I remember the first ever time I stepped out in to the civilian world as a Legionnaire. It was a Friday evening and the first weekend at regiment, a mundanely standard affair for the seasoned but for one just released from the four month captivity of basic training it felt like sipping from a Saharan oasis after years lost in those monstrous dunes. The modest city of Avignon suddenly transformed into this heaving metropolis offering up every seedy soothing cure to every aching desireimaginable. But I had already gotten my tip. I knew where I was headed. Did somebody say "Irish Pub"? Ah the cosy bar stools and oak-cask tables, hooray for the antique Guinness posters and Irish rugby scarves, and oh my what a delightful list of whiskeys you have yourselves there. Game on! However, it didn’t take long scanning the drinks menu to stumble across a rather amateurish error. Amongst the Mojitos and Sex-on-the-Beaches sat a rather insolent entry on the chalk board....
A "Belfast Bomb Car"? I asked the waitress with thinly veiled incredulity.
"Yeah?" came the abrupt response slightly overlapping an less-than-graceful Gallic shrug.
The waitress - a pretty Belgian girl without more than a handful of English words as were almost the entire staff - maintained a rather masterful air of being just that little bit too uninterested to register any actual curiosity in my grievance. And then it sort of slowly seeped in. They just don’t get it.
Let it be stated for the record that my unease radiated primarily from the appalling grammatical structure of the cocktail’s name. With that said, I guess I was also just a tad shocked by a cocktail of that name existing in the first place. Apart from an under-aged outing in a memorably Republican establishment on Aran Island, I could never have imagined an Irish bar displaying the words "Belfast Car Bomb" (I assumed creative control, it’s my blog, OK?) anywhere within its walls. But then this wasn’t a real Irish bar. The staff weren’t Irish, didn’t grow up on an island plagued with political acts of violence since before they were born, didn’t understand the potentially inflammatory nature of a smooth, refreshing alcoholic beverage sporting such a title. I get it, even if I don’t really.
The events in Northern Ireland over the past few days brought this all back to me. Or perhaps I should admit that the afore-mentioned events coincidentally combined with a rather unsettling occurrence over here in Taliban Town brought this all tumbling down on my conscience. I’ve recently found myself inundated with various questions on the death of the policeman in Omagh, it’s reasons, motives, etc.
Is there still a war over there?
No, the IRA took a chill pill and everybody’s backslapping each other over lasting peace.
Why the bomb then?
Well, some little upstarts still fancy sparking violence to aid the apparently officially resolved cause.
Ah ya know yourself, 26 vs 32 and all that.
Surely it’d be better to have the 32 united?
Ah get out of that garden, never gonna happen, are ya mad?
No, not mad, just French and curious. Fending them off as feverishly as possible only served to highlight my own utter ignorance concerning the "situation" in the North. But not only that, I also found myself engaged in some discreet head-scratching concerning our beloved coalition’s presence in Afghanistan. Having never been directly affected by the troubles, I don’t believe I could ever achieve the required insight to offer qualified commentary on the ghosts of the past and promises of Northern Ireland‘s future. So when a battered old Toyota came hurtling along and smashed in to three French Army vehicles parked on the side of the road the other day, detonating on impact and sending (literally) shockwaves across the region, both the familiar and the unanswered reared their ugly heads once more. In the suicide attack itself (the very first encountered on this particular tour of duty), only the guy behind the wheel of the exploding corolla kicked the bucket. Miraculously, an unexpected shower of rain had coerced our lads in to descending from the roof hatches on the vehicle and settling down on the comfortable cushions inside. Had their heads been exposed and on the lookout, well……. hooray for rain! Only the gunner and driver of the vehicle directly hit encountered any sort of injury. "Blasted" but otherwise OK ("Blasted" meaning their ears took a right old hammering and their insides too, from the force of the explosion), the two most adversely affected (Legionnaires, both of them) together with four others who received a jolt in the back of the vehicle jetted off to Kabul for a routine check-up and some well-earned R ‘n R. I’m happy to report that all soldiers are now fully recovered and back at the FOB.
Nevertheless, there is something inexplicable in the emotions stirred by a suicide bombing. Taking pop shots from distance at our troops over here, laying roadside bombs during the night hoping to hit a vehicle the following day, it’s all very "safe", all very guerrilla. Strapping yourself (or your vehicle) with explosives and going headfirst towards the heart of the enemy, however, is a different kettle of fish altogether. Some consider it fanatical, extremist, cowardly. Others consider it honourable, courageous, inspirational. I consider it BeJesus scary and completely fucking insane, but that’s just me. And unlike me, the people of Afghanistan have grown up in a country seemingly war-ravaged since the dawn of its history (or even before.....Spinal Tap?.....anyone?). These people have seen the before, are living the present, and have their own hopes and dreams for the future of their country. The modern age has instilled a sense of global uniformed acceptability regarding the advancement of democracy and, for the most part, I would consider myself a supporter. As always, however, there are the means and then there is the end. The key, for me, is effectiveness.
Nothing can be done about the reasons for or the actualisation of the war here in Afghanistan. We are here now. We have our orders to execute, our missions to complete and our asses to save along the way. I just can’t help wondering if this country will be any better off at the end of this six month tour than it was right back at the beginning. And despite the medals, the money, the photos, the souvenirs and the bragging rights, all any soldier really wants is to feel like they’re actually making a difference. If not, then there really is no point to us being here. Get it? No?