6 April 2007

The side that came second

This week BBC Radio 4 has featured many programmes remembering the start of the Falklands War. Just now I heard a promo for another one, that will look at what happened in the lives of the hapless conscripts of Argentina who were eventually defeated, sent home, and then more or less forgotten by their nation. I was sad to hear that more of those soldiers have committed suicide, post war, than those who fell in battle.

Probably fresh out of school, a trooper demonstrates a typical fighting scenario in the Bush War

It reminded me to think again of the many Rhodesian armed forces soldiers, most of them conscripts too, who gave up some of their younger years to fight for something their Government believed in, only to find themselves on the losing side. Shortly after the final ceasefire, there was a tee-shirt being sold that said:

Southern Africa War Games 1972-1979
Rhodesian Armed Forces
Second Place

In the 28 years or so since the end of the bush war, I have counselled dozens of men still tormented by things they saw or did. I have watched sadly as ex RLI troopies became drug-addicted street people, and distantly followed the stories of some who moved on to other wars, became soldiers of fortune, or just simply moved far away to places like Australia or Canada, to get themselves far removed from the past. Unlike the way that the Americans or Brits look after their 'walking wounded', most of the people conscripted into the Rhodesian forces have received absolutely no help. Post traumatic stress disorders, marriages in trouble, problems with anger management, not to mention the physical therapy many could have used, were just as absent in post-independent Zimbabwe, as it seems to have been in Argentina. The hawks will disagree, but war just sucks.

Herb Friedman has an interesting and well researched look into the psychological operations in the Bush war.

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