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Mission Accomplished or Mission Impossible?

Just when you imagined that the capacity of our Wounded Leaders for self-deception had been exhausted, David Cameron issues his pronouncement on Afghanistan:  “Mission Accomplished.” What is going on?

Has the man any sense of history? Does he not know that white hyper-rational culture has failed to tame these Afghans for two centuries? Only George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman managed it, and he was but a fictional figment of public-school imagination.

imagesSpeaking of which, can’t DC even remember a previous “Mission Accomplished” moment ten years back? George Bush, on the deck of the mighty USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier, announced it just before the Iraq trouble really got going? Have I missed something, or wasn’t it Tony Blair’s hunger to sit at High Table with headmaster Bush that led Britain into that war, famous for its fictional WMD’s?

Besides, how can we realistically force Afghanistan to adopt a parliamentary democracy when most of the country is made up of rock, dried mud and ethnic rivalries that we have no idea of? Some of their social customs may revolt us, such as their patriarchal attitudes to women. But some of them, rooted in indigenous culture, surpass our own.

I well remember an evening at the start of Ramadan in 1971. I had just crossed from Iran to Herat in the back of a battered pick-up. In the restaurant of the basic hotel where I was staying a string band was playing to a packed audience, who passed slips of paper containing couplets they themselves had composed to the singer. These were then sung out to the public, who replied with degrees of appreciation according to the poet’s merit. Even though I had no Farsi, I was stunned. To me, that was culture.

A year after Afghanistan had been flattened as a payback for 9/11, Donald Rumsfeldt declared it “A start-up country.”

Come on, DC, check out some history! I suggest “Mission Impossible” might be more appropriate.

But then we would have to feel the pain of it, and feeling the pain is something Wounded Leaders just won’t do.


  1. Nice site Nick. I’m struck by how often I’ve been told by soldiers,”We’re doing a good job” in Iraq/Afghan, or “We’re getting on with the job” – and when I ask them what, precisely, the “job” is, the engines kind of die. Is there some psychology at work here that what matters is that you’re “still fighting” no matter what the fight’s about?

    Note also the Chief of Staff’s comments published today – his reference to “hollow force”, and Britain’s need to remain in the Premier League of hard power. Why? To do what “job” and with what mandate and at the expense of what other options?

    Comment by Alastair McIntosh on 19/12/2013 at 10:01 am
  2. Thanks for this, Alastair.

    It’s complex, and I think the soldiers have to believe in what they are doing, otherwise how could they stand the pain of being prepared to loose their lives and those of their comrades? Behind it all, I think there lies a problem with feelings.

    A soldier is trained to ignore his emotions: he has to be. He must disregard the most primal feelings, those which lead to self-preservation, in favour of following orders, in favour of his commanding officer’s objectives, in favour of his loyalty to platoon, squadron, regiment and nation. He is obliged to, or he could not function as a soldier. Imagine the scenario: the charge begins, and sergeant yells “At them lads!” But one of the soldiers refuses to move. “I just don’t feel like it,” says he. “It doesn’t feel safe to me; I feel like staying put.” These feelings are accurate and totally congruent, and we would probably all have them. He is absolutely right and is functioning as a normal human being – but not as a soldier. (extract from Chapter 12)

    The militaristic institutional boarding school culture, design to mass-produce Rational Man, over-values its prime survival tactic, the repression of feelings. It took its cue from the soldier’s preparation for war and, as we have seen, the boarding-school culture went on unrealistically to affect and influence our culture in the typically British top-down fashion. So our political leadership still acts as if they were sitting at High Table at Eton, which is where they would like to be, as if it were still 1890, which is where their attitudes stem from. But it is not 1890, we are not a superpower and we should have seen through the folly of defence spending orgies.

    This is why I, even as an Englishman, respect the Scottish Independence movement, even if it is flawed, because it at least has a vision of something different.

    Comment by Nick Duffell on 19/12/2013 at 10:21 am

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