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An Encounter with a Soldier's Grieving Father
Last uploaded : Monday 9th Feb 2004 at 00:52
Contributed by : The Editor


Fate has a way of bringing the most unlikely of companions together. The other night I attended a seminar at the Institute for Contemporary Arts in London concerning the future of the BBC post-Hutton. The evening was unedifying and disturbing because the panel seemed to think the future of broadcasting revolves around a multitude of digital channels.

Having been at the helm of a great network television Drama Story Department in the 1980s and early 1990s, I was appalled that the panel never once mentioned the demise of television drama, once the benchmark of British broadcasting.

After the event my Canadian friend and I were joined by two equally-dismayed American audience members, and we decided to have a drink at the nearby Thistle Hotel. We made our way to the bar where, legend has it, the late Dr David Kelly, of the War Ministry?s weapons inspection unit, had had his fateful spring 2003 meeting with BBC correspondent Andrew Gilligan, the result of which was the tragic sequence of events that led to the ?outing? of the beleaguered weapons expert.

Aside from the fact that the barman was one of the rudest ever to inhabit a four-star hotel lounge, our American companions became increasingly strident in their condemnations of President Bush and his Cabinet. We all know what George W's shortcomings are, but the shrillness of these ladies' anger bordered on the unhinged. (To take it a bit further, one could say that this tone will ruin the Democrats' chances if allowed to dominate the 2004 campaign strategy.) At the next table, an English couple finally could take no more and launched into a tirade at us, asserting that the Iraq war was justified and that we were a disgrace. (I had not opened my mouth the whole evening and was embarrassed that I was being lumped with the Bush-bashing pair. )

There is much about the Bush Administration that has enraged a major portion of America and the world, the most alarming of which being the budget deficit and fast-exploding national debt. However, there is something disquieting about being in a public place in Europe and hearing Americans raging about an Administration that is still not quite as terrifying as that of Saddam, Ayatollah Khomeini or North Korea?s regime.

The couple next to us got up and left, and the female half had been reduced to tears. This was a new experience for me: I am so used to British people reducing ME to tears with loud diatribes about the evil Americans .

Then came the remarkable turn of the evening. A man sitting at another table came over to us and produced a regional newspaper. On the front page was a colour photograph of a cheerful and proud British army unit. The image was printed in June, 2003. This man?s young son was one of the six in that unit killed in an ambush in Iraq. He was in London with his still-grieving wife (she was sitting in a corner, frozen) to see British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon.

The bereaved father recounted the last hours of his son?s life and the two Americans suddenly quieted down. One went over to comfort the mother. The other began to listen and not shout. Soon another bereaved family entered the bar, one a man whose brother has been killed in the same ambush, his sibling?s dogtags hanging around his neck. The depth of their despair and grief, so many months after the event, affected everyone in the room. Poeple at other tables lowered their voices when they realised who the griefstricken group of out-of-towners were and why they were in London.

Eventually, however, the conversation moved to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This astonished me. The anti-Bush American began raising her voice again, her face turning peuce as she pontificated about the evil settlers. (Why is it that the world sees a bunch of religious Jews as more hateful and dangerous than millions upon millions of religious zealots led by powerful and well-funded clerics populating twenty-some countries ten times the size of Israel across the globe? )

I defended Israel, but the grieving father joined her chorus of condemnation of the Jewish State. I tried to explain that his son was a victim of terror just as Israeli civilians and soldiers were, but by then he was becoming so angry that I decided to change the subject. He could not see the connection between the two.

It can be acknowledged that the conflict in the Middle East is a constant source of unrest in the region, but is was a chilling moment when the father of a soldier killed by terrorists turned from soft, vulnerable parent to an angry critic of the Jewish nation. I have long felt it is impossible for mankind to understand the meaning of Eretz Israel to Jews across the world, be those Jews left or right wing.

This man?s hostility to Israel did not lessen my compassion for him, but his rage was a depressing phenomenon that seems to absorb Israel-loathers -- many of them so heavily influenced by the European media -- and frankly makes my blood run cold. Whatever happens in the universe, Jews are on their own when the drekk hits the fan.

When my friend and I got up to leave, the bereaved families embraced us with kisses and warmth. I still feel that father?s grief . When his universe can understand others' agonies we will be entering a new and more hopeful era.


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