War is supposed to be full of action. Men are supposed to dive over barbed wire and charge at the enemy while being shot. The enemy is supposed to be tough and unrelenting but eventually die or surrender. War is supposed to be noisy and bullets are supposed to fly at you constantly. Soldiers are supposed to come back heroes with bunting in the streets, free pints in the pub, and slaps on the back.
The truth is, the Iraq War was dangerous—very dangerous at times—but boring, too. Some men and women were caught in the thick of it, but a lot weren’t. The US Marines reached Baghdad in around three weeks in 2003 and after that Iraq was quiet for a while. We were a generation who’d seen too many war films, and this war didn’t live up to them. Neither did it live up to the expectations of those at home. So some recycled others’ stories and some merely lied.
We’d go down to Kuwait for a few days to take time out of the war. We sent dead comrades home from Kuwait International Airport and would stay for a few days to relax. We’d eat Subway sandwiches and Pizza Hut pizzas—all with halal meat. The American cook house was open twenty-four hours a day, and since we Brits had been living on rations we made ourselves sick on ice cream and spent hours on the toilet and then showering. Kuwait didn’t feel like the war, and we wished we could have spent our time there. The camp was so well-established it had speeding and parking tickets.
Once we had finished with the toilets and the showers we’d go over to the phone cabins to call home and tell them we were OK. Phones were separated only by bits of wood. Once as I was on the phone to my family, a girl next to me was talking about the war’s horrors. She described sustained bombing and soldiers dying every day. Most of the soldiers taking time out from the war turned to look at her, wondering where she had been based. We’d been in Basra and the fighting had died down. We thought she may have been up in Baghdad where we heard it was worse, but what she was describing didn’t seem real.
We noticed her ID badges. The staff on the camp had specific badges and it was easy to tell she was based here, in Kuwait, many miles from the Iraqi border. By that point the Iraqi army didn’t exist to bomb anybody and the insurgency was certainly not bombing this camp in Kuwait. This camp was comfortable. The heat may have been a bit too much at times, but things were safe. A six- or twelve-month tour here would mean a medal but no danger. Road traffic accidents maybe, diarrhea maybe, but bombs and bullets? No way. The Kuwaitis had supported the Americans since Desert Storm, so there was no danger from them, either.
Still, she was telling loved ones in America that the bombs were getting close. Camp Doha was far into Kuwait, but I guess her loved ones expected her to be in danger, so she made up the stories they expected to hear.
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