“War” opined Boy George, “is stupid. And people”, he went on to say, “are stupid”. It was the early 1980s and there was a naivety in those lyrics that made them seem almost cute, particularly with the Day-Glo pop beat in the background. Sometimes the simplest, most obvious statements have a resonance – and for some odd reason I thought of that daft Culture Club song when I read Another Bloody Love Letter the second memoir from British war correspondent Anthony Loyd.
I’ve only ever read a small handful of books about war. I might read a few more. One of the very best anyone could ever read is Dispatches by Michael Herr. I have Sebastien Junger’s book WAR by the side of my bed. And one day I’ll start it. But I’m not really a war guy. And not a war-book guy. Oh, I’ve read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War and one or two others. And there are dozens of books about war – or inspired by war, or drawing on themes, that I probably should read. Maybe hundreds. But Anthony Loyd’s Another Bloody Love Letter – and his first war memoir, My War Gone By, I Miss It, those were the books that got me started. Wonderful books. Amazing writer. Miserable situation.
Loyd’s first book, My War Gone By, I Miss It So was packed with anti-war sentiment and some amazing reportage. Another Bloody Love Letter carries this on, but uncomfortably, it adds glimpses into Loyd’s own personal war – diving in an out of rehab as he struggles with heroin addiction on top of dealing with the war in Kosovo, the Bosnian conflict and the second Gulf war in Iraq. The passages dealing with Loyd’s junkie tenure are brilliantly written. He describes just how powerful the addiction is by sharing the anecdote that a fellow junkie woke up next to a dead body and the first thing he did was reach in to the “cadaver’s” pocket and grab the dead man’s wallet so that he could score a fix. Loyd sympathises, saying that in that situation he would have done the same thing. That’s how powerful the hold of that drug is.
Yes, there’s a nice – and obvious – irony that a man charged with the responsibility of reporting the damage of war on a world scale to the greater public is losing his own private battle. One war rages on inside him as another rages – somewhere in the world – all around him. It becomes needlessly harrowing.
Some of the passages written about the wars Loyd has covered show incredible insight. It’s illuminating, if still somewhat mystifying, to hear that Afghans are not at all worried about death, the men expect to only live as long as their mid-40s. And Loyd’s immersion in the scene always feels real; he never comes across as the guy at the desk clacking away at keys to make a buck and shaking his head at the futility of the situation. He doesn’t preach. He delivers a measured line in honesty – particularly poignant is his discussion of the death of his mentor. And then having to write an obituary for a fellow journalist – feeling like a vulture arriving way after the lions have had their share.
But in the end, we know all of this, right? War is stupid. And people, even some of the ones who write about it, are stupid.
I thought about Anthony Loyd – and war books, Dispatches, that great Michael Herr book, because I watched a documentary about Graham Greene. It was a great film. He seemed miserable. War all about him, inside him, and around him. War in his words and war informing his world. We’re all at war of course. And Graham Greene is just one more writer I should read a few more books by. But for today it’s back to Anthony Loyd. I hope he writes another book, sure. But more than that I hope he finds his own peace first.