Lies, Damn Lies and Numbers…

18 08 2009

Two interesting historical posts coming out of the Indepenent today. I’ll write something about the second later, but for now I wish to consider Robert Fisk’s comment on the number of British casualties in Afghanistan.

The full copy of Fisk’s thoughts is to be found here. It is emotively entitled “Why these deaths hit home as hard as the Somme”. Upon seeing such a headline I will admit to growing fearful about the content of the article. Where was Fisk going with such an ill-considered banner line? I actually disagree with the implication of such a headline, I think that these Afghanistan deaths hit home harder because of many things, not least the nature of the world media. That’s by the by though.

The real point that Fisk made, and it is something I agree wholeheartedly with him about, is this one. He writes it pretty succinctly so I’ll simply transcribe his words:

And let’s just remind ourselves of the casualty figures. We’ve lost just over 200 soldiers- admittedly most of them in the past 14 months- in a war that has lasted for eight years. In the Second World War, which lasted for almost six years, Britain lost 650 men on D-Day, 6 June 1944, alone. And let’s go back to the Great War. On the first day of the Somme- 1 July 1916- we lost almost¬† 19,500 dead. That’s almost a hundred times our Afghan dead in 24 hours.

A good point well put I feel. The deaths in Afghanistan are, of course, tragic, but they are small fry compared to many other battles, wars, military engagements made by the British. The word ‘tragic’ above was carefully picked as to echo Stalin’s famous thoughts on war dead, paraphrased “one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic“. This I feel has a certain resonance when considering the parallels between the two conflicts. The reason there is such a media outpouring when another British soldier falls is because the event is a comparative rarity.

The British army have grown a lot better at engaging an enemy, and because of this the death rate has fallen. However, this falling death rate has meant that more time can be given to each dead person. We are told their names, their ages, their private life. We are told this because we can be told. The media can keep up, and play with the public emotions of hearing of one more dead person. They simply couldn’t during WW1. The soldiers were falling in such numbers that no-one really knew who was dead, and who wasn’t. Soldiers were lost during battles, and only inaccurate numbers could suffice as to the number of dead on any given day of the war.

The real point is that we should actually be thankful that only 201 troops have died during eight years of conflict in Afghanistan. There is, of course, the lingering question of whether Britain should be in the country in the first place, but that’s a whole different issue. The result is that the soldiers are. And they’ve only lost 201 of their own through the course of eight years of action. That’s actually a pretty remarkable statistic. That’s 201 deaths in 2850 days (roughly). That’s mightly impressive really. The army should be commended for this, not chastised. Of course these soldiers should be remembered too, but the army should not be attacked for losing men, it is after all, the nature of the beast.


In the dark: the life of the Bullet Magnet…

28 02 2008

So good old Harry is living his dream of killing the Taleban in Afghanistan. And the army, as well as the royal family tried to keep the public in the dark about this. Sensibly in my opinion. The trouble is, much like communism, it was reliant upon everybody agreeing to it. And, as is so often the case with the press, they simply will not.

Being fair, apparently all the British media obvserved the royal family’s wishes, it was the foreign papers who let the cat out of the bag. I can’t be bothered to say that much on the subject, I just thought it was a naive approach to assume all the media across the world would let this story lie. Obviously they wouldn’t, and as soon as the story became public, it was a race to report on it as soon as anyone could. Harry cannot like being such a target for either the media or the Taleban, but, as a sensible man, he is aware of the dangers of both.

I’m just left wondering which he finds worse. The media, or the Taleban. It must be a close run thing.

Editors Note:

Having posted this yesterday, it is disappointing to see that as soon as the story was leaked Harry was removed amid “concerns for his safety”. This is rubbish. Of course there should be concerns, he was in Afghanistan fighting the Taleban, there’s fewer hostile places on Earth at the moment. I feel sorry for him. After all, if he has trained to be in the army, and he is not being allowed to do it, then what can he do?

How ya Bin?

17 02 2008

Justin Webb’s comments on the situation regarding the world’s public enemy number one make for interesting reading.

I am inclined to think there is only an element of truth in what he says. Bin Laden and Hussein were, for so long, high on America’s most wanted list. They ‘got’ the latter and promptly ensured he was executed. But is the former becoming less important? I’m not sure, although the rhetoric on him has seen a drop in more recent times.

More important than that suggestion is the implications that has for those soldiers in Afghanistan. If we run with the suggestion that Bin Laden is no longer as important, then does this mean that for all those troops still positioned in Afghanistan (and still undergoing what appears to be heavy fighting), are they employed now solely in a peacekeeping role?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought the invasion of Afghanistan was a clamp-down on the Bin Laden-led Taleban.¬† The Taleban, in case you need reminding, are still very much an active force in Afghanistan, with recent news suggesting they are far from going away. Bin Laden still hasn’t been caught, and I for one doubt he ever will be. But if the implications made by Webb are to be entertained, then this would mean that the mission in Afghanistan has become either

a) unnecessary or

b) something different to the original plan.

If however we maintain, as America are likely to do, that the main objective is still the capture of Bin Laden, there is much more of a reason to keep the troops in the country. That reason, other than to save face, would still be to capture the worlds public enemy number one.

It is here where I think the issue is. America needs to save face. Those in the big white building need to keep it looking like they are hunting terrorist HQ so as not to really piss off all those anti-war folk. As well as the families of the troops who continue to die over there.

Of course, it is not just America, but, like sheep to the shepard, Britain still maintains her interest in the country, if only because America says so. That, if I’m correct, is a whole lot of people who the higher powers need to keep happy. If there is some form of justifiable cause (like the hunt for Bin Laden and the threat of terrorism) then these people are much more easily appeased, even if they still do not fully agree with the cause.

Personally I think that the emphasis has very much shifted from capturing Bin Laden and the Taleban to improving the country savaged as it has been by war, cultural and poltical strife. In a similar manner to Iraq, the hunt for one man was only ever likely to be part of the story. The rest of it, as with Iraq, is the hope that the future of the country can be rescued, and made into a less contentious place. That is why America and Britain still have an interest there. I’m not so sure Bin Laden is the issue anymore.

But is this wrong? Surely trying to rebuild a country before you have permanently sorted out the problem is putting the cart before the horse? Surely the emphasis should still be on capturing Bin Laden and the Taleban? Surely America should still be really keen to ‘get’ him? It strikes me though that for the Allies, getting Bin Laden would be a happy addition to what they are trying to do. Much like chocolate sauce on your ice-cream. It isn’t strictly necessary, but it would be nice.

Bin Laden therefore is chocolate sauce.