There is something fascinating, indeed appealing, about war _ the uniforms, martial music, patriotic fervour, bravery, medals. Not for the mothers and wives back home sick with worry, but for the straplings who can't wait to get into it. Which is why so many volunteer.
Battle Lines by Andy McNab & Kym Jordan, 420pp, 2912 Bantam paperback. Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops, 595 baht.
Once in it, they experience the horrors of it _ death, the cries of the wounded, constant fear, terror. However, that war is hell doesn't register with those straining at the bit to get into it. If not this war, then the next one. So what if its cause is obscure. The country's leader knows what he or she is doing.
Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan were about saving the world from the evils of the Viet Cong, al Qaeda and the Taliban. Good enough reasons to join the colours. Historians may question this, but what do they know? They are eggheads. Novelists take another approach: Support our boys because they are there.
Andy McNab, nine years in the elite 22 SAS and the most highly decorated man in the British military, has turned author, and the Middle East is his speciality. In Battle Lines as well as the score of action-packed novels under his belt, he emphasises the individuality of the men in a platoon, their strengths and weakness.
Sergeant Dave Henley, the story's protagonist, mocks the platoon. He has it in for troops who can't learn to do anything right and for incompetent officers, their mistakes causing more casualties among their men than the enemies. He has a grudging respect for the Taliban who honestly feel that they are doing their Lord's work. Dave loves his beautiful wife Jenny and two daughters in the UK. To his consternation, he hears rumours that she is having an affair with a general. A handicapped veteran neighbour goes so far as to beat Jenny up for her infidelity. Yet, it isn't true. Her broken jaw needs steel pins.
The most suspenseful scene is when Dave and his three-men squad lie on a ledge while 12 Taliban fighters spend the night in the cave a few feet away. Another taut scene of the four disguised as Taliban fired on by both sides. McNab devotes chapters to the camaraderie of men in battle. The finish has the Queen pinning medals on the survivors.
Sergeants are the backbone of any army, the author making clear Henley is a case in point. He obeys orders, despising his superiors who give stupid ones. War isn't glorified, but McNab isn't an anti-war writer. After all, what has peacetime civilian life got to offer?
About the author
- Writer: Bernard Trink
Position: Freelance Writer