Monday, 31 August 2009

Afghanistan: the day death no.204 became our own

This morning we received a call from our brother-in-law in Scotland to inform us our nephew had been killed in Afghanistan, the 204th UK war fatality in the country.

“Wee Kevin”, as he was known for being named after my husband, had enlisted a few years ago. The family had felt that, for a young man with no academic inclinations, a career in the army would be a better option than a more modest life as, for instance, a postman.

In hindsight, the irony is that, had he chosen to be a postman, he would a) still be alive, b) not be having to kill people and live with the psychological scars of war for the rest of his life.

Body without ID
I scoured the Internet all day for news about wee Kevin but apart from an article on the
BBC about two Black Watch soldiers of Scotland being killed in Helmand while on foot patrol, no names had yet been published, even on the MoD site. A 48-hour ban seems to have been placed on identification, presumably to allow time for all family and friends to be notified.

I never thought I would one day be studying the list of fatalities in Afghanistan with any personal interest. I felt literally nauseated to realise that the majority of the dead soldiers were in their early 20s, like our nephew. Unlike when a pensioner in his 70s and 80s die, we don’t have the consolation of thinking, aaah but he had a good long life. A man in his 20s is just starting life as an adult.

Killing fields
It was like being poured a bucket of cold water over my head in a wake-up call about the insanity of wars. A perfectly healthy young man just starting to live out his dreams, a man who chose the army for lack of (or what he was led to believe was a lack) alternatives, who was taught to kill, explode, destroy. And for what? Did Kevin even believe in the cause he was fighting for, or was he just instructed to target and annihilate anyone wearing the “enemy’s uniform”? Was it just a job, an instruction from his superior? One that involved taking other people’s lives?

"I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only
temporary; the evil it does is permanent."

~ Mahatma Ghandi
My husband is a staunch pacifist, who belonged to the Peace Corps in his youth and has even been arrested in the past for demonstrating against the military. He had fiercely argued with the rest of the family against allowing his nephew to enlist in the army but his efforts were in vain.

Upon the news of his death, his first and foremost reaction was one of extreme anger. Anger at those who encouraged him to go to war, probably frustration at himself for not having been able to stop him. He always said he had a gut feeling wee Kevin would get killed if he did go.

Sorrow
Grief is merciless in that it allows suffering to persist as long as one is holding on to it. It will take time for the family to come to terms with their feelings of guilt, anger and sadness. It is a process that must be lived through each day at a time, with no fast-forward buttons to ease the pain.

I had never met wee Kevin but one of the only two pictures my husband has displayed on our mantelpiece is one of him holding his nephew as a little boy in his arms, so he felt familiar to me. I always assumed wee Kevin was his favourite nephew, as of all his nephews and nieces he was the one he most frequently talked to me about.

Funeral
Significantly, wee Kevin was the first child of his older brother, from whom he has been estranged for many years.

With a prospective funeral about to happen in Scotland any day now, bringing together ties of both love and hatred, some fragile family relationships will be put to the test under the strain of stress and sorrow. I realise at the same time that, as my husband's wife, I am now part of that family and have a responsibility to support them in their grief. But with so much resentment festering within the family, I ask myself whether our nephew's death will bring them closer together or deepen the cracks even further.

In my heart, I ask young Kevin's soul, to help bring healing to his loved ones, not more destruction.

Someone wrote to me saying “the family must be proud of young Kevin”. I do not know about the rest of the family, but my husband certainly isn’t. He says, "if you go out to kill people you deserve to be killed; you brought it upon yourself.”

It may be a brutal sentence to bestow upon a young soldier who knew no better, but I can see where he is coming from.
"What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether
the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy
name of liberty or democracy?"

~ Mahatma Ghandi
Choice
How many of these young soldiers in Afghanistan chose the military not because they were led by a strong idealism, but simply because they thought it would provide them a better, more glamorous future than living a low-profile, peaceful life at home? How many of those will be deprived of their futures because their lives will one day be shattered by shells, by grenades, bullets.

Young men, no matter what your circumstances are, know there is always a choice, and death is not one of them. Of course you may not die, but by going to war, you are tacitly signing a licence to kill and be killed in combat.

The war is not their fault; they are not to blame for the insanities of this world. But killing people in order to prove a point will never create lasting peace. Violence only begets more violence.

Farewell to arms
How I wish I were a wizard and could wave a magic wand and order all wars to be stopped RIGHT NOW. But, alas, I cannot. I have no special power, but this: the power of prayer.

Tonight, as we mourn the loss of yet another precious life in this senseless war, I invite you all to lay down your arms – real or metaphorical – your ideologies, your convictions, your political affiliations and biases to take a minute of silence and join me in prayer for the only outcome that could possibly justify the sacrifice of young Kevin’s life – the end of all wars and the beginning of peace on earth.

Let there be peace in the world.
Let us all see peace and not war.
Let us all have peace in the world.
Let all our statesmen know no violence,
Let all love peace with warm vehemence,
Let all be clothed with passionate patience,
Let all respect peace with real reverence.
Let peace pervade every political terrain,
Let peace calm the spirits of every domain,
Let peace be at peace with every reign,
Let each achieve peace with poor pain.
Peace, to you we plead: come to us.
Peace, we entreat you: deign on us.
Peace, we want you: envelope us.
Let our homes be adorned with peace,
Let our streets be paved with peace,
Let our cities be set on a hilltop of peace.
Let peace taint our every thought.
Let there be peace, let peace never cease
Let there be peace, let war forever cease.


(Peaceful Prayers by Jude Ogunade)

Update on 1 September: Dead soldiers finally named - shocked to find out how much my nephew resembled my husband when he was his age...

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