Let’s move on

2010-11-03 00:00


From Soldier to Civvy: Reflections on National Service

Cameron Blake

Zebra Press

“OKAY, enough of this; let’s move on,” was my abiding thought as I read the latest compilation of SADF troepie memories. This sort of thing has now been done many times. The best was the first, JH Thompson’s An Unpopular War. Cameron Blake’s first effort, Troe-pie, failed to match it, and From Soldier to Civvie fails even more.

Having dispatched the now obligatory set of uncensored troep memories, quoted verbatim more’s the pity, Cameron goes on to the 20-years-on reflections of both SADF soldiers and their women back home as they try to work out what the Border War meant and means to them. Well, hand me a ticket to New Zealand! If this is the level of white debate on that complex time in history, I for one want no part of it.

Even worse, Cameron chooses to publish his own Basics letters to his girlfriend. They are bad. Very bad. Not only was he doing his Basics in the early nineties, he was doing it as a G3, which means he was on light duty. For any troep who endured his Basics in the seventies or eighties, and who endured them as a G1K1 (that is, classified as fully fit), these letters are not only laughable, they are dull. Very dull. As is this entire book.

We former troepies want more now. Our army experience was a long time ago. We have seen the Greig Coetzee play, we have read the incompetent novels and we have, with exponential boredom, skimmed through the verbatim accounts. Now we want the definitive historical work that explains to us why the heck we had to endure what we did. Even more, we want the great work of fiction that defines it all. All other wars have eventually got that; it’s time our measly little war produced ours.

In the meanwhile, we’ll have to carry on making do with the incompetent likes of Cameron Blake, reluctantly grateful that at least he and his ilk keep our most defining experience on the agenda.

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