Through the dregs of late shoppers I could spot members of Hastings Against War loosely congregated in the pedestrian area of the town centre. Some were crouched down on the ground writing the names of Afghans and the 100 British soldiers killed in the ongoing war. It was a hot evening and I had watched folk swimming in the sea as I cycled along the promenade into town. It felt like a normal peaceful summer’s day in Hastings. I pulled my bike up and experienced feelings of deja vu as I greeted my friends. We had held a similar vigil on the publication of The Lancet report estimating 100,000 Iraqis had been killed as a direct result of the war.
I pulled a list of Afghan names out of my bag. It had been a bit of a struggle to find identities of Afghan victims of war and my list was very fragmentary. Many of the names were not complete. Often a name was merely “son of”, “wife of”. There was no information about where or when they had been killed, there was the occasional age but nothing more. It reminded me of how little we know of what is happening in Afghanistan and how the war there is very much on the back burner for the peace movement in this country.
I took a piece of chalk and started writing out Afghan names on the concrete paving slabs. Our activity was juxtaposed with the general business of a sunny south coast town. Some passers-by stopped and looked thoughtfully at the names, as you would when you visit a cemetery. An eccentric elderly lady asked in a harsh tone “Does the council know what you’re doing?” One of our group explained to some kids on bikes and skateboards that the 100th British soldier had just been killed in Afghanistan and we were holding a vigil for the victims of war. A quiet sombre mood surrounded our camp as the names rapidly filled the pedestrian area usually used by kids for practicing bike stunts.
The Afghan names far out-numbered the 100 British soldiers. As with all “naming the dead” ceremonies, the sad reality of war started to become more real: war is killing everyday people trying to lead a straightforward life. It’s killing people in their homes, children in their schools, whole neighbourhoods destroyed at a press of a button. For the hour in which Hastings Against War was in town it felt that the reality of what is happening in Afghanistan seeped into the consciousness of people in Hastings. It felt like a worthwhile action.
A few days ago, I heard on the radio that Britain was going to send additional British troops to Afghanistan. The news seems like very insensitive timing. It also feels incredibly frustrating that despite the blinding evidence that force is not improving the situation for Iraq and Afghanistan, our government is still choosing to follow the line of aggression in regard to foreign policy.