“Journalists hadn’t earned the right to broadcast our whingeing”

by | Aug 14, 2010


What soldiers actually think about media reporting of inadequate provision of vehicles to troops in Afghanistan:

I didn’t doubt that someone somewhere, tired on stag, had whinged to a reporter. There were enough of them around and they knew what they were doing: giving a wide berth to the officers, who at least had rudimentary media training, chumming up to the boys with satellite phones and fresh rations and then waiting for something controversial to slip out. I suppose what riled us about the media, especially the journalists who flitted in and out like butterflies, got snaps of themselves looking stubbly in the desert and then back up to Kabul to flirt with the NGO girls, was that they hadn’t earned the right to broadcast our whingeing.

Soldiers whinge and purge and moan, that’s what kept us going, and, as the old saying went, the top brass should only really start worrying when the guys on the ground stop complaining. The well-intentioned journalists might even have been bemused at our resentment, thought they were doing us a favour, fighting our corner in public in a way we weren’t allowed to – but that was the point. We were like a family, allowed to slag each other off and curse and damn each other for all we were worth, but someone who wasn’t related didn’t have that right.

Of course there weren’t enough vehicles and of course communications were rubbish, of course we needed more helicopters and of course the boys were tired, but it had ever been and ever would be thus. No army in the world ever had all it needed, no commander had ever suffered from too many resources, and the funny thing was we resented the presumptuous journalism more than the shortages.

– Former Grenadier Guards officer Patrick Hennessy, in the outstanding The Junior Officers’ Reading Club.

Author

  • Alex Evans

    Alex Evans is founder of the Collective Psychology Project, which explores how we can use psychology to reduce political tribalism and polarisation, a senior fellow at New York University, and author of The Myth Gap: What Happens When Evidence and Arguments Aren’t Enough? (Penguin, 2017). He is a former Campaign Director of the 50 million member global citizen’s movement Avaaz, special adviser to two UK Cabinet Ministers, climate expert in the UN Secretary-General’s office, and was Research Director for the Business Commission on Sustainable Development. He was part of Ethiopia’s delegation to the Paris climate summit and has consulted for Oxfam, WWF UK, the UK Cabinet Office and US State Department. Alex lives with his wife and two children in Yorkshire.


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