"Offer an open hand in friendship to those who do not wish to fight...
For those who will not shake our hand they will find it closed into a fist.
They will be defeated."
(Brigadier James Cowan pg 91)
Blogging from the Battlefield by Major Paul Smyth isn't the kind of book I usually read and it does look rather misplaced on my pretty pink blog, but it has been an eye-opening reading experience for me, so I wanted to share it with my readers. I stumbled across the book via the author Major Smyth, as we Follow one another on Twitter. The title intrigued me, not least because I have friends who are soldiers (3 Black Watch; 1 Yorkshire Regiment and 1 Veteran) who have served in Afghanistan and I wanted to deepen my understanding of the conflict there.
I could not have read this book while ever there was a chance that they could have been re-deployed back to Afghanistan again, but now that the danger of that is over, I find myself wondering what it was all about in the first place. What was so important about Afghanistan that my friends had to risk their lives for it more than once and was the fight against the Taliban really worth the loss of my friend's leg? I wanted to understand what they were doing over there and why the conflict seems to have gone on forever and a day.
This book answered most of my questions. Our soldiers were busy building a secure and civilized nation from scratch, putting in trustworthy governance, creating and training an Afghan Army and Police Force where there was no such thing before. They were busy building schools and markets so the locals could conduct a normal life - and protecting them as they did so. They were clearing the land of poppy fields and bombs so that farmers could grow regular crops to sustain their families and make a living, rather than growing poppies to Taliban orders, under duress and threats of violence.
Can you imagine living in a country with no police or armed forces, where civilians have absolutely no back up and the only governing force comes from the brutality of the Taliban? It doesn't bear thinking about. Our soldiers were busy taking power away from the enemy, not to keep it for themselves, but to hand it back to the people of Afghanistan where it belongs. No wonder it took such a long time - civilization usually takes decades to evolve, so in that respect, the Troops have done an amazing job in a relatively short space of time. Suddenly it all makes perfect sense to me.
Blogging from the Battlefield is an emotional read. I have cried, laughed and cried again as I worked my way through the blog posts from a variety of Military Personnel, both male and female, which make up the book. It is written in a very reader-friendly way, with the military lingo carefully explained on pg 19. As someone with no military knowledge whatsoever, who doesn't know the difference between a Gunner and a Rifleman (is a rifle not a gun? I'm confused) this was a welcome relief to me as I was worried I might not be able to understand the book, but it was all made clear early on. The book doesn't glorify warfare and there are no gruesome details, though there are heart-breaking accounts of soldiers being killed in action. At one point, I simply couldn't read any more. I had to put the book down and have a little cry. Every fallen soldier could so easily have been one of my soldiers and every fallen soldier is someone's soldier - that makes it painful; it makes it personal. But alongside the heart-rending posts there are some funny ones too - like the one about Girl's Aloud - you'll have to read the book to find out how they feature!
My favourite sections of the book were the one about the Military Vet, volunteering to set up a clinic to care for the herds and animals of Afghan locals. He didn't have to do this, but could see that with a little information and training, the farmers could improve their livestock and so the quality of life for animals and people is improved. I also enjoyed the post about Afghan women being trained up as WPC's in the Afghan police force - not an image that fits in with the stereotype is it? They are like Afghan's Angels and its fabulous to read about women being empowered in a country where they have been suppressed for so long.
This book also illustrates the effective use of word play and perceptions when Lieutenant Colonel Nick Kitson states; "The enemy is out there and we are doing battle with him but he not at the gates." This is a fantastic and empowering use of language and word choice - 'we' meaning the Troops, being plural, strong, supported on all sides via safety in numbers, versus 'him/he' the enemy, being singular, outnumbered and therefore automatically diminished in the mind's eye. It's a great way with words and as an author I'm impressed by it.
Beyond all of that there is something more about the book which has really struck a chord in me and that is the amount of courage that can be found within its pages. We all have bad days, dark periods in life and occasions when Fate deals us a bad blow. That is true for anyone, in any job. But we also have a choice - we can choose to whinge and whine about it like soft-living civilians or we can choose to think and act like a soldier and just 'crack on'. If you take the time to read this book slowly, absorbing its message you will be benefiting from a great store of knowledge, for behind the information presented in the paragraphs there lies a wealth of training, battle strategy, conflict resolution and sheer determination. The spirit of soldiering on lingers quietly beneath the words on every page. If you can absorb this and take it all in, you can use it in your own daily life. If you want to learn how to brave out the dark days and face adversity with courage then you need only read between the lines of this book. Its all in there. You just have to find it.
A book is a meeting place between the author and reader. You become like those you mix with and I have been mixing with these brave, bold soldiers on the page everyday for the past week and already I feel stronger; I am reminded of my own capability; I feel inspired and motivated. When you are ready to learn the lesson the teacher will show up in your life. Blogging from the Battlefield has certainly been a great tutor for me and I know I will dip into it as a self-help manual every now and then when I need a quick boost to my own personal morale. I'm delighted that Serendipity led me to Major Smyth and his book on Twitter. It has been quite an adventure - albeit from the safety of my bed, late at night before I go to sleep.
If you want to share the adventure Blogging From the Battlefield is available on Amazon and all proceeds go to the Poppy Appeal. You can also follow the author on Twitter https://twitter.com/MajorPaulSmyth and me too, of course https://twitter.com/marie_bruce