Posts Tagged Iraq

War through a soldier’s lens

Since October, The Daily Telegraph has been posting a couple of videos every month from soldiers on a six month tour of Helmand with the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

Although the clips clearly undergo some editing at the hands of the Telegraph, they are otherwise entirely shot by three men from the ranks: Corporal Donald McMaster, Sergeant Billy Carnegie and Private Peter McQuaid.

The insight they provide into the daily lives of troops on the ground is superb; because it is the soldiers themselves shooting the footage, the conversations witnessed are those between mates – bantering and larking around, bereft of the sanitised PR conversations normal journalists might elicit. The viewer has a real sense of what daily life is like, of how they get through the day.

Televised by the protagonists

If Vietnam was the first televised war, then the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are surely the first conflicts to be televised by the protagonists themselves. Although not all videos are as interesting or coherent as those from the Scots, a quick search on YouTube turns up hundreds of videos of IED explosions, firefights and tributes to fallen comrades. Typing Afghanistan gives you 485,000 results, while Iraq gives you 779,000.

The videos seem to fit the formula of any other YouTube clip: unexpected things happening to ordinary people. Except you are not watching a teenager from the Midwest falling off his skateboard, but a booby trap which might have taken countless lives.

The voices in these videos – often disembodied, off-camera – are not those of sanitised war heroes, but of young men, pumped with mutual machismo and adrenaline. It is clear that some get a kick out of the precarious situation in which they find themselves, but it is clear that the bravado evident in many clips is a way of coping with such extremes. Many videos posted, particularly the tributes, are an effort both to come to terms with and provide a snapshot of the realities of war; its mundanity, its camaraderie and its brutality.

From a journalistic perspective, no one video can provide you with a complete, coherent sense of what life is like on the frontline, but taking the legion of them together reminds you that war is not really about strategy or death tolls, it is about the squaddies at the sharp end of the action. It would be wrong to assume that an ordinary soldier posts a video without any agenda, but the video he uploads makes the wars about people and personalities, not politics.

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