So, I edit a website called FiveBooks where experts are interviewed about the best books on their subject. We had this event at the Frontline Club in London last week. It was a debate about the nature of war and, afterwards, there was a dinner and wine and lots of arguing. ‘How,’ I wanted to know, ‘can you really change the way wars are fought when young men really want to fight, want to have a big gun and kill some people? And how can you be all nice and understanding and helpful with someone who is torturing and executing his friends and neighbours?’ ‘Well,’ this huge enormous soldier said, forking some Eton mess into his mouth, ‘there are some people who do need shooting in the back of the head.’
Undeniable. I can immediately think of loads, known to me personally. I laughed and started chatting to someone on the other side of me about how you write a screenplay. But, obviously, he hadn’t been joking and there is a key difference between the two of us, even though we agreed in principle. I, for my part, don’t actually shoot people in the back of the head when the need arises. This, I suppose, is one of the difficulties in being a soldier and in not being one.
If you are one, you can easily, I assume, get addicted to the incredible thrill of power at being in a position to make that call in an emergency. Ordinary life never lives up to the adrenalin rush of war, as journalists in war zones as well as soldiers know very well. When you come back, people seem petty worrying about schools and parking, the dangers of farmed salmon and the possibility of a hung parliament. So, either you drink yourself into an early grave or you take up…I don’t know…white water rafting. Though, to be honest, I have never met anyone who went for any version of the latter option.
Then if you are not a soldier, you wonder why they are so trigger happy, whether so and so, now lying face down in the dirt, really did need shooting in the back of the head, whether the battle is worth fighting, worth winning, worth dying for. And yet, of course, it’s impossible to say. If, for example, that man in the Lake District had been shot dead in his car by a policeman or woman before he’d killed anyone, just because he was waving a gun and looking mad, there would have been an outcry. Perhaps he really was just going grouse shooting or something, we’d think. So it’s not just a question of whether people need shooting, but also of when. And we all have strong opinions about it. I grew up in London and I worry about schools and salmon and my gut feeling is that nobody should be shot ever. But I am not standing on a street corner in a boiling, rumbling God-forgotten city with a sniper aiming at me from the sixth floor of some ruined building.
We are all hypocrites and we all want everybody else to behave better or differently to how we behave ourselves, but these kinds of questions are particularly exposing, I think. And frightening.
Speaking of exposure, my friends Wolfy and Steven were very keen for me to write a blog about men in Speedos. The boys are of the opinion that this is a very sexy look for a buff gentleman and that it is exciting to see the goods on display. I said, over supper in Curry Paradise in South End Green (it is, truly, paradise), that no woman has ever found any man attractive in a pair of Speedos. We do not want to see the package until it is absolutely necessary. ‘Perhaps you are gay?’ Steven offered. I mulled this over and decided that if I had to look at one or other package it would have to be the one in Speedos. ‘No, I’m not. We just don’t want to see.’ They were stunned. Disbelieving. ‘Women are weird,’ they concluded. I could see no way of dragging this topic out to more than a couple of hundred words, so here it is as an afterthought. Put the shorts on and do not imagine for a moment that straight women want to see the tackle. They don’t.
I suppose I could link the two issues with hypocrisy. Hypocrisy can also be displayed by the straight woman who wants to go to bed with men but doesn’t want any overt outlining of the procedure beforehand. No. That’s not hypocrisy, it’s just being human…..