The war pundits

The right-wing press denies dignity to our enemies and trivialises the horror of war.

The American media mogul and philanthropist Ted Turner once said: "Sport is like a war without the killing." The bellicose right-wingers among the British press seem to have inverted the idea, presenting military conflict as a crude, point-scoring game.

"Hotshot sniper in one-and-a-half-mile double kill", said a Times headline on 2 May. The cavalryman Craig Harrison had "set a new sharp-shooting distance record by killing two Taliban machine-gunners in Afghanistan from more than a mile away". The Daily Star marvelled at the "amazing shots", which hit one Taliban soldier in the stomach and the other in the side. Both died immediately.

In April, Wikileaks published decrypted footage of a dozen Iraqis -- including two employees of Reuters -- being killed in Baghdad by a US air crew that falsely claimed to have encountered a firefight. The website's director, Julian Assange, compared the American soldiers' behaviour to that of people playing a "computer game". One laughs and boasts, "I hit 'em"; another responds, "Look at those dead bastards."

This kind of abstraction, which strips our military enemies of their humanity, is dangerous and shameful. The Jeffersonian notion that war is a great evil necessary to ward off a greater evil seems to have been phased out in favour of an insistence on the valour of our troops, set against the incomprehensible malice of our enemies.

Hence the Daily Mail's glee in reporting how Harrison had "killed 12 more rebels and wounded seven others", and that "scores of Taliban gunmen have fallen to the gun which has been nicknamed the Silent Assassin".

The papers' preoccupation with Harrison's "kills", which, "from a distance of 8,120ft, beat the previous record by 150ft", only serves to trivialise the reality that soldiers continue to lose their lives on both sides of the conflict.

Yo Zushi is a sub-editor of the New Statesman. His work as a musician is released by Eidola Records.

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For the first time in my life I have a sworn enemy – and I don’t even know her name

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

Last month, I made an enemy. I do not say this lightly, and I certainly don’t say it with pride, as a more aggressive male might. Throughout my life I have avoided confrontation with a scrupulousness that an unkind observer would call out-and-out cowardice. A waiter could bring the wrong order, cold and crawling with maggots, and in response to “How is everything?” I’d still manage a grin and a “lovely, thanks”.

On the Underground, I’m so wary of being a bad citizen that I often give up my seat to people who aren’t pregnant, aren’t significantly older than me, and in some cases are far better equipped to stand than I am. If there’s one thing I am not, it’s any sort of provocateur. And yet now this: a feud.

And I don’t even know my enemy’s name.

She was on a bike when I accidentally entered her life. I was pushing a buggy and I wandered – rashly, in her view – into her path. There’s little doubt that I was to blame: walking on the road while in charge of a minor is not something encouraged by the Highway Code. In my defence, it was a quiet, suburban street; the cyclist was the only vehicle of any kind; and I was half a street’s length away from physically colliding with her. It was the misjudgment of a sleep-deprived parent rather than an act of malice.

The cyclist, though, was enraged. “THAT’S CLEVER, ISN’T IT?” she yelled. “WALKING IN THE ROAD!”

I was stung by what someone on The Apprentice might refer to as her negative feedback, and walked on with a redoubled sense of the parental inadequacy that is my default state even at the best of times.

A sad little incident, but a one-off, you would think. Only a week later, though, I was walking in a different part of town, this time without the toddler and engrossed in my phone. Again, I accept my culpability in crossing the road without paying due attention; again, I have to point out that it was only a “close shave” in the sense that meteorites are sometimes reported to have “narrowly missed crashing into the Earth” by 50,000 miles. It might have merited, at worst, a reproving ting of the bell. Instead came a familiar voice. “IT’S YOU AGAIN!” she yelled, wrathfully.

This time the shock brought a retort out of me, probably the harshest thing I have ever shouted at a stranger: “WHY ARE YOU SO UNPLEASANT?”

None of this is X-rated stuff, but it adds up to what I can only call a vendetta – something I never expected to pick up on the way to Waitrose. So I am writing this, as much as anything, in the spirit of rapprochement. I really believe that our third meeting, whenever it comes, can be a much happier affair. People can change. Who knows: maybe I’ll even be walking on the pavement

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood