Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Thoughts on war

This post is quite personal. I'll be on strictest mod-ing mode as a result. You have been warned! :-) 

My brother and I, and my two paternal cousins, are the first generation in our (paternal) family to have not fought in a war for HRH for over 100 years. My great great grandfather fought in the British army during the height of colonialism. He was stationed in India and Sri Lanka during Queen Vic’s reign, and I think he fought in the Boer war. My great grandfather and his brothers fought in the First World War, and all survived. He was in Gallipoli and the Somme, and then he joined the Flying Corps. My grandpa, like many grandpas, was in the Second World War. And then my dad sailed off on the HMS Ardent to fight in the Falklands conflict, which started 30 years ago yesterday.

Quite how after four generations they ended up with a bunch of pacifist feminist socialists kids I don’t know! Although my dad joked how he was the only member of Greenpeace on a nuclear sub (he really was!).

I of course wasn’t born when the Falklands war started. I came along two and a bit years later in 1984.

My dad was on the HMS Ardent. I’ll forgive you if you haven’t heard of it. It isn’t called the ‘forgotten frigate’ for nothing. The ship sailed across the ocean to eventually provide support for Operation Sutton. On 21 May it was attacked and on the 22nd May it sank. The crew fought and fought to save the ship but eventually, as my dad put it on Twitter yesterday, they were outnumbered. Survivors were rescued by HMS Yarmouth and they sailed home on the QE2. Twenty-two men didn’t make it home.

If you were of a Newsround-watching age at the time, you might have seen my mum and dad being interviewed by John Craven as he arrived back! 

If you watched The Iron Lady, it gets a mention. It doesn’t get many mentions. The Guardian interactive guide to the conflict reported a few British sinkings but missed out this ship. I don’t know why.

At this time, when there’s lots of reporting about the Falklands, I go off in my head and start thinking about war. And the impact war has.

As well as the forgotten frigate, one of the forgotten statistics of the Falklands conflict is the number of suicides of veterans. A 2002 report found that more veterans of the war had committed suicide since 1982 than had died in the conflict itself (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1758301.stm). I think it is important to talk about this. Because sometimes, in the horrors of the reporting of wars themselves, in the ensuing patriotic celebration of war, and in the general revisions of history that always inevitably happen, the actual lived impact of being in a war can be forgotten.

From the children growing up in Gaza, to the women in Afghanistan, to the families in Somalia, to the men and women on the ground – what happens to them when the cameras go away, when the footage stops rolling? What happens to the children who have seen people being killed, what happens with PTSD, what happens when there’s no-where to go home to from the refugee camp?

In 2007 dad, bro, stepmum and I attended the 25th Anniversary memorial parade. I was in a funny headspace at the time, the next day I was in hospital having an ultrasound for suspected gallstones so the whole day I was in unprecedented agony and panic about how the hell I was going to get home from London when I could barely move (god knows how I made it!). Despite me nearly fainting from the pain as we stood up again to sing the National Anthem, it was a very moving and solemn event. Tony Blair was there, sat next to Thatcher.

I was reminded of the two of them sitting there, when watching Channel 4 news last night. A Marine veteran from the conflict was interviewed by Jon Snow. His closing comment was:

‘There are no winners in war… politicians can make grand gestures but they never have to fight in wars”

I think we could all do with remembering that. Every day.

I don’t know why I’m writing this really. I wanted to write something about the ship, my own mini-tribute to an event that gets forgotten about so often but had such a profound effect on my family and my life. I wanted to explain why my anti-war beliefs exist precisely because my family has fought in and survived wars. That my anti-war beliefs are not about being against the women and men who are there but against the structures and politics that put them there. And because I have always believed that we need to think and consider what happens after the wars – beyond the medals and the parades, what happens to those left behind and those who come home. I want us to respect and remember the reality and the lasting impact. I don’t know what it’s like. I’ve never been there. I’ve never had to go through what the four generations of men before me went through, or what those in conflicts are going through now.

‘There are no winners in war… politicians can make grand gestures but they never have to fight in wars”

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