Sunday, 16 November 2014


Four years after 9/11, I was standing beside New York City’s ‘Ground Zero’, reading the hoardings hung on the wire fences around the site of the attack.

One of them declared: “In memory of all those great American Heroes.”

Turning to my friend, I observed:

“It’s strange the way the word ‘hero’ is used these days.”

I was about to explain how they were innocent victims rather than heroes, but I never got the chance.

A hand grasped my shoulder. I was spun around to face a grey-haired man in an anorak and spectacles.

“Hey! Show some goddam respect!” he hissed at me.

Had I shouted to my mate, I might have understood this man’s rage. But I had whispered. The scene before my eyes had filled me with sadness, and my voice went quiet as if wev were in a church.

So I was showing respect. Had I been more foolish I would have tried to explain to this man what I meant. But I could see the pain behind his eyes, the loss, the anger, so I dipped my chin and simply said “Sorry!”, walking away with my tail between my legs.

Who knows who he loved in the towers, but as much as my heart broke for all those lives lost and broken, my sadness was spreading far wider, to the hundreds of thousands of innocent victims in Iraq who died, as a result of this attack. Members of the public killed for no good reason. The powers that be have long referred to civilian deaths during wartime as ‘collateral damage’.

It’s a hellish long way from ‘hero’ to ‘collateral damage’ but they are one and the same person.

Very sad.

Whenever particular wars flare up, foreign populations become especially agitated, seeing one ousted overpowered people as more important than others.

I cannot. I just see a human life, each as vital as all the others. So now, enveloped as we are in memories of the First World War, my heart bleeds fiercely, as it always does when I contemplate that horrendous debacle.

There is no way to wage war tidily. Even the crisp technology of remote-controlled drone warfare kills innocent victims aplenty. However there is something especially tragic about the 1914-1918 war.

The odds were stacked against the innocents for so many reasons:

The weapons of war had changed. Artillery fire had become faster and more furious, leaving the infantry hiding in putrid trenches. The makers of war still envisaged two armies facing each other in the field, so they used all their powers to recruit as many men as they could, yet technological advances meant that no such battle was possible. Shells, shells, endless shells pounding exploding killing maiming, followed by poison gas, as soldiers sat impotent and rotting in their muddy holes.

Then there was the pointlessness of the war, fighting over 100 yards of Belgium to satisfy the hubristic Empire aspirations of European aristocracy. Those soldiers were expendable: 1c and 2c coins in the coffers of the continent's Crowned Heads.

Then of course, there were the lies. The idea that it mattered at all. I’m not being disrespectful of those who died by saying that their war was pointless. They were brave men and women, doing their duty.

Lies lie behind many wars. For a reason that is beyond me, people swallow these lies to this day. Two months ago the UK government said that by fighting ISIS they’d make the world a safer place. Last week the BBC reported that the government was warning Britons abroad to be vigilant, as their participation in the war on ISIS has made the world a more dangerous place.

Lies abounded back then. Lloyd George promised surviving returning soldiers ‘A Land Fit For Heroes’, yet there was nothing for them. Post-traumatic and unemployed, decades before either ailment was treated by the State, a generation succumbed to the Spanish Flu epidemic. Dark times indeed.

Lies. It was the Great War. Nothing great about it, except the number of innocent victims.

It was The War To End All Wars, but clearly, it was merely the overture to the symphony of modern warfare.

They’d be back by Christmas.
I don’t think so.

Far from being disrespectful to the dead, I am honouring their sacrifice. They were innocent victims. Most of them were out there so the children back home could afford to eat. Putting yourself through hell so that you can keep your family healthy: that, to me, is heroic. Getting killed for a government who quite frankly doesn't give a damn: that is truly terrible.

Of course there were heroes out there. Incredible daring and courage was displayed on a regular basis. When it was employed to save lies rather that destroy them it was particularly heroic.

I’m not saying that all killing is bad. Give me a gun and I’d shoot a Nazi stormtrooper, no problem.

But my heroes tend to be those who dare to save their troops. Give me Shackleton over Scott every day. Scott was an amazing man, brave and honourable to the core. But in the same way that the English celebrate Dunkirk as a victory, they worship a man who came second and perished with his comrades.

Shackleton’s expedition failed spectacularly, yet he didn’t lose a single man. I have just read his own account of the Endurance expedition, the ensuing landing on Elephant Island, the incredible journey in the James Caird and the epic crossing of South Georgia. These were tough men, hard and steely in a way so far beyond your sofa, your iPad and cappuccino that I suspect it no longer exists.

Despite his strong ambition and a desire for glory, Shackleton made every decision based upon his greatest chance of keeping everyone alive.
That’s my kind of hero.

©Charlie Adley

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