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Never Invade Afghanistan

Apart from providing the phrase for the category under which I have posted this (though the attribution is apparently disputed) 1950/60s Prime Minister Harold Macmillan also outlined the first rule of politics, “Never invade Afghanistan.”

I’m not quite sure exactly how many times British forces have been embroiled in that country over the years but the present conflict is at least the fourth. They have not usually turned out well.

I knew when the Soviet Union sent troops there in 1979 that they would be kicked out. I always suspected that our latest foray there would result in tears. As it does.

Why did – why do – our politicians not know? What are their advisers for?

Or did they just not listen?

The First Afghan War (1839-42) was particularly disastrous for the British as it encompassed their greatest defeat in Asia until the fall of Singapore in 1942. A withdrawal from Kabul through passes clogged with snow resulted in a massacre.

There is a relatively well-known painting “Remnants of an Army” by Elizabeth Butler which was said to depict the sole survivor. In fact around forty of the 16,000 who set out managed to survive.

I remember hearing a radio programme about the retreat which used a line from Thomas Campbell’s poem Hohenlinden, “The snow shall be their winding sheet,” as its title.

The Second Afghan War (1878-80) was the one that turned Major General Frederick Roberts into a national hero, Lord Roberts of Kandahar, when he force-marched his troops to the relief of a British force beseiged there. Nevertheless the British eventually withdrew.

The Third Afghan War (1919) was a smaller affair amd resolved little but still had many British casualties.

One of the few survivors of the retreat from Kabul in the First Afghan War described it as “… a war begun for no wise purpose, carried on with a strange mixture of rashness and timidity, brought to a close after suffering and disaster, without much glory attached either to the government which directed, or the great body of troops which waged it. Not one benefit, political or military, was acquired with this war. Our eventual evacuation of the country resembled the retreat of an army defeated.”

Nothing much changes.


I suppose a seventieth anniversary is something special but perhaps it is more so when it involves an almost iconic event.

7/12/2011 marks seventy years since the Pearl Harbor attack, the event which turned relatively localised war into World War. “7th December 1941: a date which will live in Infamy,” – FDR.

It is sobering to realise that the Second World War lasted less than four years after that. The US and UK have now had troops dying in Afghanistan for much longer than that; and in Iraq for not much less time. Not so many troops dying admittedly, but dying nonetheless.

I vaguely remember Gore Vidal saying something to the effect that the difference between Pearl Harbor and the September 11th attack was that no-one saw the latter one coming. He had a personal reason to blame the US authorities for the war with Japan, though. His lover died in the Pacific fighting.

The Eagle

Off to Dunfermline for this adaptation of Rosemary Sutcliff‘s novel The Eagle of the Ninth. I don€’t remember if I’€™ve read the book; if so it was as a child. I have a vague recall of a television production of the story in my youth but forgot all the details except that it involved the legend of the loss of a Roman legion, complete with imperial eagle, in the wilds north of Hadrian€’s Wall (or would it be the Antonine Wall?)

I read recently the latest historical thinking is that the legion may never actually have been lost, just absent from the records. It might simply have been redeployed elsewhere in the Roman Empire. Still, print the legend, eh?

The film’s plot is simple. Marcus Aquila, the son of the lost (and hence disgraced) legion commander comes to Britain, is wounded, saves the life of a gladiatorial combatant who becomes his slave and the pair go off to search for the lost eagle. Cue male bonding and the dawning of mutual warmth and respect. There was a strong Breakback Mountain type of undertone towards the end.

Echoes of current imperial adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan (now add Libya?) are of course present – especially in the patrician Romans’ lack of understanding of the ways of the indigenous population.

The scenery was stunning – even if it was shot in Super Gloom-o-Vision. Lowering clouds and twilight vistas abounded. Plus lots of rain.

It may seem silly but I could have done with a little less violence; not that there was much actual blood spurting. Why must the cinema sound be so loud, though? This was particularly true of the adverts and trailers beforehand – almost deafening.

The acting was convincing enough throughout. I had never seen either of the leads, Channing Tatum and Jamie Bell before. Donald Sutherland was spectacularly ill cast, though, as Marcus Aquila’€™s uncle.

Can Someone Not Rid Us Of This Clown?

I see our PM, the inestimable Mr Irresponsible wants to use our already overstretched military forces to become embroiled in the situation in Libya. (There is by the way a fantastic typo in the headline of that link.)

Has he learned nothing from our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan? And he’s just downscaled the RAF’s training programme, the very service whose input will be most required in the most likely operations in Libya.

Any use of UK military force in Libya is liable to backfire as it did in those other countries. Can DC guarantee no innocent casualties from such a development? Even deaths or injuries to those loyal to Gaddafi, those in the firing line in other words, could be a provocation too far.

If Gadaffi subsequently goes their families will resent the fact they were killed/injured by foreigners. If he stays his regime is not going to be enamoured of us. Either way our national interest is weakened.

While I personally would like to see him gone Gadaffi’s destiny ought to lie in the hands of Libyans.

DC’s survival is unfortunately not in the hands of us Britons. We won’t get the chance to chuck him out for another four years (think about it) by which time the damage he and his smirking side-kick George Osborne – have you ever seen such a smug, irritating so-and-so, he outranks even Kenneth Baker in that regard – will have done to the fabric of British life will be unrepairable.

Where are the Lib Dems when you need them?

Forgotten they’re supposed to be jointly in charge, it would seem.

Boer War Memorial, Edinburgh

On a sudden impulse we went to Edinburgh on Sunday morning. (Well the good lady wanted to return an item to a shop.)

It was a pleasure not to have to fight our way through crowds on Princes Street as we would have on a Saturday.

I had the camera along and ended up taking 46 photos.

This is the war memorial that stands on North Bridge (the one above Waverley Station.) The uniforms are of the South African War/Wars.

If you read the writing (click on the picture to enlarge) it’s not just to commemorate those wars but also engagements in Afghanistan (nothing changes, eh?) Egypt, Chin Lusha, Chitral and Tirah.

This bottom picture is of the plaque below the memorial. It commemorates the laying of the foundation stone of the North Bridge by some local worthy.

Afghanistan Shortbread

Someone got to this blog by searching for the above two words on Google.



But more importantly: why?

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