I deployed on two operational tours of Afghanistan. I stood shoulder to shoulder in battle with some of the finest men that Britain ever produced. I faced down against an Ideology with a fearless lack of self preservation. I saw suffering, I saw happiness, I saw the best in humanity, I saw the worst in humanity, and I did it all having a bloody good time.
How do I articulate the fact that war was the best time of my life? How do I balance that with the fact that every night I'm haunted by a face? How can I sit there a mess describing the grim realities of conflict to those close to me, then spend the rest of the day idly dreaming about one last great slice of conflict?
This is it, I can't articulate war to those that haven't seen it because in the end I can't even articulate it to myself. I'm locked in an eternal struggle with my mind, on one side I'm screaming to fight. I don't want to get in a fight down my local pub, I want to face down an enemy that far outnumbers me and have it out to the end.
On the the other side, I'm afraid of conflict, If you get in my face I'll walk away, If you threaten me I'll shrug it off. I don't enjoy fighting but I want it, there's a hunger in me, I need to feel that chemical reaction in my brain when a bullet whips past me, I need to smell war, I need to sweat and bleed with those good men next to me.
Going to Afghanistan was the calm part of war, watching the suffering was the easy part. At the time, those two statements weren't anywhere in my head, the fact is that war doesn't end. You're locked in a forever war the moment you first witness it, the moment you pull the trigger, hear the sounds, and witness the chaos. You're forever in conflict, the saddest part is the enemy is the only enemy you can't defeat - yourself.
Bhudda once said, "It is better to conquer yourself than to win a thousand battles. Then the victory is yours. It cannot be taken from you.". That's great, the reality is that most people don't possess the wisdom and mental dexterity that the great Bhudda did. We walk among you every day, carrying the burdens of our youthful adventures. I used to watch my grandfather, a veteran of World War II and Korea cry and then laugh a minute later telling me a story of an old war buddy, It was a hard thing to understand and then I went to Afghanistan and I understood.
Is it really war I crave? Maybe it's something else.
Tim Hetherington was a journalist who could understand and articulate conflict as an observer looking in, he once said that war is an eden of men. Social norms, fashion sense, hygiene (we didn't shower for weeks - It was great), emotion and bonding are all the snapshots of war. War is the only place men can truly and unconditionally surrender themselves to each other, love and compassion without any expectation of it being reciprocated - true love. Not in a way that an average person can understand, not love as we know it between couples but the love that lets you bleed without pain, charge without fear and fight without conscience.
Am I confusing you yet?
I hope I am, I wake up confused everyday. I haven't slept properly since I joined the Army. The Army does everything it can to change you as a human being, it's not done for the fun of it, it's done so that you can survive psychologically and physically. My suffering truly began towards the end of my deployment when I watched a man die in my medical care, the worst thing about it is that I made a joke and laughed his death off.
He was an Afghan, a rat, an evil monster, a goat fu**er. But he wasn't any of the things I just said. he was a human being. I still don't feel any emotion about that day, when I think back and yet at night, I see the life in his eyes ebbing away as he looks at me, I wake up feeling physically and psychologically drained, I grind my teeth so hard that my girlfriend wakes up.
That is war, my war.
The war I fought in Afghanistan wasn't my war, it was someone else's war. It was a cowards war, a war that saw good men wasted for political gain. I'm not anti war, I'm all for smashing an enemy that deserves it. It is my personal forever war, my contradictions that I live with everyday that bother me. Afghanistan was the greatest time of my life because I felt true brotherhood, I will cherish that till the day I die, I miss the firefighting more than I should, logical - no. I miss fighting my best friends every day, I miss speculating about which girlfriend is having a visit from Leroy and his large penis, I miss the lows and I will forever dwell on the highs.
Now I'm in love, it's true love. A love stronger than I could have ever imagined, I guess I don't miss war after all.
For more on my struggle click here