From the moment I first heard Ronald Fiddler's story a couple of weeks ago I have felt a sort of nagging feeling. Something was a little off. A little troubling. Not right somehow.
I guess you will know who I am talking about from the picture. For a couple of days Ronald's smiling face beamed out of every front page under suitably appalled banner headlines. The coverage was all about shock, horror and disgust. A Brit suicide bomber. This made Ronald the absolute worst of the worst.
For a while I couldn't get a handle on the nagging feeling. Then I worked it out. There were too many uncomfortable similarities. Ronald was a man in his fifties from the North West of England. A Mancunian. And of course I am also a man in my fifties from the North West of England. But not a Mancunian of course. God forbid.
The nagging feeling only grew stronger when I watched Ronald's demise being discussed on the BBC News 24 Paper Review. One of the guests for the night was Tom Newton Dunne who is the senior political correspondent at the Sun. Tom has always come as something of a surprise to me. He is careful, considered, knowledgeable and always articulate. In fact he is everything you wouldn't expect to find working for that particular lying, filthy rag so conspicuous by its absence from the newsagents of Merseyside.
So. What was Tom's assessment of Ronald's final mission? I can't remember his exact words, but they were along the lines of diabolical, cowardly, despicable, appalling. It was the party line. Ronald was a terrorist and that was all there was to say.
Did Ronald drive his explosive packed vehicle into a market place filled with innocent civilians? No. He attacked a military base filled with soldiers. So in a way he was an ISIS version of one of our much vaunted smart bombs. He was what we would term a surgical strike.
And all of a sudden the sheer, unashamed hypocrisy of Tom's words hit me. I had a Kurtz moment. 'Like a diamond bullet straight through the forehead.'
One of our highly trained fighter pilots identifies an ISIS target on the ground and and kills everything in the vicinity care of a 'smart' bomb which has cost the British tax payer tens of thousands of pounds. No civilian casualties. Only soldiers burnt and dismembered. And our reaction? We will marvel at the pilot's professionalism and dedication. We might even comment on his heroism. Fair enough. He's a young guy far from home and he can never know if this is the mission when he runs into an unexpected surface to air missile. He is following the instructions of his political masters and he is following them to the letter.
Is he in Iraq because of a cast iron belief he is on the right side of the Shia/Sunni hatred that has rolled through hundreds of years in that neck of the woods. I doubt it. He is there because he chose a career with the RAF and has made it all the way to becoming a fighter pilot. And at the moment he releases his high tech smart bomb, he is hurtling through the air at hundreds of miles an hour. So there is a risk, but not a big risk. We have been in Iraq for fourteen years now and we have yet to lose a fighter jet to enemy fire.
Ronald on the other hand had picked a different side. The other side. Was it a career move? Well, I suppose it was in a way. But it wasn't a career which promised a good salary and an excellent pension. We can disagree with his decision to join ISIS all day, but it doesn't alter the fact that Ronald traveled to Mosul to fight for what he believed was right. He could have stayed in Manchester and carried on with his work as a carer. Instead he chose the hard miles.
Do our fighter jet pilots have more right to deliver their smart bombs than Ronald had to become one? Mosul is as far from Whitehall as it is from Manchester. Iraq isn't exactly our back yard. And yet we feel it is our absolute right to send our fighter bombers out there to kill from the sky. We do it in the name of an Iraqi government with a diabolical human rights record who lock up and torture Sunni citizens without any kind of charge.
Are the Government of Iraq and their Iranian pals any better than ISIS? Probably. There are few worse outfits in the world than ISIS. But the torture rooms of Baghdad are not exactly an advert for human decency.
What did Ronald have in common with his fellow Brits involved in killing people with smart bombs? Courage certainly. Though the courage required to drive a vehicle to your certain death is probably of a higher order than pressing the release button at 10,000 feet. But that doesn't mean the RAF pilot wouldn't also be willing to become a suicide bomber if there was no other choice.
What is it the Bible says? 'Greater love hath no man, that a man might lay down his life for his friends'. Well Ronald certainly did that. Of course we don't like his friends. We hate his friends. But there is no escaping the fact they WERE Ronald's friends and he most certainly laid down his life for them. Would it really be so very hard to acknowledge his courage? It would appear it is.
A few days later I came across an old black and white NBC documentary on YouTube. It was filmed a few weeks after the Americans had been in their first major engagement in Vietnam in 1965. Their Air Cavalry found themselves outnumbered 7 to 1 in the Ia Drang valley. For a few desperate hours young Americans and young Vietnamese locked horns and displayed extraordinary levels of courage and heroism. Without massive air support, the men of the Air Cav would have been completely overrun, but the fact they managed not to break was remarkable. The fact the North Vietnamese soldiers kept advancing through napalm strike after naplam strike was equally remarkable. Ia Drang was later turned into Mel Gibson's film 'We were soldiers'.
There were a couple of things in the old documentary which caught my attention. First was the way the presenter framed the coming battle. 'One one side was the strongest military force in the history of the world, on the other side was the toughest guerrilla army in the history of the world.'
So no talk of foul and cowardly terrorists. Instead there was respect. Sure the NVA were the enemy and sure the Americans were out there to kill them down to the last man. But it didn't mean they didn't respect their vast courage. Check out the film via the link below. Go to 6 minutes and 30 seconds. You will find an interview given by Major Charles Beckworth of the Green Berets. He commanded a fire base which hung by a thread for several days as wave after wave of Viet Cong attacked. Again, only huge air power enable the Americans to survive. An interviewer asked Beckworth for his opinion of the VC soldiers he had fought. His answer?
'I would give anything to have 200 of them under my command. They're the finest soldiers I have ever seen."
I wonder what the Major would have made of Ronald? A fifty year old Mancunian carer who had the courage to become a human smart bomb. My gut feeling is that this would have represented the kind of guts to win the respect of the tough Green Beret from Georgia.
An officer would never be allowed to talk like this now. To do so would kill their career stone dead. The new narrative is Tom Newton Dunn's narrative. Now we call describe courage as cowardice. Now we are expected to portray our foes as being somehow depraved and sub human. We must never show any kind of respect. Is it any wonder our so called 'War on Terror' shows no sign of an end?
The story of Ronald shows how utterly impossible our leaders find it to learn from our questionable history. In 1955 we interned hundreds of thousands of Kikuyu in concentration camps in Northern Kenya. It was our way of taking on the Mau Mau 'terrorists'. Instead we turned a whole country against us and nine years later Kenya claimed its independence.
In August 1971 we launched Operation Demetrius across the six counties of Northern Ireland. We interned nearly two thousand guys and locked them up without any kind of trial in our new Long Kesh prison. And what happened next? Well, most of them were entirely innocent which meant they got really, really pissed off at the way they were being treated. They signed on the dotted line for the IRA and went onto make our lives a misery for the next 35 years.
In 2003 the Americans opened up a huge prison in the Iraqi desert. They called it Camp Bucca in honour of a New York fire chief who died on 9/11. They interned over 20,000 Iraqi's without any kind of charge. And guess what? They got pissed off. It was hard for the Americans to keep order so they looked to influential prisoners they could work with. Their main man was Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. Oh yeah. Him. They gave him a free hand to do pretty well what he liked in Camp Bucca so long as he kept a lid on things. So he made like Gerry Adams all those years before. He turned the camp into a university and he created ISIS.
So why all the talk of internment and how it tends to get people so pissed of that they can't wait to get their hands on a gun and the chance of some payback? Well Ronald was interned. In 2001 he was backpacking is way around Pakistan and Afghanistan. Seldom in history can a guy have been more in the wrong place at the wrong time. Once Bin Laden's planes smashed into the twin towers, Ronald knew Afghanistan had become Dodge and he needed to get out. He tried to cross into Iran but the Taliban were having none of it. His British passport made him a spy in their book so they arrested him and locked him up in a Kandahar prison.
Without trial of course.
We can only imagine what a relief it must have been to Ronald when the US Special Forces turned up. The cavalry, right? Free at last. Well. Not really. The Special Forces guys were more than happy to turn him loose but the spooks in Bagram air base saw things differently. They stuck him on a plane to Guantanamo for two years of 'torture light'.
Without trial of course.
Two years was more than enough for the Americans to establish Ronald was guilty of nothing whatsoever. In fact they had a few kind words for all the information he had given them about the Taliban.
So they let him go and when he got home the British Government gave him a million quid for his troubles. Now this seems pretty compelling to me. The British Government doesn't exactly make a habit of coughing up a million quid to people who have been wrongly arrested. Ronald's case must have been pretty damn compelling.
And yet ten years later Ronald upped sticks and went to fight for ISIS. And this of course begs the $64,000 question. If we had brought Ronald home in 2001 after the special forces guys had liberated him from the Taliban prison in Kandahar, would he have still gone to ISIS? If we hadn't rounded up Gerry Adams in August 1971, would he have still joined the PIRA? If we hadn't banged Al-Baghdadi up in Camp Bucca, would he still have founded ISIS?
I can't answer any of these questions. Only Ronald, Gerry Adams and Al-Baghdadi could answer the questions and Ronald will never answer any question ever again.
Surely there is an easy enough lesson to be learned here. A good start for our brave leaders would be to take so time out to listen to the words of Major Beckworth of Atlanta, Georgia way back in 1965.
Showing respect isn't weakness. Trying to understand the other guy's point of view isn't weakness. Owning up to your own mistakes isn't weakness. Pumping out endless propaganda is always a mistake. Describing people you don't agree with as sub human cowards is always a mistake.
Hypocrisy is always a mistake.
Time to go back to another off message officer from the US Special Forces. This time it is the fictional Colonel Walter E Kurtz of Apocalypse Now fame.
'We train our young men to drop fire on people but we won't allow then to write 'FUCK' on their aeroplanes.... why ... because it's obscene.'