"..a bardy view!"

Flashman and Afghanistan – plus the Bush, Blair, Obama & Cameron “Barber Shop Quartet”..

Flashmanjpg I am re-reading the first Flashman Packet – Flashmanedited by the genius that was George Macdonald Fraser.

I have read all of the packets except Flashman and The Tiger. It was not the last one published, but it was the last in chronological order of Flashman's adventurers – and although I have the book on my shelf, I have deliberately not read it as yet.

I'm just not ready to end the story. GMF died in 2008, and there was high hopes that he would write another installment of the "poltroon, cowardly liar, and cheat" and anti-hero which have enthralled the reading public for the last 40 years.

Whilst I may have left "Flashman" for some rest, I did not abandon Fraser per se and have read most of his other works in recent years, such as Mr American, an evocative, slow, and outstanding aspect of England on the cusp of change – one that stepped from the Victorian to the Edwardian era.

Indeed, the elderly Flashman makes a brief appearance, losing none of his roguish and outrageous behaviour even in his twilight years.

Quartered Safe Out Here was Fraser's autobiography of life as a soldier fighting the Japanese in the jungles of Burma. It is notable that it was from the squaddies perspective, a no-hold barred account of camaraderie in an environment of hell.

Contrast that with Fraser's remarkable wit which he displayed in The Pyrates, which was sheer escapism and a homage to the 1940's and 50's Hollywood portrayals of pirates buckling and swashing with derring doing on the high seas, where "men were men and women knew it".

The Steel Bonnets was a brilliant historical record of the Border Reavers – those that fought and died on the English-Scottish borders in the 18th century.

Black Ajax was another great read – but that deserves a seperate post.

In later life Fraser vented his frustration and anger at the New Labour government in The Lights out at Signpost which was a lament at what his country had become, and the chinless wonders which ran it.

When he wrote his first Flashman novel in 1969, which berated the folly of the First Afghan War and the stupidity of some Victorian generals and diplomats, he could not have imagined that his country would become embroiled there yet again – after all the painful lessons learned.

He berated Bush and Blair, and was furious that Britain's knowledge of Afghanistan was so easily brushed aside by the neo-con US republicans, and with the full consent of the then UK Prime Minister.

Speaking in 2006 he said "Tony Blair is not just the worst prime minister we've ever had, but by far the worst prime minister we've ever had. It makes my blood boil to think of the British soldiers who've died for that little liar."

In our politically correct world, the views of GMF are considered extreme right wing, particularly from the wet liberal establishment. He described the British Empire as "the greatest thing that ever happened to an undeserving world".

Yet it cannot be denied that the British fought two Afghan Wars in the 19th century (1839-1842 & 1878-1880), and realised that it was a country that cannot be tamed or changed. The geography, the culture, the wealth of knowledge accumulated during those times have not altered. Even the Russians realised that – 100 years later.

But Bush and Blair chose to ignore it. In 1837 the British – fearing (falsely) a Russian encroachment to reach India – placed a puppet ruler in Afghanistan. But he controlled Kabul only, and the various tribes elsewhere merely bided their time, and took payment from the British to remain calm.

The tribes controlled the Kyber Pass, and the British needed that pass to prevent the perceived Russian threat. The British governor thought that cuts could be made, so reduced the payments to the tribal leaders at which point they chose to rebel. The British ended up fighting the Afghans – not the Russians – and suffered their worst defeat. "The Retreat from Kabul" is well documented.

Today, ensconced in Kabul is another puppet – re-enforced by the USA and Britain – his name is Hamid Karzai and he is as helpless as Shah Shujah who the British appointed for the same role 170 years earlier. 

Outside of Kabul the tribal machinations gather and plot – waiting and watching, ready to strike. The weapons may have changed, the information technology is more advanced, but the Afghan has not changed. Afghanistan has not changed since the first British soldier set foot upon it in 1838.

Which brings me back to the first "Flashman" novel. When I first read it, apart from it being an entertaining read, the story of the First Afghan War was just an educational history lesson crucial to the plot. But that was before 911, Bin Laden, and the Blushairite Laws of Global Stability.

Reading it again, the author (Flashman or GMF – choose as you will) had created a fictional observer in a factual event who has undertook methodical research about Afghanistan and British policy during a certain time in history.

Bush has gone, Blair has gone, and we now have Cameron and Obama. Two more actors on the stage – both pretend to be tough, both pretend to connect – yet both are as useless as their predecessors. I don't know which is as bad as each other, but they would all make a great barber shop quartet.

Recently the Guardian permitted a Flashman response to some references of David Cameron being likened to himself:

"There's been some rum talk in recent days of a squirt called David Cameron matching up to Harry Flashman. The cheek, I say! Only this week at prime minister's question time – still the same old nonsense, never changes, not since Gladstone's day – that young chap Edward Miliband announced "Flashman is back". Well, how do you think Flashy felt about that?

This Cameron has pink cheeks, slick hair and I'd bet two shillings to the pound he's never been further east than Calais.

I know the type – seen it all before – costly school, well-connected friends, stuffed full of prim nonsense about the nobility of society and now, just because he cracked some damn-fool joke in the House of Commons, everyone thinks he's a proper bully.

I know a man when I see one and that Cameron has never run away from a fight over the hills of Kandahar and it's an insult to Flashy to suggest I'm anything like him.

I've half a mind to search out young Miliband and trounce him (I served his older brother once, out in Kabul during the Helmand campaign, and know that family always ducks a challenge).

No doubt I'm uncharitable, but Westminster seems to be run by a gang of chaps without hair on their chin who've never done a hard day's work in their life. I say to hell with the lot of them – though there is one, the Hon Gideon George Osborne, who's more my type, got a spark in his eyes, out for what he can get.

If there's a Flashman among all of them in the Commons, it's him.

Yours etc,

Harry Flashman"



August 21, 2011 - Posted by | Books, Culture, Current Affairs, Education, History, The Flashman Papers | , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. Splendid read as always. It’s a funny thing but nothing ever really changes? Certainly not in the political world, one fool replaces another. As old Count Avitabal was so prone to say; “does a gentleman got to stay in a hotel”?


    Comment by Spook | August 21, 2011 | Reply

  2. Brilliant reference to Avitabile – Governor of Peshawar and much more…


    Comment by Bar De Ness | August 21, 2011 | Reply

  3. Actually I thought he was referring to some Italian Count?


    Comment by Spook | August 31, 2011 | Reply

  4. Not sure if he was a count – but he was Italian, and as I said, became Governor of Peshawar, and therefore controlled the Khyber Pass. This was when he met Elphinstone’s Army in the First Afghan War. This is not GMF “faction” – it is documented.


    Comment by Bar De Ness | September 1, 2011 | Reply

  5. I believe you and I think “Flashman” was referring to him in ‘The Greta Game’, another spellbinding read but in today’s sad world would not be considered ‘PC’ more is the pity.


    Comment by Spook | September 1, 2011 | Reply

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