In early June the number of British servicemen and women killed in Afghanistan reached one hundred. Their massed faces, many of them in their early twenties, stared out from several newspapers. Most of them smiled for the photographer – whether a comrade, if they were in camouflage kit, or a formal portraitist, if they were in dress uniforms. It takes an effort of will to imagine the circumstances in which they died: an air crash, a suicide bomber, a roadside improvised explosive device, a bomb delivered as friendly fire, perhaps an accident with a gun or the actions of a homicidal colleague. Many commentators have used the milestone of a hundred dead to criticise NATO’s ongoing mission in Afghanistan or to support its continuance at a time when the coalition commander in Helmand province, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, claims we have reached the ‘tipping point’ in the war with the Taliban insurgents.
Many soldiers lament the deepening disconnection between British society and those brave men and women our leaders despatch to fight and die on our behalf. This disconnection is reflected in inadequate equipment and low pay, for which a brief homecoming parade in Glasgow or Norwich seems scant recompense. More seriously