Diary Of A Squaddie: The Fear Of War

In the First World War deserters faced the firing squad, but if you were on your way to an Afghanistan war you didn't believe in, to what lengths would you go to avoid the fighting?
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In the First World War deserters faced the firing squad, but if you were on your way to an Afghanistan war you didn't believe in, to what lengths would you go to avoid the fighting?

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M6, England, 2003. I was getting a lift back to camp with another soldier, Jack, a young lad from Salford.  We met at Chorlton Street Bus Station where the X43 from Burnley had just dropped me off.  I got in and a hello later he darted through the streets angrily on our way to the motorway.  This was shit he said.  Shit that we had to go, what had the Iraqi’s done to us anyway?  Who were they?  This was America’s fight, not ours.  We picked up two more squaddies on the way at service stations where their parents had dropped them off, kissing their faces and telling them to stay safe out there waiting right up until Jack’s car pulled away and watching their kids race off to the war wondering if they’d see them again.  We saw them wave in the rear view.  There was excitement, indifference but with Jack there was only anger.  We all chipped in for petrol and he drove like he wanted to die.  A little crash he said, why don’t we have a little crash?  It wouldn’t kill us, maybe break a leg.  He said we’d spend a few days in hospital but get out of the war.  We all laughed at him but Jack wasn’t laughing, he was being serious.  Just a little crash, he said.

 This was shit he said.  Shit that we had to go, what had the Iraqi’s done to us anyway?  Who were they?  This was America’s fight, not ours.

Think about it, he shouted as Oasis screamed on the stereo that we just had to roll with it, just a little crash.  We told him to get real and he pointed out the barriers on the motorway.  He said if he slowed to fifty miles an hour he could swerve into them and the car would take most of the pain.  We might get a little glass, a little plastic or metal but we’d live - how about it?  He said we’d be shook up and we could claim we were in shock and get compensation and then nobody could send us to a war.  The doctors would overrule the officers.  At the most we’d break our legs.  I told him to keep to seventy and get us back to camp.  Just a little crash and we’d be out of the game and then some other soldiers would have to go, not us, we’d be resting up in hospital beds with fit nurses looking after us while they were in the air heading to Iraq.  Think about it, just a little crash, he kept saying.

 A little crash he said, why don’t we have a little crash?  It wouldn't kill us, maybe break a leg.  He said we’d spend a few days in hospital but get out of the war.

I asked him why he didn’t want to go to war and he said he didn’t want to die.  I told him what he was planning could easily kill us, how slowing down could have had someone ram us from behind.  Crush us all in metal.  Why did you join the army if you didn’t want to go to war I asked him, it wasn’t a surprise that soldiers went to war, that was the whole point of being one - to go to war.  Soldiers were made for war and war was made for soldiers.  He told me he didn’t think he’d ever have to.  He just wanted to learn a trade he could use in civvy street and leave as soon as he could.  The minimum term for a soldier was four and a half years and he was nowhere near finished.  He hadn’t done well at school so had joined the army to learn something.  He didn’t want to go so crashing his car on the motorway was better than going to a war where most of the soldiers would come back alive from.  I told him he had a better chance of living going to the war than crashing his car.

 Just a little crash and we’d be out of the game and then some other soldiers would have to go, not us, we’d be resting up in hospital beds with fit nurses looking after us while they were in the air heading to Iraq.

We stopped at another service station for a leg stretch and to use the toilets.  We ate expensive burgers and chips, it might be our last meal so why not blow our money, Jack said.  I told him the war hadn’t even started yet and he’d lost it already.  Why not wait until we were over there before making the decision?  It couldn’t be all that bad I told him.  We were the best army in the world I reminded him, we were the best and we were soldiers not cowards who crashed their cars to hurt their legs.  Don’t do it Jack.  Why not go AWOL instead?  Drop me and the lads off at camp and then drive right on out of there?  Why not go AWOL?  He said he didn’t want to get into trouble, he didn’t want to watch over his back every day wondering if the Police were coming for him, the little crash would mean that he could get out of the war and his friends wouldn’t think him a coward.  That’s all it would take he said, a little crash and he’d be okay.

 The minimum term for a soldier was four and a half years and he was nowhere near finished.  He hadn’t done well at school so had joined the army to learn something.

We knew we had to get back in the car with him, we were in the middle of the country at a service station a hundred or so miles away from the camp, we could have gotten a taxi but we couldn’t leave him, he’d have crashed that car.  I could see him speeding into the barrier, metal hot sparks, plastic and glass in his face, Oasis blaring, the engine crushing him, the idiot’s face in the papers - “SOLDIER DIES ON WAY TO WAR.”  So we got back in and talked him all the way back to camp.  When we got in through the gate and saw the lads with their guns waving us in, Jack shut up.  He’d keep his fear inside and go to the war, he’d keep it deep in his stomach and get on that plane and do what he’d signed up to do.  There was a strength to be gained from those around you.  You’re not alone Jack, we’re all going mate.  When he saw them standing there with their guns in their hands he knew he wouldn’t go AWOL, he wouldn’t crash his car, he’d get on that plane and when he got off it into the desert he’d cock his rifle and be the soldier people saw patrolling the streets on the television, be the soldier in the papers, be the soldier others saw even when inside he never wanted to be there.  Jack would soldier.

Name has been changed

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