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About A Week: War's No Game

...If only war were a playground game. An opportunity to zoom around with arms for wings, going rat-tat-tat-tat....

Peter Hinchliffe reflects on the harsh realities of the situation in Iraq.

War used to be a playground game.

For us boys, it was bombing raids and fighter pilots. We spread our arms wide to form wings, then raced round the schoolyard making droning engine noises, rat-tat-tatting like machine-guns.

Inevitably, we started banging into each other. The biggest boy banged hardest. He "shot" the rest of us down.

For the girls, war was a skipping game. To the accompaniment of a catchy little rhyme.

In 1944 Old Hitler went to war, He had no gun, So he fired with his bum, In 1944.

World War II was for grown-ups. We were innocents, attending infants school. There was no television, with images to give us nightmares.

The war seemed far away. We went on with our games, oblivious to what was happening in the big wide world.

There were no bananas. Not many sweets. Little meat. But we didn't starve. There was free concentrated orange juice. Hot milk at school.

I recall soldiers arriving on manoeuvres, camping on the edge of the village. Some of them, probably moved by our raggedy, torn-britches appearance, gave us squares of chocolate. It was black chocolate, so I wasn't impressed.

Sometimes we carried gas masks to school for air raid drill. When we put them on, there were chortles and giggles. We could make rude noises by blowing through the edges of the rubber which enveloped our faces.

We filed into the church school basement and sat there in darkness, pretending there was no electricity. Then somebody it might have been me made another rude noise with his gas mask and we all went back upstairs to resume lessons.

Before I began to understand war, it was all over. Time to go "chumping." To collect spare lumps of wood and branches for celebration bonfires. First VE Day. Then VJ Day.

We ate parkin and home-made toffee as we danced round the flames.

Now war is ever present in Iraq, a black depressive cloud gnawing at the edges of our comfortable lives.

I recall the day it began, three years ago. I was totally relaxed. Feeling happy. Sunk deep in an armchair, sipping Scotch, watching Leeds United score four great goals to knock Villa out of the Rumbelows Cup.

Bliss unlimited. Then a newsflash.

An American reporter, Bernard Shaw, of Cable Network News, was broadcasting live from Baghdad, where an air raid was in progress.

"We're seeing bright flashes all over the sky . . -. we're putting the mike out of 'the window . . . and, oh, we just heard . . . Whoah! Holy cow!"

A booming thud.

I woke my wife, my younger son. We sat, with little conversation, for an hour and a half, aware that we were watching history in the making. Wishing we weren't watching it.

Every day since then, in every hour of every day, another violent page has been added to the book of war.

If only war were a playground game. An opportunity to zoom around with arms for wings, going rat-tat-tat-tat.

But the rat-tat-tats in Iraq are not play. Real bullets are being fired. People are dying.

American and British troops went into Iraq three years ago as of this week. More than 2,000 American soldiers have died there. More than 100 British men in uniform have lost their lives.

Saddam is no longer in power. A good thing.

Elections have been held. A good thing.

But some Iraqis are determined to go on killing other Iraqis. And Western troops are still being blown up and shot at.

Is it worthwhile for Americans and Brits to be there, putting their lives on the line? I thought so. I still think so - most of the time. But I wish there was a clear and identifiable end in sight.

When will it end?

Will it end?


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