly well that is a thousand miles from the truth.
So as young men and women from our towns and cities die out in Afghanistan, their grieving relatives are told that there is a purpose to their deaths, they are not dying in vain.
Truth, however, is both sad and stubborn. Those gallant young men who rode to their deaths in the Crimea and those innocents who jumped up out of the trenches did indeed die in vain.
Tony Blair sent British forces into Afghanistan to stand “side-by-side” with George Bush, part of the worldwide “war against terror” that would rid the world of Al-Qaida.
Trouble was that Al-Qaida was operating mostly from bases in our ally Pakistan and it would have been very bad form to invade an ally!
So when Al-Qaida was vanquished a new foe was discovered: the fight against the poppy trade. Unfortunately that has increased dramatically over the last decade and Afghanistan now accounts for 90 per cent of the world’s opium supply.
Then it was the fight against the power of the Taliban. Remember them?
They were brave freedom fighters that the Americans armed to defeat the Russians. Finally we have been there for a decade to support the “democratic” government of President Karzai.
It’s a bitter truth that his puppet government encourages corruption as a way of life and without foreign support on a massive scale would be unlikely to survive more than a few hours.
The biggest irony of the whole tragedy that is Afghanistan is that the most stable and secure period of that country’s history was the period when the Russians were supporting the pro-Soviet government in Kabul. Then there were considerable advances healthcare, life expectancy and education, especially for girls.
The strangest aspect of the strategy is that the political boneheads who have sent troops to die in an unwinnable war have declared a date on which they will withdraw unilaterally. So any old Taliban fighter will know when to mosey on down to Kabul to share the spoils with old Karzai and his mates and if there are any Al-Qaida operatives lurking in Pakistan, they know the exact date to nip across the border and link up with their Taliban chums.
One last argument that is advanced is that we’re there because it’s a NATO commitment. Funny then that most other NATO forces have gone or are going and what’s left are as usual the United States and their British poodles . . . and even the yanks are jumping ship!
Far too many young lives have been lost in vain and far too many families are left grieving for no good reason. I’m reminded of Kipling’s words:
“If any question why we died,
“Tell them, because our fathers lied.”
But in this case substitute politicians for fathers.