Musings for My Friend Andy
British Air Force Fighter-Pilot
15 February 2001
It was nice to meet you, Andy, and Sara your wife Monday evening, 12 February 2001. Being a terribly curious individual, I was enthused to know about your mission in Italy and some of the workings of a modern military force perched on the threshold of the new century. By just talking a bit with you, I was able to ascertain that things have changed enormously—as I might have expected—from when I was an artillery officer in the United States’Army in the 1960s.
There are a few of my observations that I wish to share with you and your comrades in arms. The first is that it is very much obvious that military engagement is no longer executed in the way it was during World War II even though reactions to political conflict are still very often cornerstoned on the thinking which predominated foreign affairs more than fifty years ago. Except perhaps for Korea, the Vietnamese, Falkland Islands, Gulf and Kosovan-Yugoslavian incursions have been more akin to massive police actions than old-fashioned textbook wars, but the rallying cries have remained quite similar to those of before: “We are the good guys; you are the bad guys.” And, unnaturally, these new forms of hostility all have had to bear the brunt of a prodigious opposition—for us, Andy, at home in both the United States and England—led by dissenters who deemed the intrusions unjust, illegal, undeclared legislatively and, after Vietnam, discharged by professional forces and not volunteers taken from the mainstream of Northamerican and British societies. These irruptive actions have not generated the “will to win” (Why?) that others of their kind in the past took satisfaction in having: World War II citizen reaction was both compelling and overwhelming. As a consequence, defence departments have been forced to upgrade the quality of their personnel and keep marijuana-smoking schismatics at home far away from the troops isolated and indifferent in relation to their make-love-not-war leftist-minded peers and, consequently, more gung-ho as do-gooders are often wont to be.
The arms used by the Northamerican and British forces are the most technologically sophisticated ones, and in no other period in history has the world seen so much disbursed for so many different kinds of weapons bent to mass destruct. At the same time, the trumpeted enemies of the United (Disunited?) States and the United (Disunited?) Kingdom (a declining communism in Vietnam; a bravio nationalism in Argentina; a religious zealotry in Iraq; and, a who-knows-what in Kosovo-Yugoslavia) have had to defend, very often courageously, their points of view with six-shooters very much more rudimentary than the swinging ones you, Andy, carry attached to the holding racks of the phantasmagoric jet bomber you pilot. I ask simply: Is this fair? Is right only might? Do your actions conform to international law? Andy, when was the last time you read the Geneva Convention? Have you read it?
At one point in modern history, the United States and England were under the aegis of some somewhat moral authority—however indistinct—and this was recognised as being what was the best for the moment by even some of the two military giants’ enemies of today. For example, their actions were “sanctioned” more or less on a world-wide scale during World War I and World War II (World War III?). No more does this “privilege” exist. Nowadays political dissension is often more pronounced in Washington and London than it is by the enemy on the battlefield! Military power’s aggressiveness is blessed very often these days only by the “lifers” themselves—much as if they are too busy mirroring their images in the self-reflecting pools of arrogance and pride. Northamerican and British military hierarchies medal themselves just as members of The Academy of Motion Picture Artists do. No one else would ever think of doing so! Where is the overruling entity ready to shrink their egos—if necessary? Or, are our leaders god-like, without faults, technically perfect as are your computer-guided missiles, Andy? Then, too, are our leaders making very big political mistakes? Did it make common sense to pluck on the nationalistic heart strings of the Falkland Islands and incense 500,000,000 Southamericans or do the same in Iraq and Kuwait and taunt 1,000,000,000 Islamics throughout the world? And, of course, what do Asians think today about the bombings of Northvietnam in the 1960s and 1970s? You can find people all over the world who fear Northamerican and British soldiers. But, I keep asking, where are the people who respect Northamerican and British soldiers? Only in Northamerica and Britain?
You have been selected, numbered, tagged, inspected, bar-coded, examined, analysed, scrutinised, instructed, trained…and what have you? You, Andy, are the best specimen from the crop. Your abilities guarantee that that multi-million dollar jet aircraft you jockey will return safely and soundly and unscathed and unscratched. The investment has been insured through your intelligence. You know what is expected of you, you know you are programed not to err. Your superiors control every moment of your life. There is probably nothing they do not know about you. They think for you. You, my friend, are the last stage in the passage to The Robot Soldier.
If you are called upon one day to attack and risk your life for the United States and England, there is one thing you must know. Not one citizen of the United States or England—in his or her right mind—would want to trade places with you during that moment of danger. (Just ask Bill Clinton and George W. Bush!) Citizens will say they would want to, but they are not being sincere with you. And the most vociferous of them will scream chants and national anthems and will demand that you be given medals galore. Even your own wife would balk, Andy! Imagine for a minute she is with you on a bombing raid on a pre-selected target which you have been told is a munitions depot but yet just might be, mistakenly, a building full of children praying to Allah or Buddha or Christ or studying the future perfect tense of the English language. You go in for the kill. Bullets ping off the canopy of your cockpit when your wife intercoms you with this: “Andy, turn this aircraft around and go immediately back to base.” You protest instinctively: “Love, I have a mission to carry through!” She raises her voice: “Love my foot! Andy, you go back now! If you don’t I’ll hit you over the head with a rolling pin when we get home!” Andy, do you not see that you are doing something that most people, in their right minds, would not dare even think about? Quod erat demonstrandum: Are you a pazzo? Are you a misguided missile? (You are a man. You are a problem. You are a challenge for swivel-chair warriors. Soon there will be a robot to replace you!)
I have been always nonplused by the unpremeditated support given by the British government each and every time the United States decides to flex its muscles on behalf of its interests anywhere in the world. The Northamericans attack; the British knee-jerk their approval! The C.N.N. and the B.B.C. make their announcements as if the rest of the world might suspect that this time round the British just might not comply with the United States’ desires of them! Incredible! The Northamericans and the British are so much in sync, you would think they should wear the same uniforms. (Andy, if a Northamerican general, walking across the Thames with you, ordered you to strip and jump in, would you?) Why not The Northamerican and British International Constabulary—ready to serve all causes just and democratic, to keep our cherished democratic values safe from whatever sort of negative influences which may exist in any part of the world. NAMBRINTCON would keep the world bulletproof for all of us. Imagine the headlines: NAMBRINTCON DISARMS DRUNKEN DELINQUENTS IN RUANDA IN FORTY-EIGHT-HOUR SWEEP; NAMBRINTCON HALTS COLOMBIAN COCAINE TRAFFIC IN ONE MONTH; NAMBRINTCON ELIMINATES ITALIAN MAFIA IN WEEKEND CLEARING OPERATIONS; et cetera. The NAMBRINTCON uniforms will be created by the very best of fashion designers to give that “military look” but with that “peace-keeping” feel. The world would be grateful and the President of the United States and the Queen of England could share the Nobel Peace Prize on magazine covers all over the globe insuring an Earthly Coverage—well-photographed and subject to continual BREAKING NEWS stories. Wow!
The habitual interference by northamerican and british military forces in the internal affairs of other nations in the world without any mandate whatsoever is not an intelligent international policy and should be carefully re-examined both by the united States and England. What we have here is the creepings of a timocracy. A strong desire to take hold of the world situation for the benefit of “ALL,” for the honor and glory of the “GOOD.” If this tendency is left unchecked, the world will be closer still to an implosion of estrangment, passive-aggressivity, pan-anarchism and hate which will make the middle ages appear to have been happy times. One commands with respect—not fear.
* * *
The first paragraph of my trilogy The Hippie Lieutenant, about the Vietnam “War”—concocted by Washingtonian imbeciles, Vintage 1960s, who unabashedly called themselves “the best and the brightest”—is what I want to leave you with today, Andy:
“John Wayne imbued in me the killer instinct.
There is no question about it in my mind. Watching
his movies on the “Early Show,” “The Million
Dollar Movie,” and “The Late Show” inoculated
my disposition with the diseased germ of ducking
bullets, tossing handgrenades, running for cover,
hitting the dirt, smelling for the enemy,
anticipating the attack with all five senses keyed
to war’s main event and, finally, offering the
toast to celebrate the end of the tension and
danger which accompanies it.”
When I saw the drunken revelries with which United States’ Air Force pilots celebrated their B-52 bombing missions over Northvietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, my stomach turned in disgust. From 30,000 feet on high, they had dropped their bomb loads killing only who knows who and who knows what. The same revolting “good times” were again enacted after bombing missions during the Gulf police action. I have never been competent enough to understand this conviviality which belauded the deaths of hundreds of thousands of powerless women and children, and when I had come home from Vietnam in August, 1968 I enjoyed one of the happiest days of my life because I was finally able to take off my uniform—for good. From that day I have been constantly remorseful that I even ever had put on a uniform of the United States’Army.
Each and every one of us possesses the obligation, I think, to defend himself or herself when our lives are in danger. Perhaps nations may no longer subscribe to the out-dated stipulations for initiating hostile actions because today there exists other methods to achieve some measure of justice, and if these are used judicially, loss of life will be the fine result of everyone’s efforts to delay and seek more rational solutions. I regret that the United States and Britain are so trigger-happy. They must be very wobbly.
And yet I have something more in mind for you, Andy: Remember that if you really believe in what you are doing and take responsibility for your actions, you will be more interested in winning your enemy to your side than you are concerned with snuffing him or her out. Maybe you will be defending yourself in those moments of insanity when the choice to kill is made, but you have no good reason no matter what to relish in the prostration of your fellow human beings. If you enjoy killing your enemy, you lower yourself to the level of his or her thinking: He tried to kill you! Now you try to kill him! I hope you do not have in mind the thought to be exhilarated over the killings of your enemy.
Good luck, Andy! Don’t forget to duck when you have to. And I sincerely trust that for you, your wife, and your family, you will not come home in a rubber bag with your dog tag jammed between two of your front teeth.
Anthony St. John