The Last Word on Wars

November 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

The Last Word on Wars

Australian Doctor 29 November, 2013 Dr Andrew Gunn

The highlight of a conference is never the presentations. It’s the networking — with taxi drivers.

An Afghan immigrant drove me to the airport a couple of weeks ago. He complained about the stupidity of toll roads and the governments that create them.

All roads no longer lead to Rome, but all taxi conversations still lead to politics. Cab fares cover discourse as well as distance. George Burns once said it was a pity that the only people who know how to run a country are busy driving taxis and cutting hair.

My driver enthused about a 2004 book called Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror. Thomas Hobbes was the 17th-century English philosopher who said that, without society, life is nasty, short and brutish (with society, it’s natty shorts and brewed tea). Hobbes believed that the greatest destroyer of peace is hubris.

I bought Imperial Hubris for myself this Remembrance Day. The book’s gist is that Western bombs, not Western culture, create Islamic extremists.

The cartoonist David Pope once expressed this by showing ground crew shouting to the pilot of a bomb-heavy American fighter plane: “And while you’re there, try to find out why they hate us so much!”

The game of thrones is now turning into the game of drones. Almost 10% of US Air Force pilots now fly drones.

My cabbie became distressed talking about drones. He said they are “men using PlayStations to kill people”.

We spoke about his family. He explained that Afghan families “are not a husband and wife, two children and a dog … tribal families can be thousands of people”. And if you kill one family member then it is custom that the others vow to kill you.

He frowned and said: “We all thought it was funny when Australia talked about ‘staying the course’ in Afghanistan … because when the Americans leave, you will be slaughtered … it’s crazy.”

He concluded, “Australians are nice people but their politicians are very bad.” I couldn’t disagree. For instance, an Afghan patient told me today: “You go to Afghanistan, you come back, you just want peace. You don’t want money or job, you just want peace.” Fly-in-fly-out politicians scoring a quick photo op with the troops never return with the same view.

My next taxi driver was Turkish. I talked with him about the Australian celebration of Gallipoli, hubristic pagan sacrifice of youth, and that kind of stuff.

He said: “Gallipoli is very serious for my people.” He lost one grandfather in World War I; the other was wounded.

I told him that one of my grandfathers was maimed at Gallipoli — he’d left Australia as a champion boxer and returned with a mangled arm and missing pieces of skull. His injuries deeply affected me as a child and might explain why I’m so aggro about being anti-violence.

My Turkish driver was relaxed about Australians visiting Gallipoli and harboured no ill will toward Anzacs. Instead, he heaped venom on Winston Churchill.

I actually have a soft spot for Churchill. I can’t detest a man who said democracy is the worst system of government apart from all the others. I also sometimes quote Churchill to patients: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

I hadn’t associated Churchill with Gallipoli, but the cabbie was right — Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty during the invasion. He was then demoted for slaying too few of the cabbie’s relatives and too many of mine.

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