SERGEANT STUART "GUS" MILLAR, THE BLACK WATCH, KILLED IN ACTION
Funny how the unpopular girl, thick as pigshit, is never the one abducted, raped and buried in a shallow grave only a few miles from where she lived and found by a man out walking his dog; it’s always a girl popular with everybody, with a career ahead as a doctor or a lawyer or some other, money-grubbing dirtbird, always a girl who is not only a wonderful child who would do anything for anybody but is always her mother’s not only jewel of a child but best friend, too.
It got so that we might have thought Steven Lawrence had had his name posthumouly deed-polled to Bright A-Level Student Steven Lawrence, the six words always appearing together. The inference being that his murder was the graver because he wasn’t a dumb fuckwit called Wayne with a CSE in metalwork. Cast your mental ear back, you can hear Michael Buerk, Steven Lawrence, the bright A level student who met his death…….no moral maze there for Mike and his chums to negotiate, Steven, obviously a better class of corpse, almost one of us, but not quite.
The kids buggered to bits by social workers, a la Margaret Hodge; the kids driven to suicide by Principal Officer Screw’s bullying in our scandalous juvenile nicks; the kids preyed upon by Pope Nazi’s ubiquitous regiments of Noncing Monsignors, these kids are not popular, their parents’ best friends, these kids are loners, truants, fodder only for the full and far-reaching cover-up which will attend their brutal deaths, chaired, as we say, by some eminent QC, good, despite his or her colleagues’ grudging esteem, for fuck all.
It is the vernacular of skymadeupnewsandfilth, the hyperbole of tragedy and it’s always been so in the Forces, where people don’t die screaming with their limbs blown off and their guts hanging out but instead, fall, valiantly, singing the national anthem - you never hear Colonel Rupert Golightly-Jockstrap saying Well private Smith was actually a thief, a snitch, a bully, a troublemaker everybody hated his fucking guts and the regiment is well rid of the oily bastard and if I had my way I’d feed him to the fucking dogs, old man, do you? It’s always the equivalent of the abducted girl requiem delivered by the headmaster, relishing his moment of fame, mixing his metaphors, splitting his infinitives, offering the whole school counselling from some mysterious, itinerant cavalcade of grief monkeys; where do these counselling wallahs come from, for fucks sake? The Colonels all now have media-training, where once they knew War. It is a pestilence, an aspect of Ruin, this nauseating media grieving.
But it is getting past a joke with the Army. My late Highlands neighbour, Sergeant Gus Stuart of the Black Watch bought the farm, recently, in Afghanistan. Formerly a terrier, he joined the big Army at 29 and was forty when he died, not one of these so-distressing boy soldiers, not yet twenty. Gus came from Inverness, where they crack-on like Culloden happened last week and warfare is in the blood - if Highlanders have no-one else to fight they fight each other, rather like the Talimen. There was a bit of recent frontline videotape on the Jock news. Gus was in Helmand, loving every minute of it, he said, grinning, absolutely magic, what he’d trained for, what he loved doing, magic, just magic. I don’t know how he died but it probably wasn’t as a result of someone in a fez saying Abracadabra! Probably distinctly unmagical. In a regimental statement on Gus’s death, Col. Golighty-Jockstrap said that Gus was a rock among shingles, not quite sure what the rest of the regiment will make of that comparison, who had made the regiment proud. Gus’s family, too, issued a statement to the same effect. So, Gus was happy, one of the grateful dead, the Army is happy, his family is happy, why, pray, should anyone else give a flying fuck? No, really, why should we be in the least vexed that a mature, private soldier got what soldiers get? That is the logic of the coverage of his death - he died doing what he loved, job done, job's a good 'un.
The question of shortages has dominated the inevitable casualties in Afghanistan but actually this is mealymouthed claptrap from people too timid to denounce the entire fucking enterprise, as they should. Shortage is part of the grammar of war. There were shortages at the Battle of Jericho, the Battle of Thermopylae, the Battle of Hastings, the Battle of Waterloo; through the Hitler War and beyond, the entire fucking nation suffered shortage of everything, the civilian population had no defence, no body armour protecting it from unimprovised air-to-surface explosive devices; war and shortgage go together like a horse and carriage, if no-one was at risk from running out of ammunition, for instance, or from dirty underhanded enemies aiming at our most vulnerable parts, it wouldn’t be a proper war and we’d have to call it something else, maybe something like a public relations exercise. This, of course, is what it is; proof that We never do deals with terrorists, or if we do we call it a Peace Proh-cess. And just now we are still at the stage of getting enough Tommies killed for us to agree to whatever it is Ahmed wants and put him in government, like Mr Kneecaps McGuiness. If Euan Blair or gimpy Will Straw was in the Black Watch we'd go straight to the Peace Proh-cess and never mind Gus having his fun; too fucking right we would.
So we have a non-war which even the career Ruperts say can’t be won ; which the incoming US commander says has been fought arse-backwards for eight years; which the incoming Chief Rupert says will go on for forty fucking years; in which the more of our soldiers get killed the greater, according to Gordon Snot and Bob Ainsworth, is our victory and in which people like Gus insist that they are happy, proud, to die in order that some future US President can eventually evacuate his troops from Kabul, clinging to helicopter runners.
This is not a conscript army – unless unemployment acts as a press gang – these are professional soldiers. Is Gus’s death a tragedy we should mourn and regret or is it not? How should we react to Gus's falling. Should we celebrate or what? That, celebration, would be the logical reaction to his own mission statement. But then how do we react to somebody bleating mutinously, seditiously, that their Darren woulda been alive if only ...... if only he hadn't been killed by the people whose country we have invaded ? The CO killed recently, he was treated just the same as his subordinate warriors, wasn't he, they all have the Prince of fucking Wales turn up, the former Defence Secretary; sometimes you can't get near a squaddy's funeral for Royalty and Cabinet ministers, each man's death diminishes me, but fuck me, a Colonel's death, that diminishes me more.
Early on in the play, Rosencrant and Guildenstern are trying to spin Hamlet to his Uncle’s bidding. Here, he says, forcing an instrument on them, play me a tune. But Sire, we can’t. No, I insist, give us a fucking tune. But we simply cannot….Yes, you can. No, no, no, Sire we cannot. But you would play me, wouldn’t you, arseholes, fret my strings, press my keys…?
One day the press invites us to teleparticipate, angrily, in obsequies to passing hearses, the next day informs us that Gus died doing what he loved doing, only not the dying part of it, presumably; look, here he is saying so, to camera, its all magic out here in Afghanistan. Magic my arse.
We don't have victims' justice; however imperfectly, justice is delegated to the dispassionate state, it is the only way for large numbers of people to live together; we shouldn't have soldiers' wars either and Sergeant Stuart's enjoyment of his posting should not justify the military misadventure in Afghanistan, which both skymadeupnewsandfilth and the Army sought to do with his home-movie from the front. In the cacophony of complaint and excuse, of armchair generalship and cack-handed propaganda which is the soundtrack to Afghanistan we should not forget that the soldiers - like the politicians - work for us, the generals and the sergeants, they work for us. It is I who funded Gus's life in the terriers, equipped his BoysOwn adventure in Afghanistan, will pay for his last flight home, his funeral and whatever welfare expenditure and pensions are involved. And however skymadeupnewsandfilth and the army would play me, spinning Sergeant Gus in his grave, it is I and not they who regrets the totally unnecessary waste of his life.