Dark thoughts on losing war

I was getting a fair bit of stick on our website IrishCentral.com, I noticed, for advocating an optimistic kind of template for dealing with the global economic recession in last week’s column.

I respect all the opinions reflected by the comments on the piece. Some of them remind me yet again of the common autograph verse which was popular in Ireland in the sixties.

It read: "The optimist fell 10 stories/And at each window bar/ He shouted to his comrades/ “Alright so far!"

And there was another too: "Two men looked out through prison bars/One saw mud but the other saw stars!"

So much depends on the way you look at things. And we have a choice every morning we open our eyes.

The negative comments, however, have probably colored the paragraphs that follow this one. As ye know I usually write on the light side of life here in the west of Ireland. That is what I prefer to do.

It is also the way I follow my own road, and I find that the easier course.

Today, for example, was absolutely foul in Clare, with the first wintry winds and rain from early morning scourging the last leaves from the trees and revealing blackly bare arthritic limbs. You could dwell on that.

But at seven o'clock we had a rare visit from my eldest grandchild Orla and her father, my son Cuan. Orla is as pretty as a princess, gentle and blonde and five going on six.

When she closed the door behind her and hugged us you could not hear the bad weather outside. She spent the evening petting and cuddling old Penny the terrier and the cats Tuppence and Thruppence, and talking about her younger sister Lucy back home in Connemara. And her mammy.

And she rode a hobby horse around the house. And later she said goodnight on the phone to those back home and promised she would see them tomorrow, and hugged her old grandfather and the Dutch Nation before going to bed under the thatch with two teddy bears and a Halloween torch that projected the images of bats on the wall overhead.

Outside the weather cleared and the adults drank good red wine Cuan brought with him, and at midnight the moon broke through beautifully. And the rest went to bed and I began writing.

But anyway, if some of ye need darker stuff, I went outside a little while ago to lock in the hens, and a troop plane came in to land in Shannon down the road and I heard it. We know the sound of them by now, heavier than most of the passenger airliners, lighter than the freighters.

It will leave again in a few hours after I finish this, either for the battlefields of Afghanistan or (hopefully) heading home with weary warriors, many of whom have Irish blood in them. And I always bless myself ritually when I hear them.

Because, as I said here before years ago in a rare serious offering, the Afghan battle is being lost by the Allies, day after bleeding day, and nobody at all is admitting it. Not the English and not the Americans or the political leaders of the smaller contingents involved.

It is being lost, it could never be won, and all the pussyfooting in the world fails to disguise that reality.
Never mind the Wikileaks business that simply reveals deeper realities than the mainstream propaganda, never mind all the reassuring political speeches that seek to hide the realities, never mind all the talk of strategies and surges and so-called strategic re-positionings and plans.

This war is now already lost.

The Taliban and their dark associates have won -- as they were always certain to do -- and by Christ, quoting an Englishman, if ever there was a time for jaw-jaw rather than war-war, it was last week and now at the latest.

I recall quoting the Northern Ireland situation when I dealt with this before. At their peak the Provisionals had no more than 500 or 600 activists in the field against one of Europe's finest armies, including the elite SAS.

The war was fought in a geography that was tiny compared to the vast mountainous spaces of Afghanistan. The British Army controlled the air with their choppers. They had watchtowers on every hill, their weaponry was unrivaled, their numerical superiority on any given day a matter of many multiples.

Yet they did not win. They never crushed the IRA right to the bitter end.

And the Provos, though fierce fighters, were never, ever as ferociously and totally committed as the Taliban. They were in a different league.

They were not religious zealots. They were not natural warriors like the fierce Afghans. They never wanted to be suicide bombers. They wished to survive until the next engagement.

They fought to live, not to die. There is a fundamental difference there.

No Provo ever willingly turned himself into a walking bomb which he would detonate himself. It is a different ball game now, and beyond any doubt the Allies have about as much chance of winning it as the defeated Russian troops had over 30 years ago.

Remotely controlled drones are not worth a curse in guerilla warfare. They only breed more martyrs.

Those are the realities emerging just as clearly as the realities of Vietnam. Remember Vietnam? The war is lost and all the bleeding has been in vain.

It is time to talk. It is time to face the historic reality that, in the end, the formidable forces like the Taliban just have to be negotiated with around long brown tables.

It is time for the diplomats to earn their wages and for the soldiers to rest. They have honorably done their bit and can do no more. The longer it goes on the more of them die for nothing gained.

And maybe there is nothing left but inglorious flight, a la Vietnam, in the end unless there is what one might call a diplomatic surge with words and ideas rather than drones.

The Taliban will not be quite as fearsome around the negotiating table as they are being now in the killing mountains around Helmand. Take that for granted too.

That's enough. I dimly hear the troop plane taking off from Shannon again.

From the trajectory of the sound blast I think it is bringing more poor divils out to war rather than bringing them home.

I cross myself again as I always do. Not all of them will come home.

Through the top half of the window I can see the plane now. Yes, it is heading off to more war. Some of the navigating lights are exactly the hue of blood.

I hope this is dark enough stuff for those who tend to look at life that way. Good night and God bless.

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