“The Secret Life of War – journeys through modern conflict” review

“The Secret Life of War – journeys through modern conflict” review

The Secret Life of War

by Peter Beaumont
Vintage Books, 2010

This is a must-read book, beautifully and honestly written. Peter Beaumont, as the Observer’s chief foreign correspondent, has covered many conflicts. Drawing on his notes and memories of people and places, he explores what happens to those whose lives become ruled by war. Whether soldiers, journalists, insurgents or civilians, all end up damaged in some way.

In Lebanon, 2006: “I am not passive and neutral in this violence. I have a horrible investment in something happening to justify my being there…. Without a war I feel my identity diminished.” So might the soldier say. But then Beaumont tells of a 6 year old Palestinian boy who witnessed his little brother shot dead by an Israeli soldier. Now he hates the Israelis. Violent conflict has, even at that age, become part of his identity.

The book is full of tiny details and observations. It is not only the machines and the big explosions, but the shoe in the road, the piece of broken china in the dust. Exploring the bombed out ruins of Mullah Omar’s compound in Kandahar he writes: “The bathrooms, too, are shattered. Now human shit dots the rubble. It is one of the sights and smells of war, the human turd, ignored by the poets and chroniclers of war. Where there are battles there is always shit. Excrement and bullet cases.”

How better to describe how life disintegrates when war is waged?