Another Op-Ed in The New York Times, another well balanced political essay in Foreign Affairs, another eulogy to a departed soldier, another boring politician, another retired military commander, another demand for more troops, another demand we pull out now, another request for more helicopters, another comparison to the Soviet invasion, another Vietnam, another rant, another point of view… I just see dead people.
Today I got a text. It read, ‘Oz is dead’. Oz was a soldier serving in Helmand. He was an incredible soldier. His testimonies are all over the British press. He’s good copy. He’s good looking, got a wife and kid, incredible job. He defused something like 100 IEDs, saved uncountable lives. He was blown up and killed on the last day of his deployment. He talked to me about buying a house in Cornwall, about how his wife didn’t know he smoked, about how he loved his job but wanted to get out of the army. The usual. My friend, who also met him, is a journalist. He will be writing a story about him too. He will get paid. I will probably sell the pictures. I won’t forget him. No one will. That’s what you say isn’t it?
Since I came to Afghanistan nearly two years ago the list of dead people I have met continues to grow. I know dead Afghan journalists, dead women’s-rights campaigners, and dead soldiers… I probably know dead people I don’t even know are dead. I have a picture database on my Mac with a death clock ticking on the lot of ‘em. Might as well call it a Death Database <http://www.deathlist.net/> .
After this week’s tragic incident I am now excruciatingly aware that the next time a bomb goes off in Helmand I am more than likely to have a picture of the casualty mucking about before a dawn patrol or chilling out, smoking in his bunk. The next time a suicide bomb goes off outside the NATO base in Kabul I’ll probably have a snap of the kid selling chewing gum who’s no longer there. My ‘Personal pics’ folder may contain laughing, carefree, drunken images of the next victims of a guesthouse suicide attack. Do I even know their names?
It’s a strange and slightly morbid concept. But not that unlikely either. I emailed Oz’s wife a picture of her husband two weeks before he never came home. She heard I shot some good pictures of him. They were ok. No Pulitzer Prize material. But now they are in every single British newspaper and on numerous websites. I didn’t get paid. Should I even ask?
My best friend’s brother was blown up in Helmand last June. He didn’t die. He wrote 5,000 words on it. He got paid. The two of us went back there in October. We nearly died on patrol. Well, we actually walked over an IED that didn’t go off. Does that even count? Are we lucky? It certainly looks like we should be on the Deathwatch list. <http://www.deathlist.net/>
So if that’s the case what should one do? Do you take pre-emptive measures to make yourself safer or resign yourself to fate? No one gets to decide when you slip off this mortal coil but there are crucial issues you could possibly take care of, should the ‘thinkable’ actually happen.
Where to be buried? Assuming there are bits of you worth gathering left, the British cemetery is an idyllic spot. For only $150 (including digger, excluding headstone) you get a lovely plot in one of the quietest parts of Kabul. Hurry up thought, it’s filling up fast.
Who will supply my pictures to the media? Will they want them? Who will write my eulogy? “He really loved the Afghan people and would want…” Crikey do you really want to leave this to chance? Let me say now I want an NGO set up in my name dedicated to funding Alcoholic Photographers in Troubled Times. How APTT.
Who will update my Facebook? I don’t even have a will. “I leave my Macbook and Nikon D3 to… Please remove my midget fetish porno collection from under my bed…” So many things to think about my head is spinning.
So what are the chances? Well probably not as bad as I may have led you to believe. The reason I write these weekly / monthly / random blogs is to try and get across what real life is like here In Afghanistan. ‘Life’ being the operative word. I have spent the last two years telling everyone how safe it is here. But sorry, today it’s all about death. Unfortunately they go together like liver & onions. I write this train of thought on a wonderful crisp and sunny November morning. I am happy with life. I ‘heart’ my job. I have wonderful friends. I feel alive. Today maybe for the first time in my life I feel mortal and I have just stuck two fingers up to fate and shouted at the top of voice ‘come and get me!’ I hope not. Watch this space… gulp.
The moral lines we draw between us and our adversaries are fictional. The uplifting narratives used to justify the war in Afghanistan are pathetic attempts to redeem acts of senseless brutality. War cannot be waged to instil any virtue, including democracy or the liberation of women. War always empowers those who have a penchant for violence and access to weapons. War turns the moral order upside down and abolishes all discussions of human rights. War banishes the just and the decent to the margins of society. And the weapons of war do not separate the innocent and the damned. An Aerial Drone is our version of an Improvised Explosive Device. An iron fragmentation bomb is our answer to a suicide bomb. A burst from a belt-fed machine gun causes the same terror and bloodshed among civilians no matter who pulls the trigger