As part of the London History Festival, currently being held at the Kensington Central Library, historian Nigel Jones interviewed former Telegraph War Correspondent, Patrick Bishop in a talk entitled 'War Zones'. Despite having recently published a book on the Battle of Britain, the two mainly chatted about everyone's favourite topic: Afghanistan.
Jones asked Bishop a variety of questions on the subject, including 'How does an average British soldier spend his day in Afghanistan?', 'What keeps the soldiers there? Is it duty?', 'Do you believe there will be a different outcome this time, given a history of failed attempts in Afghanistan?', and 'Where will we be in 5 years time?'
In response to several of the questions, Bishop emphasized the idea of measurable progress. The War has not been popular because no one, not even the soldiers, truly understands what the long term goals are. However, the soldiers have retained popularity and have managed to achieve many short term objectives. He explained that military strategy should not be based entirely on historical lessons because circumstances and objectives change. As for 5 years from now, he believes there will be some progress but war will continue at the Pakistan border, troop levels will pretty much remain the same, and a continued 'rumbling' of comment and disquiet will persist throughout the media and public opinion. Unfortunately, the death toll will steadily rise, but will not cause overwhelming concern due to its relatively small numbers. He referenced Northern Ireland and reminded the audience that British deaths did not lead to immediate local outrage.
Switching topics, Jones asked Bishop whether the Battle of Britain had been overly exaggerated over time. Bishop answered that it had, of course, been exaggerated. The troops were better prepared and equipped than has often been let on. However, the established myth was not necessarily bad and served as a symbol of Britain's standing up to Hitler.
Finally, Jones asked Bishop how he had managed to make his way into war correspondence and what advice he might give to aspiring correspondents. He explained that he would advise any young journalist to think long and hard about venturing into the world of war correspondence. Being around war all the time changes your perception of people and the world. Wars rarely achieve what they mean to accomplish and lead to little, if any, satisfaction. Additionally, the nature of media is changing and newspapers are no longer able to afford correspondents in the way they once were, which means that a future correspondent will have a relatively short career. Yes, war corespondents provide a necessary and valid service, but the position has often been romanticised.
The London History Festival runs through tomorrow at Kensington Central Library, Phillimore Walk W8. All events start 7pm, tickets £5/£3. See the website for more information.