I’ve been gripped this week by our Forgotten War series.
It’s written by our investigations journalist Stephen Stewart. Thanks to the pandemic having us all work from home I’ve never met him.
All I know of him is what anyone who reads his remarkable series knows – he is himself a former soldier and he’s a fine writer.
I did a double take when I read that it was Britain’s longest war. We invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and, in July 2021, we still have troops there. We’ve been fighting there for two full decades – longer than both world wars combined.
Twenty years and 450 British soldiers’ lives later (39 of them Scots), and with almost quarter of a million Afghan dead, we’re finally getting out.
We attacked Afghanistan one year before I joined The Courier. I was 23 then and I’m 43 now. A quarter of a lifetime has gone by. So what have we achieved?
We invaded the country because the ruling Taliban couldn’t or wouldn’t hand over Osama Bin Laden. We failed at that – Bin Laden was killed 10 years later, and in Pakistan, not Afghanistan.
Fifteen of the 19 terrorists who perpetrated 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia, yet not a single bomb rained down on that oil-rich country in retribution.
Back where we started
The Taliban were in government when we invaded the country and it looks like they’ll be back in power in a few months’ time.
I’ve never been closer to a warzone than my Band of Brothers box set so I’ve no idea what it’s like to be deployed. I can imagine it involves gruelling training, long periods of boredom, brief spells of terror and fury, and lifelong bonds with comrades.
In conflicts like the First and Second World War there must have been an extraordinary sense of pride to be fighting in defence of your country. How it must feel to be sent to wage a war nobody wants or needs is anyone’s guess.
With any war the numbers don’t give the full picture. It’s the human lives that tell the story. The one that hit me hardest was the tale of Kirkcaldy man Liam Tasker. The 26-year old soldier was ambushed and shot in the face on March 1, 2011, dying instantly. The dog handler and his spaniel Theo had set a record for bomb detection in Helmand province, finding no fewer than 14 deadly explosive devices.
For the first time, we printed in full a letter Liam had written to his mum, to be opened only in the event of his death. The letter, written in the charming and self-conscious style of youth, is deeply moving and will stay with me for a long time.
Broken by the loss of his handler, Theo died just hours after Liam. The one-year old later received the Dicken Medal – the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross.
A sorry dog’s tale
And so from one spaniel to another. Four others in fact. Two cocker spaniels were stolen from Amulree, in Highland Perthshire. One was found 300 miles away in Nottinghamshire, hot, tired and scared. The other, at the time of writing, remains missing.
Meanwhile, two springer spaniels were taken from the Highland village of Kingussie, with one, 11-year old Maggie, being found 80 miles away in Crieff four days later. The other dog, Trigger, remains missing.
Dogs have rocketed in value since Covid emerged and can fetch thousands of pounds. It’s no wonder criminals have started stealing them. The payoff is huge and if you do get caught the penalty is no worse than for shoplifting.
Despite the fact that pets are part of the family – with unique personalities, feeling happiness, fear and love, and capable of extraordinary feats of devotion and loyalty – legally they are still classed as property. Stealing a dog is, in the law’s eyes, no worse than stealing a bicycle or a lawnmower.
That needs to change. Criminals are staking out people’s homes in order to steal their pets because the rewards are so high and the risks are so low.
We’ve had our golden retriever Bracken for nearly six years. She was my parents’ guide dog puppy and we took her in when she miserably failed her guide dogging exams. What she lacks in intelligence she makes up for in cuteness and character. She’s a wonderful little dog and one of my best connections to my late mum, who did most of her puppy training. If anyone stole her I would be devastated and, if I found out who did it, vengeful.
We need to make pet theft a crime, punishable with jail time and hefty financial penalties.
Leave classics alone
And while we’re at it, remaking Turner and Hooch should also be an offence. The 1989 cop-and-dog buddy movie, starring Tom Hanks and French mastiff Beasley, was one of my favourite childhood films.
Now it has been turned into a 12 episode “legacy sequel” with the plot that the son of Tom Hanks’ character has adopted a dog that is as similar to Hooch as the showrunners could find.
Disney + is the channel behind this absurd perversity. As with Point Break, Total Recall and Papillon I won’t be watching a pointless remake of a well-loved movie. Why would I when I can rewatch the original?