Calls of Duty



At eleven o’clock last Sunday, Parliament Square fell into that awkward silence again when politicians look down guiltily at the ground and service men and women wearing silverware look up at solemn grey skies.

Under the surveillance of a pair of rooftop police binoculars, I was standing in Parliament Square beneath the 12-foot bronze of Churchill’s stooping figure listening for signs of dissent.

It almost came from the crowd when a loud Dutch tourist group whose naïve laughter spread like a linguistic gas attack around the piazza. But as the second artillery field gun salute boomed across the capital to mark 11.02 I noticed the deteriorating pacifist Brian Haws by his tent village leaning heavily on two crutches, his greying beard and rough lines creased across a face that has glared over the road at parliament for the past 3,079 days.

Fresh faces that will never grow as old stare up from small wooden crosses, pegged into the soft grass in Westminster Abbey’s eastern churchyard. Many are in battle desert fatigues or ceremonial number ones, grinning from ear to ear as if it were Christmas, or graduation day, with hopes of long lives. Sadly their now empty smiles sit incongruously next to poppies just like their great-uncles from the Somme were inscribed on a Portland Luytens panel.

In the sanctuary of this miniature garden are the young casualties from Afghanistan, while in another are those lost in Iraq and other ‘recent conflicts’. Add to their number many more noughts and you have a lost generation whose lives sank in Flanders mud or the sand of Gold Beach. After their service careers they might have run their own profitable businesses or perhaps invented gadgets that changed the way we thought; written great literature; inspired and led or headed governments that altered more terrible history. But all their aspirations ended by an explosive jolt from an IED, a last blip of life support apparatus or later, hopelessness or a suicide leap away from PTSD.

We’ve seen it coming so we weren’t surprised when our 11 year-old came down this morning to announce optimistically that he really wanted the 18+-rated Call of Duty 2 that is launched today, obscenely close to Britain’s eleventh hour, eleventh day, eleventh month. The PRs have worked overtime on this one and if you Google the brand, 43.6 million hits are out there for the taking as opposed to the words ‘Iraq casualties’ which yields a little less.

This is the age of interactive warfare and fantasy soldiering. Of a violent, meaningless but highly-addictive childhood that our kids are accessing while all around us the real thing is more real than any top notch graphics card can simulate. But who knows if any of the young faces shown above engaged their first insurgent from within a 1280 x 960 pixel monitor leading eventually to a cosy chat with Lord Kitchener?

Young people of Britain, your country and Activision need you.


2 Responses to “Calls of Duty”

  1. 1 Russell

    Thanks for the great photo. That we are constantly under surveillance, That there is so much violence in both our society and our world still … Do we really remember the war dead and their sacrifice, particularly that for which they fought? In some ways, I fear not.

  2. Russell,

    It’s strange isn’t it to be among a crowd that’s so respectful to the point of obsession and then you get on the bus back home and the rest of the nation are carrying on and not caring a jot. That’s life, I suppose.

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