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When the history of World War Three is written, it will record the opening shot as ringing out on Christmas Day in 1979 when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

The 1970s were a grim time for the Great Powers. The Soviet Union was stagnant, its economy rotting from the inside. Great Britain had walked itself off a cliff. The United States was reeling from the withdrawal from Vietnam, the downfall of Nixon, and the economic earthquakes of the decade. The Cold War raged on, but the US intelligence community were still in the long depression unleashed on them by their failure to protect their commander-in-chief from an unhinged ex-Marine.

Key protagonists of Phase One of World War Three included the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, the American president Ronald Reagan (1981-1989), and Afghan resistance hero General Ahmad Shah Massoud – known as the Lion of Panjshir..

These men had their own reasons for the war. Reagan viewed it as part of the epochal struggle against communism. General Massoud just wanted freedom for his people. Brezhnev was mostly dead and who knows what, if anything, was going through his ancient, exhausted mind.

The USA poured materiel, money and training into the Mujahideen Afghan resistance which was fighting the Soviet invaders. This included assisting General Massoud, and also a rising star of the Mujahideen, Osama bin Laden.

Hindsight is a beautiful thing, but it seems not enough thought was given in Washington to an exit strategy and what might unfold if the Mujahideen won. Perhaps American leaders imagined this war would rumble on until the Cold War itself went hot, and perhaps they thought the Soviet Union would last forever and would never give up its attempt to conquer Afghanistan.

The Mujahideen did win, and then shattered into its constituent factions and tribes, once the hated Soviets were expelled.

Two of the major factions to emerge were General Massoud’s Northern Alliance, and the Taliban. Massoud’s vision for the future of Afghanistan was to create a modern, free, open first-world nation. The Taliban’s vision was to create a hellish mediaeval caliphate. A long civil war ensued.

The USA seems to have been not entirely certain what to do, but in general it supported the Northern Alliance. By now Reagan was retired, and his vice-president George HW Bush had been elected, then defeated by Bill Clinton.

Liberals get very misty-eyed about Bill Clinton but the historians who write the accounts of World War Three will probably label him as the worst president in the history of the United States.

The Afghan civil war was entering stalemate, with General Massoud’s men firmly entrenched in the Panjshir Valley, and the Taliban entrenched in Kabul and Helmand. General Massoud financed the Northern Alliance independently – the Panjshir Valley was fertile and affluent. He would buy his materiel in Pakistan and then take it over the border to his men.

Then the Taliban managed to interdict General Massoud’s supply lines. Defeat was inevitable unless General Massoud got help.

General Massoud asked President Clinton to help. He did not want money, he had plenty. He did not want American soldiers, he had plenty of his own. All he wanted was logistical help to move the materiel he was buying from Pakistan into Afghanistan. General Massoud lacked aircraft which could over-fly enemy missiles.

Clinton told General Massoud he was on his own. I don’t know why, but I think he was innately mistrustful of American intervention in Afghanistan. Thus a great opportunity was lost, and Afghanistan was lost, is still lost, and will remain lost for generations.

Phase One of World War Three ended on September 9, 2001, when al-Qaeda assassinated General Massoud. Without his genius leadership and diplomatic skills, the Northern Alliance broke down.

By then, George W Bush was in the White House, and it was a new era. Bush invaded Afghanistan after 9/11, and for a moment it seemed Massoud’s dream of a free and open Afghanistan would be realised within months of his assassination. And then it all went very badly wrong.

While insurgents harried the American, British and allied forces that had liberated Afghanistan from the Taliban regime, Bush decided to finish the job his father started, and rid the world of Saddam Hussein.

The West’s relationship with Saddam Hussein was long and complex. At one point he was seen as a bulwark against communism, and reputedly the CIA even gave him lists of trade union and communist activists in Iraq so that his secret police could kill them.

And then Saddam was a bulwark against revolutionary Iran. Britain and the US channeled materiel to him. Meanwhile, Saddam was unhinged on a scale comparable with the Roman Emporor Caligula. His men arrested a young British journalist called Farzad Bazoft, charged him with espionage, and hanged him. The British Government protested, but not very hard.

Kurds rose up against Saddam, so Saddam gassed them. The British Government protested, but not very hard. The British Foreign Secretary still went to Baghdad to an arms fair hosted by Saddam, at which Iraqi companies showcased weapons of torture and mass-destruction which were available to the highest bidder.

Then Saddam invaded Kuwait, and suddenly the West decided he was a very bad man. Even though Gulf states had almost unlimited money and huge armies, they got Britain and the US to send their armed forces to liberate Kuwait. This despite Kuwait itself being an entirely fictional concept dreamed up by colonial powers, and ruled over by a corrupt elite.

The US intermittently had a pop at Saddam during the period between the two Gulf Wars of 1991 and 2003, even when Clinton was in power. Then the USA decided the Saddam problem was going to be solved. British prime minister Tony Blair ruined his reputation by joining Bush’s war. And then came the hubris of Bush’s infamous MISSION ACCOMPLISHED banner.

So now Afghanistan and Iraq are both ruined. Iraq itself was another fictional construct with no historical basis, which is one reason Saddam was so popular in the West until 1990. Only a ruler with an iron fist could hold together such an abstract and disparate entity as Iraq. Saddam was a Muslim, but a secular ruler, with a cabinet drawn from various faiths and tribes, who were invested in the Saddam regime because he gave them their own mini-empires to rule.

The Kurds, however, could not be won over to the Ba’athist cause, because they were simply far less corruptible than most of Iraq’s tribes and ethnic groups. As a result, Saddam committed genocide against them.

Now World War Three is in an entirely new phase. We have Daesh rampaging across Iraq and Syria, raping and murdering and destroying everything in sight. We have Syria’s Bashar Assad fighting them, and we’re fighting them, and the Kurds are fighting them. And now we have Putin’s Russia fighting them too. It’s an absurdly complex war in which all sides seem to be simultaneously allies and enemies of all the other sides.

Meanwhile we have Russia rattling sabres all over the place, and Iran on its way to being a nuclear state, and a liberal US president with a grasp of foreign policy even worse than Clinton’s.

So the next phase of World War Three will be the clash between Iran and Israel. Iran has been saying for many years that it will destroy Israel and wipe out the Jews. But assorted scum have been saying that for thousands of years, and they always fail, and they always will fail. When the time comes, the Israeli Defence Forces will use electromagnetic pulse weapons to fry Iran’s military electronics, and then we’ll get to see if the ayatollahs like living in a mediaeval state as much as they claim.

With Iran neutralised, Israel will almost certainly retire from World War Three unless someone else thinks of trying to destroy it. Israel doesn’t like or want war; anyone who doubts that should recall that Saddam Hussein fired Scud missiles at Israeli cities, and yet Israel did not respond, even though it could have wiped Iraq off the map.

There isn’t an army in the world that could defeat Israel’s army, and eventually even thick-headed Arabist rulers will realise that, and will make peace with Israeli, just like King Abdullah I of Jordan was doing at the time a Palestinian assassinated him.

The phase after that will see Putin do whatever it is he is going to do, which I doubt even he knows yet. And then after that we have China. China does not want war with the West, because they make so much money by selling to us and lending to us. But eventually their economy will crash, and they’ll start wanting some of the money we owe them, and may get rather fractious. Their armed forces are truly enormous and the West doesn’t have comparable forces, so it might get a bit nuclear.

But in all likelihood, by then the USA will have electromagnetic pulse weapons so advanced that they will be able to fry China’s antiquated hardware, at which point China will probably break up into its constituent nations.

This is so far in the future that by then we’ll all have hover-boards and monkey-butlers, and the United Kingdom of England and Wales might even have a Labour Government again.

The last time man lived in a world without war was five thousand years ago. The next time is probably at least that far off.

I’m reminded of a scene from one of my favourite films.

A child watches two small boys fighting with toy guns, and remarks to his cyborg guardian “we’re not going to make it, are we? People I mean.”

The machine replies: “it’s in your nature to destroy yourselves”.

It is.

We probably will.

I hope I am wrong.

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One of the previous Labour Government’s worst decisions was to give a French IT company called Atos a contract to perform Work Capability Assessments on people claiming state benefits due to illness or disability. Atos isn’t good at its core business of IT, so quite why HMG thought they’d be any use in such a sensitive field is baffling.

And useless they were. They got a bounty for everyone they certified fit to work, so they certified almost everyone fit to work. This included the terminally ill, bedridden people dependent on oxygen masks, and in one case, someone in a coma.

And so the useless Atos are not going to be doing Work Capability Assessments any longer. The Government decided to bow to relentless pressure to get rid of them. At the last moment, Atos declared they didn’t want the contract any longer, like a jilted lover saying “you can’t dump me, because I am dumping you”.

There was rejoicing throughout the land. But then it was announced that Atos was to be replaced by Capita. The sweetmeats of victory turned to ashes in our mouths.

To say Capita are useless would be a disservice to useless companies throughout the world. And I say this not because of negative coverage in them in the media, but due to direct experience.

Once upon a time, Government work was done by the Civil Service. I was a Civil Servant myself. We muddled through in typical British style, but got the job done for a reasonably low cost.

Then a toxic creed promoted by Thatcher and her successors, and sadly by Blair too, led to a lot of work that should be done by Civil Servants being done by private companies. This was a bad idea from the start, as Civil Servants are subject to Parliamentary oversight, which private companies are not, even when doing Government work. Also, the same few useless companies always got the contracts, and never delivered on time or on budget, but made huge sums of money from the taxpayer.

So the Government gives companies like Capita huge contracts to do high-volume data-related and printing tasks. Capita has a lot of mainframe computers. They used to do a lot of printing, but then they started outsourcing that to other companies.

And that’s where I come in, because I worked for a company that did high-volume printing for Capita, among many other clients.

Traditionally, a mainframe would be connected directly to a giant printer with a channel cable – that’s a huge cable as thick as my arm. Then mainframe operators started outsourcing, but changing anything on a mainframe is a hassle, so the trick is to trick the mainframe into thinking nothing has changed.

So we just saw through the channel cable, attach a box that shoots the printer output over a Wide Area Network link, translate it into something understandable to a printer designed after the Dark Ages, and print it. The mainframe is none the wiser. Which figures, because they’re huge and dumb.

So for us to print for Capita, we had Capita install their routers in my comms room. They insisted on managing the routers themselves, because they deluded themselves they knew what they were doing. They did not.

And one day, suddenly we could not print a major Capita job, because they’d changed something at the mainframe end without bothering to think through the implications. We urgently needed a configuration change on one of their routers, otherwise we couldn’t print. And the contract would have penalised us for it even though it was their fault.

All hell broke loose. I collared a Capita man who was on site and told him we needed this change done immediately. He said “it doesn’t work that way, you have to submit a request, the change management team has to have a meeting about it, we have to do a security survey and a change impact study, then we might consider it”.

I said “no, we need this doing right now or we can’t print this thing”. He smirked and said “watch my lips: it doesn’t work that way”.

At this point I got cross and wanted to wind him up. I said “You lot at Capita are just shit, aren’t you?” It didn’t have the desired effect. He grinned and said “you have no idea just how shit we are”.

I asked “so why does the Government keep giving you these contracts?”

He shrugged and said “who else is big enough to do them? Cap Gemini? ICL? We’re all as shit as each other. And you lot are shit too, we only use you because hardly anyone else has enough print capacity for us and the only ones that do are even worse than you”. Touché.

My chairman was going mental. So I just hacked Capita’s router, which took about 3 minutes, reconfigured it myself, and we were printing again. Capita were happy, and their security was so weak they never noticed what I’d done, and their procedures were so lax that they never wondered how come their router suddenly started talking to a different system without them changing anything.

And this was Government data, about residents of the United Kingdom. That’s the company entrusted with your private information, your financial records, your legal history. And that is the company about to be trusted with the Work Capability Assessment. God help us all.

The internet is replete with hatred. Every form of hatred. Homophobia, misogyny, antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism of every form. But even I am taken aback by this one.

There is a YouTube account called Kill the autistic. He has produce a video entitled Autistic people are scum. Even for hateful people, this is astonishingly vile. No one chooses autism. 

And yet this person has put time into creating this video. What is his major malfunction? Who knows, but his world must be a cold, barren painful place to live in.

Free speech does not apply to hate speech or incitement to murder. This character needs to be silenced. I urge people to report the video to YouTube. I won’t link to it, because I don’t want to push his search rankings up, but if you put the name of the video into YouTube’s search box, it will appear.

As the Buddha said:

For hatred can never put an end to hatred. Love alone can. This is an unalterable law. People forget their lives will end soon. For those who remember, quarrels come to an end.

Adapted from Pingiya’s Praises of the Way to the Beyond

We call him Bhante. Sangharakshita, Awake, dissolving error, with total clarity. Knowing the path to its ends, he has gone beyond most of the states of being and of becoming. He has no inner poison-drives: he is the near elimination of suffering. This man is the man I follow.

Like a bird that leaves the bushes of the scrubland and flies to the fruit trees of the forest, I too have left the bleary half light of atheism; like a salmon I have reached a flowing brook.

This prince, this beam of light, Sangharakshita, is the only one who dissolves the darkness. This man Sangharakshita is a world of wisdom and a continent of understanding. He is a teacher who Dharma is the Way the Buddha taught, instant, immediate and visible all around, eroding desire without harmful side-effects, with nothing like it anywhere else in the world.

There is no moment for me, however small, that is spent away from him, from this world of wisdom, this continent of understanding, this teacher whose Dharma is the Way the Buddha taught, instant, immediate and visible all around, eroding desire without harmful side-effects, with nothing like it anywhere else in the world.

With his Adisthana portrait in my wallet it is possible for me to see him with my eyes and with my mind, in night as well as day. And since I spend my nights studying his books, there is not one single moment spent away from him.

I cannot now move from the teaching of Sangharakshita: the powers of confidence and joy, of intellect and awareness, hold me there.

Whichever way this continent of wisdom goes he draws me with him.

Physically, he cannot lead me on retreat. His body is decaying, he is old and frail – but the driving power of his purposeful thought propels me with it without break.

Bhante’s words are the words of a man of wisdom. As I hear them I become more confident. This man is Sambodhisattva: he has opened the curtains and woken up. There is nothing barren there; his mind is clear and luminous.

Everything accessible in the sutra-treasure is known to him, even the ultimate subtleties of sunyata. There are endless questions for the doubtful who come to him: the teacher can answer them all.

Yes, I shall go there. I shall go to Guhyaloka, I shall go beyond provisional; I shall go beyond myself. There are no more doubts. You may consider my mind as a mind engaged.

 

 Original text adapted by the Triratna Buddhist Community for recitation

 

They call him Buddha. Enlightened, Awake, dissolving darkness, with total vision. Knowing the world to its ends, he has gone beyond all the states of being and of becoming. He has no inner poison-drives: he is the total elimination of suffering. This man is the man I follow.
 
Like a bird that leaves the bushes of the scrubland and flies to the fruit trees of the forest, I too have left the bleary half light of opinions; like a swan I have reached a great lake.
 
This prince, this beam of light, Gotama, is the only one who dissolves the darkness. This man Gotama is a universe of wisdom and a world of understanding. He is a teacher who Dharma is the Way Things Are, instant, immediate and visible all around, eroding desire without harmful side-effects, with nothing like it anywhere else in the world.
 
There is no moment for me, however small, that is spent away from him, from this universe of wisdom, this world of understanding, this teacher whose Dharma is the Way Things Are, instant, immediate and visible all around, eroding desire without harmful side-effects, with nothing like it anywhere else in the world.
 
With careful and constant vigilance it is possible for me to see him with my mind as clearly as with my eyes, in night as well as day. And since I spend my nights revering him, there is not one single moment spent away from him.
 
I cannot now move from the teaching of Gotama: the powers of confidence and joy, of intellect and awareness, hold me there.
Whichever way this universe of wisdom goes it draws me with it.
 
Physically, I cannot move like that – my body is decaying, I am old and weak – but the driving power of purposeful thought propels me with it without break.
 
The Buddha’s words are the words of a man of wisdom. As I hear them I become more confident. This man is Sambuddha: he has opened the curtains and woken up. There is nothing barren there; his mind is clear and luminous.
 
Everything accessible to knowledge is known to him, even the ultimate subtleties of godhood. There are no more questions for the doubtful who come to him: the teacher has answered them all.
 
Yes, I shall go there. I shall go beyond change, I shall go beyond formations; I shall go beyond comparison. There are no more doubts. You may consider my mind as a mind released.

Oh how I remember that fateful day. It was Summer 1997 and London was baking in the sunshine. I was roasting indoors, halfway through a severe 3-year bout of depression and agoraphobia. And I was drunk on a very cheap gassy cider, that was so foul it had the benefit of tasting precisely same on the way up as on the way down.

I had learned computer networking in the distant days when IPX/SPX was the protocol stack the cool kids used, and TCP/IP was that weird Frankenstein-like concoction dreamed up by the boffins on some American military/academic network.

I hadn’t had a computer for since I’d got ill, until now. The World Wide Web was ascending. But I was old-school and liked the idea of Gopher, WAIS (remember them?) and FTP.

So I explored the IP stack protocol by protocol, and happened upon a simple chat protocol. I connected to the biggest network, with the most popular client, and issued a command to get me a list of the thousands of chat rooms available.

And there at the very top of the list was a whole bunch of rooms whose names suggested they were created by and for paedophiles. I already had 10 years’ experience of hearing the tales of horror of women who had survived sexual abuse as children. And I had met several paedophiles in person. Not that they knew I was aware what they were.

And yet despite all this experience of knowing what paedophiles did, I never really believed child pornography could exist. I naively assumed it was an urban myth. I remember thinking “surely no one does that!

And yet here on this publicly open network were chat rooms whose names indicated they were devoted to child pornography. Shocked, I summoned a network operator. “Have you seen these rooms?” I asked.

“Yes we know all about them.”

“So why don’t you get rid of them?”

“Go read the First Amendment of the US Constitution.”

“I’m not American.”

“TS, this server is. US law applies. Bye!”

I disconnected and it was a long time before I went back there. It was when I was 2 years into a decade-long bout of severe depression and agoraphobia.

When I did go back, everything had changed. Shortly after my first encounter with that network, a war broke out between white-hat hackers and the chat network operators. The hackers demanded the network evict the paedophiles. The network responded along the lines of “we do not respond to threats and you’re not the boss of us“.

The hackers responded by bringing the whole network down for 2 weeks. At that point, the network suddenly realised that the hackers in fact were the boss of them, so they turfed out the paedophiles and the hackers let the network live again.

But the paedophiles decamped to another network. The problem was, their new network also had a number of genuine rooms for children and teens to chat in, and while the paedophiles were on the network looking for their evil material, they’d flood into the young people’s rooms. Sometimes they’d be upfront about being adults, but often they’d pose unconvincingly as children, and try to get their jollies by talking to children about sexual matters.

Determined to do something to stop them, I ended up joining a secret group of undercover paedophile-hunters. We couldn’t get the network operators to do anything (on this new network they also cited the First Amendment), and the police were rarely interested. But we could identify these men and supply intelligence to chat room operators so that they could be banned from chat rooms and kept away from children.

There were a number of methods. One of the easiest was to harvest the identities of denizens of the bad rooms, and compare their identifying information with those in the children’s rooms. Often we’d see someone in a bad room with a nickname like pervDad45, and see someone connected from the same network address, in the children’s rooms, called Sarah13f or some such. 

We could then inform the chat room operators and show them the evidence, and pervDad45 would be banned. But he’d be back with a new identity, day after day, even year after year. It was like being Sisyphus.

Then there was a much more odious form of hunting, which a hunter could ‘graduate’ to once they established themselves with chat room operators. It consisted of doing a parallel activity to the paedophiles themselves – with permission, lurking in the chat rooms with a nickname that suggested one was a teenager, and then just seeing what messages came in.

Some of them didn’t even say hello. They’d say something overtly perverted in their 1st sentence. They were my favourites because we could get rid of them without having the unpleasant task of talking to them. Others didn’t even say anything before sending, unsolicited, pornographic images. 

Here’s a sample, which I selected because it’s very mild compared with many of them.

<sk8boy> asl? [age, sex, location]

<Rachel13f> 13/f/england. u?

<sk8boy> 16/m/usa [despite his network address being in Lebanon]

<Rachel13f> cool

<sk8boy> do u masterbate?

At that point, we didn’t need to continue with him, we could get rid of him. And often, despite getting no response, he’d keep asking, adding “u there?” or “y u no talk 2 me?“. Some of them would witter on for half an hour. Some of them would get nasty.

<sk8boy> u bitch

<sk8boy> fuk u

<sk8boy> die slut

And then there were the truly monstrous ones.

<cooldood> do u luv ur family?

<Rachel13f> yes. why?

<cooldood> do u want them to die?

<Rachel13f> course not!

<cooldood> if u dont do wat i say ur family will die tonite

<Rachel13f> hmm. bet you don’t know where we live

<cooldood> i kno where u live. i am a hacker and can see all ur files

<Rachel13f> really? is this a joke? ok what’s my address?

<cooldood> dont play with me or i will kill ur family

The ban-hammer comes down on cooldood, while he ranted on and made more threats. He came back year after year, and I compared logs of his latest efforts with 5 years previously and the wording was 100% identical – he clearly kept his schtick in a text file and just pasted it in. The tragic thing is, if a child was particularly naive, she might be taken in by that.

Hunting these scum became my raison d’etre.

I’d get up at 5 or 6 in the morning, and take 5g paracetamol with 80g codeine and 400mg caffeine. Hunt for up to 12 hours. Sign off, with a pounding headache. Take 2g paracetamol with 32mg codeine and a black coffee. Eat dinner. Watch The Simpsons. Lie awake in bed replaying that day’s nastiest encounter and then fantasise about torturing that man to death.

But I outgrew fantasies of mere physical torture. It just couldn’t hurt them as much as I wanted to. So in fantasy I became a super-being who would identify a paedophile and rip open his soul and dump into it every moment of pain he ever caused to all his victims, simultaneously liberating the survivors of his abuse from their pain and giving it to him in one giant soul-shattering dose. Then I’d torture him physically to death.

I did this for 6 years. I was a self-loathing depressed agoraphobic at the start of it. By the end, I was a self-loathing depressed agoraphobic with a fanatical hatred for all men and a twisted mind filled with rage and venom. As I went to sleep each night I’d recite my personal motto in my head: male sexuality is toxic, repulsive and monstrous.

One day I just burned out. I could not face another paedophile. I had been feeling like that for a long time but felt I mustn’t abandon the children to these monsters. But I finally cracked, and the agoraphobia spilled over from my real-world life to my online life and I hid from the world outside, and also hid from the world online in a tiny secret chat room with a few other broken burned-out hunters. Some of them are dead now.

One of the final straws that persuaded me it was time to give it up was one quiet night in a children’s chat room. My group was one of three that I knew of that operated on that network. We could all spot each other although we had no official contact. I looked at the list of nicknames in the room: 5 automated chat robots, 4 hunters from my group, 2 from another group, 8 from the biggest group. No actual children at all. I sat there laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation, and thought what am I doing with my life?

The next day I couldn’t go back in the public rooms. I just wanted to hide forever.

Another reason to stop was realising I was addicted to the thrill of the chase. We were not meant to be there for thrills. We left that kind of game-playing to glory-seeking dilettante groups like Anonymous.

I kept all this secret because I thought that me spending all my time doing that would look at best unhealthy, and at worst suspicious. So the only people I could talk to about the horrific things I heard were the other members of my group, all but one of whom were even more damaged than me.

I’ve pondered offering my expertise to CEOP, as the biggest factor hampering our groups were we were not law enforcement agents. We could do nothing except try to keep these men out of children’s rooms.

But no. I have visited Hell and found out I am not Ksitigarbha. I will not go back there.

Her ruined
defiled corpse,
lying there
on a slab.
A cellar
In the pit
deep below 
the royal
hospital
Where, today
Saints, angels
Fought to save
her young life.
She defeated
all of them.
Cheap plastic
crucifix
behind her.
Out of sight,
plastic Moon
a crescent;
holy Star
of David
for other
dead, faithful.
On her face,
sweet, silly
angel face,
grimace of
brutal death.
Blood congealed
in her veins
blotches her
olive skin.
She lies naked
under cotton.
Inside her:
destroyed heart,
wrecked liver,
blocked kidneys,
erased brain,
murdered mind.
A surfeit
of vile drugs
meant to heal,
killed my friend.
As I leave,
I touch her,
saddened that
while she lived,
I never
touched her once;
not one hug.
I am male,
she was not.
What was she?
Survivor
of abuse,
a daughter,
a sister,
a good friend,
faithful to
one true God.
Boundaries
once had stood
now torn down
by her death,
which she chose
over life,
over love.
Survivor
no longer.
Demoted to
a victim.

Twenty-five years ago, I was a clerk at the Ministry of Defence (MOD).I worked for Defence Medical Services, amid a colourful coterie of characters.

My favourite was a retired major who was about to retire from being a Retired Officer (don’t ask), who had enlisted in 1942 and come up through the ranks. He claimed to be the most-travelled man ever in the history of the Army.

One time he took me to one side, leaned in and whispered “when the officers aren’t looking, you can call me Ernie“. He said he’d spend his retirement writing his life story, and I have looked out for it ever since and never found it. So if anyone has a copy of Potter’s Wheel by Major Ernest Potter, please do let me know where I can buy it.

Initially I worked for the Army’s nurses. Back then, the MOD had over forty headquarters buildings in London, compared with today’s two or three. My old building is now occupied by the Ministry of Justice and in a strange twist of fate I went there recently to order a copy of a will.

To the consternation of the legion of security guards, I giggled all the way through their x-ray scanner and their metal-detector wands. This was because in my day, when it housed secret defence documents and not public wills, and with the IRA blowing London up randomly, we just had a sleepy old man on a desk who waved you through so long as you waved a piece of paper at him, even if it was a bus ticket.

Then I went mad and was off sick for several months, and when I came back they gave me a new job, working for the RAF’s doctors. It was a new branch. The MOD’s approach to reorganising was slightly more fickle than an adolescent girl’s approach to styling her hair.

The MOD spent the 1980s shutting down many single-service administrative branches to replace them with a tri-service approach. In 1990 the fashion reversed and it started shutting down the tri-service branches and replacing them with single-service ones. It’s like a giant and intensely dull game of musical chairs.

There was a grand tradition that during these reorganisations, branches would dump their old files on whoever they could, so they didn’t have to look after them. The best target was a new branch because you could just sneak in and stow all your old junk there before the new staff had even taken up their posts.

Thus it was that when I walked into the registry of my newly-formed RAF Medical branch, I found an array of filing cabinets and safes with random files stretching back to World War I.

I relieved my boredom by wading through looking for treasure. And treasure was there. Literally, at the nursing branch – I found a sack of gold at the bottom of the secrets safe (more on that story later).

Amid the RAF documents, I found memos from the end of WWI between Royal Flying Corps officers (including RAF founder Hugh Trenchard) saying “I say chaps, how about we have new branch of the services for these bally old kites?”

A small, green, hard-backed folder entitled Confidential Report on Operations in Iraq. It described the results of using chemical weapons against insurgents in the late 1920s, and what lessons could be drawn for future wars. I remember thinking “we did what? They didn’t tell me that in school!”

One issue being considered was whether women could be aircrew, as at that time they still could not be. A doctor, with the rank of squadron leader, submitted a report to my boss on the matter. He’d written it slightly in the style of Biggles, or even General Melchett, and I recall my air commodore – a wonderful, softly-spoken gentleman of great wisdom – taking his red pen and crossing out patronising lines like “if she’s a healthy specimen, there’s no reason I can see she wouldn’t be up to it“.

The RAF men were all interesting characters. The director of defence medical services (tri-service) was an air marshal. This caused much celebration when he was appointed, as the RAF is the most junior service and was often overlooked in favour of the more senior senior services. They particularly disliked the way the Royal Navy personnel brandished their Senior Service status.

The air marshal, who was called Sir Nigel, was newly promoted to director, newly promoted in rank, and newly knighted. He was also looking forward to retirement after a lifetime in RAF medicine. He had a reputation as being an incredibly hard-working doctor and an extremely kind and gentle man.

One day I came into work and there was an atmosphere of intense gloom. I saw stunned-looking staff walking with heads hung, I saw staff crying and hugging. I asked what had happened. Sir Nigel had collapsed and died of a heart attack the previous night. Consensus was he’d worked himself to death.

I sat at my desk and went about my duties, amid palpable silence and gloom. My squadron leader walked in, clapped his hands together and rubbed them, and bellowed “So – old Nigibabes popped his clogs then!” He wasn’t being heartless – it’s just how Forces people approach tragedy.

I was very happy in this branch. I loved my air commodore. My wing commander was the most senior Muslim in the British Armed Forces at the time, and was always gently trying to convert me and my fellow registry clerk. When his office door was closed, we had to peer in through the glass and check if he was at prayer, and if so, we were not to disturb him.

But I am not writing for the sake of nostalgia. I am writing because I have been haunted for twenty-five years by something I saw that I’d consider – at least morally – treason.

In the 1950s, the United Kingdom was testing out its nuclear weapons. The tests consisted of detonating a nuclear device while a big group of servicemen stood a little distance away. Nuclear weapons and their effects were poorly understood. The men had very little protection. The men were irradiated. Then they got on with their lives, with the tests having had little immediate effect on them.

As the decades passed, however, the men started getting ill, with all the usual diseases that are the long-term result of being irradiated, particularly cancer and leukemia.

These men naturally felt the MOD should compensate them for making them ill and killing them. The Government felt it would rather not spend the money. The men had to start fighting for compensation.

The MOD was taking the absurd line that the nuclear tests had not made the men ill. It did this by exploiting the fact that with any cancer, it’s not really possible to determine exactly what caused it. So a man’s cancer might be because he was at a nuclear test, or it might be because he worked with asbestos, smoked, or just was unlucky. This room for doubt was where the MOD hoped to neutralise the men’s claims for compensation.

The RAF doctors in my branch were being asked for their opinion. And they gave it. And it was pretty much as I have described – being irradiated can cause long-term health problems but there is no way to prove any given health problem was directly caused by a specific exposure to radiation.

I saw no evidence that anyone from above pressured any of the doctors to reach this conclusion. It just happened to be scientific fact, unfortunate as it was for the veterans’ case.

Furthermore, I watched these officers, saw how they did things, how they carried themselves, what they derived their sense of self-worth from. I don’t believe any of the officers I met would have succumbed to pressure to dissemble for the sake of saving the Government from having to compensate veterans.

To put it simply, there was nothing anyone higher-up could offer them that would have been worth more to them than their professional pride and sense of honour.

These were mostly doctors, and commissioned RAF officers. The forces does (or did) have commissioned officers who were solicitors, but not a great many and mostly in the Army. The recalcitrance over compensating the veterans was coming from much higher up, but I don’t know where.

Most of the legal professionals the Government were utilising to obstruct the veterans were civilians. I think some were not even Civil Servants, but were effectively hired goons.

Enough preamble, now we come to why I am writing this. Now I come to the words that have haunted me for a quarter of a century.

Bear in mind, many of these aging men had cancer of various forms.

I saw a memo by one of the legal men, which said:-

If we prolong the legal process long enough, this problem will address itself.

In other words, string out the legal obstructionism and the veterans would die of the cancers we gave them, and dead men cannot fight for compensation for the cancers we killed them with.

I sat at my desk and stared at this memo in shock. I was seventeen years old, more child than man, and had a sheltered rural upbringing and was taught a lot of naive views about the innate goodness of the system and all in it.

Looking back I wish I’d blown the whistle. But I did not. It didn’t even occur to me.

I put the memo into the relevant file and left it on my air commodore’s desk. I never looked for it or saw it again and don’t know what the air commodore did about it. But I knew the man and he would have been more appalled than me.

Maybe he asked the relevant people to dispense with that man’s services, maybe he just ignored it. I don’t know.

But that legal man was just one man. His attitude doesn’t necessarily reflect that of the system. The problem is, in point of fact, it does.

Look at where we are now. We’re commemorating the centenary of World War I. When we commemorated 90 years since the Armistice, there were thirty-two British World War I combat veterans surviving. Suddenly, they mattered. But for most of the decades since their War, they didn’t matter a lot to the state they served.

They didn’t get a land fit for heroes – they got unemployment and poverty following the crash of 1929, and in the 1980s they starved in freezing homes due to inadequate pensions.

I was a paper-boy in the 1980s and I remember one story of a veteran found dead at home. He had no heating, and post-mortem showed his last meal to be lard spread on cardboard – he had no food.

Then when the number of veterans who had fought in the trenches of World War I was down to one – Mr Harry Patch – there was talk of a knighthood and a state funeral. Mr Patch was horrified by the idea and refused both. He said “why me and not all my comrades, just because I outlived them?”

Now we see a similar process unfold with the veterans of World War II. As their numbers dwindle, the extent to which the nation cherishes them increases. A little too late for most of them.

When I saw Falklands veterans marching at the Remembrance Day parade last November, I was shocked that the men of this war – which I remember – were looking almost as old as World War II veterans looked when I was a child.

They are perhaps the worst-treated veterans of any modern conflict, because when they got home, the country just didn’t get them. At least World War II veterans came home to a country so dominated by the War and so full of veterans that they could at least feel like they belonged.

The whole shoddy process is going to repeat itself with veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, if we let it. We’re a country of young veterans again. When I was in the MOD, a typical general had the Long Service and Good Conduct medal and other time-server gongs. There weren’t many combat veterans around.

Now I see men half my age with large rows of campaign and war medals. And yet, do we treat them appropriately? Help for Heroes is a great charity but why should veterans have to rely on charity instead of being looked after by the state they served? I don’t believe in general the country owes people a living. But if they’ve fought for their country, I think it does.

The time is long overdue to turn the tide. That lawyer’s idea about stringing the veterans along until they die is just the most extreme example of an attitude that infests the state. Veterans have served their purpose, now they’re a burden.

Despite straitened times, the Government has billions to waste on white-elephant rail projects, dead white elephant IT projects from unfit-for-purpose outsourcing companies, unnecessary and destructive NHS reorganisation, and bureaucratic welfare “reforms”.

We could put all that wasted taxpayers’ money in a big pot and have every veteran taken care of, and still have enough change for an extra aircraft carrier. Or an extra hospital.

And in fantasy, I knock on the door of that lawyer whose memo has haunted me all these years.

“Excuse me Sir, I’m from the Government. About that treacherous advice you gave us twenty-five years ago. We’re not going to put you in prison or anything, but whatever we paid you for that advice – we’d like it back please, with interest. There’s a chap down the road who lost his leg in Afghanistan and that money would cover a nice holiday for him and his family.”