Review by Ecstatic Gaucho Blog
The enduring effects of war was one of the themes of Andy McNab’s first radio play Last Night, Another Soldier that aired on Saturday. McNab is best known for his first book Bravo Two Zero, which tells about his involvement in a failed SAS patrol in the First Gulf War in 1991. I’ve never read the book, but must have built up preconceptions that it was fairly gung-ho. I think must have had these ideas, because the play surprised me.
McNab’s attitude to conflict is a bit more complex. His autobiography, published last year, told how his friends and fellow SAS members suffered after leaving the regiment for the mundanities of civilian life. The portrayal of war in Last Night… was not exactly glorious either.
The story centres around Briggsy, an 18-year-old squaddie on his first tour in Afghanistan. Starting with a firefight in an Afghan maize field, and it’s clear that battle is exhilarating. It’s also very dangerous – one a soldier dies a gurgling death.
Briggsy isn’t just in Afghanistan because he’s after a buzz. A desire to create a stable, democratic Afghan state isn’t really what’s driving him either. He’s from Peckham (like McNab himself) and was brought up by his mum after his alcoholic dad left. The army offers a future, an education and a tight bond of comradeship. It also offers him a connection to his dad.
Mr Briggs Senior was in the army too and served in the Falklands. After talks with the platoon medic and his own taste of battle, Briggsy starts to suspect that his dad’s wayward behaviour was probably as a result of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Afterall, 258 British soldiers died in the conflict in the South Atlantic, but over 300 have committed suicide since then.
The play shows the comradeship of the army as central to the experience. Briggsy’s colleagues are drawn from all corners of the UK, and even Fiji, but have to lay down any differences in those Central Asian fields. The brotherhood of the soldiers takes precedence over questions about the morality of what they are doing.
The ethics of what Britain and the Western powers are doing in Afghanistan is not really dwelt on for too long in the play. Last Night… is in a sense an open work: the reader is left to work out whether we think the enterprise is a good thing or not. McNab’s soldiers might say that decisions like that are made by ‘pencil necks’ behind their desks.
The Afghan conflict is a conundrum. It’s difficult to know if we should we be there, or even if can we make a difference. Whatever happens, there’s bound to be someone collecting newspaper cuttings about it for some time to come.