Thursday, March 20, 2008

Prince Harry, St George and modern Afghan lore

"Cry 'God for Harry, England and Saint George!'" King Henry V's rallying cry is now repeated throughout Britain by those who praise Prince Harry.

He seems to have single-handedly changed the British public's attitudes towards the war in Afghanistan. Recent polls suggest that after his stint with the fighting force there public support for the war has increased. Same polls however also indicate that the understanding of the purpose of this war has not.

Harry famously said that he felt 'normal' in Afghanistan and didn't like being back in England. Some commentators tried to smooth Harry's bitter confession by interpreting it as an expression of dissatisfaction with his personal life as a Royal. It is only part of the problem. I think many Afghan veterans feel the same. There could hardly be anything more disheartening than to know that so few care or try to understand what it's like to be there and to have so few to share your feelings with.

This is exactly how Russian veterans of the 10 year war in Afghanistan felt. The war (1979-1989) had been largely hidden from wide public until Gorbachev's glasnost. And then the Soviet intervention was criticised and vilified with the side effect that many veterans started feeling as though they were somehow to blame.

It takes time and historical distance to begin to understand what and how happened. While Afghanistan has been surrounded by legend ever since the Great Game there are books and films on recent events that are well worth knowing.

  • 9th company - a Russian film, recently released in Britain. Young soldiers at a remote mountain outpost are forgotten by the command as the Soviet Army chaotically withdraws from Afghanistan.
  • Mark Urban, The War in Afghanistan - probably the best analysis of the Soviet war by a prominent British journalist
  • Artyom Borovik, The Hidden War - a thoughtful Russian book written at the height of Gorbachev's glasnost.
  • Fred Forsyth, The Afghan - usual rapid-fire thriller. A former SAS man is called from retirement to go on a suicide mission inside Al-Qaeda. Central character is unusual in his sympathies towards the Iraqis and his understanding of the East.
Links to books and the DVD below.

Image: Paolo UCCELLO, Saint George and the Dragon, about 1470

9th Company (Single Disc) [2008]
War in Afghanistan
The Hidden War: A Russian Journalist's Account of the Soviet War in Afghanistan
The Hidden War: A Russian Journalist's Account of the Soviet War in Afghanistan
The Afghan
Henry V (The New Penguin Shakespeare)

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