Garth George: SAS hard men don't need the soft touch

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Soldiers are put in harm's way for the protection of their nation, and they know it.
Soldiers are put in harm's way for the protection of their nation, and they know it.

You can be sure that the happiest men in New Zealand this week are the 70 officers, non-coms and men of our Special Air Service who have been tapped on the shoulder to head for Afghanistan.

They will be totally unfazed at American reports that the theocratic psychopaths of the Taleban are gaining ground in that benighted country. Rather, they will be bemused that Prime Minister John Key found the decision to send them back there rather difficult.

And no doubt they hooted with laughter a week or so ago when Mr Key told the United States Government that he did not want them fighting alongside Afghanistan's fledgling army because it is too dangerous; one or two might get killed.

They will tell you that it's only by the most extraordinary good luck that Willie Apiata lived to receive his Victoria Cross; that both he and the comrade he saved could just as easily have been shot to pieces and brought home in body bags, the VC awarded posthumously.

They will be sickened by the latest bleatings of arrant hypocrisy which has become the hallmark of Labour leader Phil Goff, who opposes the latest deployment, although the Labour-led Government, of which he was a senior member, sent SAS detachments to Afghanistan three times, with the support of the opposition.

These SAS troopers are New Zealand's hard men - the toughest, meanest, deadliest, most highly trained armed servicemen, not just in this country but probably in the West. Why else do you think the Yanks put the hard word on Mr Key to get them back?

These are the men we put in harm's way for the protection of our nation, as politicians have done with their servicemen for millennia.

It is infinitely sad that our armed forces have been so denigrated in recent years that most of us have forgotten just how important they are in the scheme of things.

We have reduced our military to a shadow of its former self and with that has come a dreadful ambivalence towards the men and women who choose to serve their nation in uniform.

Nowhere is this more evident that in the obnoxious Green Party, whose main concern seems to be that some unlucky civilians in Afghanistan might be killed or wounded or that suspected terrorists might be handed over to others who might not treat them with a chivalry unheard of by such as the Taleban.

Which is all very well, but completely naive.

In any war there are always civilian casualties, and people are treated in ways we would ordinarily abhor. But one thing is certain: the men of our SAS can be relied on to treat everyone they encounter as humanely as possible.

We have been lucky so far to have been free of terrorist attacks, but they are getting closer all the time - Bali, Jakarta and, most recently, the round-up of suspected terrorist bombers in Melbourne.

Mr Key is right: New Zealand has to play its part in combating the breeding grounds for terrorism. So let's not be squeamish about it. Let's see the SAS deployment for what it is.

Each member of our SAS detachment has been trained to kill - silently with knife, garrotte, or bare hand; or noisily with pistol, rifle, machine gun, grenade, mortar or explosive.

Most of the rest of his training has been in how to stay alive while in a hostile environment, and that includes achieving a standard of discipline and mental and physical fitness far beyond the ken of ordinary mortals.

But they are Kiwis, and I suspect that their attraction to the generals and colonels who run the war in Afghanistan - yes, it is war, a war for the heart and mind of a country - is more than anything else their Kiwiness.

Our SAS troopers are not - unlike so many of their counterparts from other countries, the US in particular - gung ho. They are not mindless automatons, utterly persuaded of the rightness of their cause and determined to serve that cause at any cost.

Underneath the special talents they have learned in order to practise their soldierly trade, they are men just like the rest of us - Kiwi fathers, sons, husbands, brothers, uncles, cousins.

They have, therefore, the innate Kiwi characteristics of decency, compassion, tolerance, even-handedness, amiability and ingenuity for which most New Zealanders are still known.

It is sad that they shall remain nameless. It would be good if we could know them and acknowledge them, extend to them our best wishes, give them a good old Kiwi send-off.

Their anonymity, however, is part of their armoury, so all we can do is give them our prayers, asking that they who dare do indeed win.

- NZ Herald

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