Though this piece gives us a valuable sense of the continuities of aerial control and political machinations in the tribal frontiers of Pakistan, I found it most interesting for the continuities of arrogance, bigotry and Eurocentricism that it also exhibits.
Throughout this piece – one that discusses and describes a hailstorm of death and destruction of human life, acts of war, wanton killing, colonial oppression and quoted racist bigotry, we are never allowed to wander too far away from the ‘romance’ of the air, the ‘gentlemanly’ style of the RAF pilots, the feel-good, bar-talk nature of their experiences and the ‘jolly good fun’ mood that used to infuse works such as the Biggles stories that I read as a teenager. There are the descriptions of the British barracks, with their collection of amenities: squash courts, tennis courts, polo, picnics, and dances. Lovely. Really moves the spirit.
Below – some sort of mass of barbaric non-humans who despite acts of tremendous chivalry, generosity, sensibility and rational calculation, yet again never rise above their caricature of ‘tribes’, ‘lawless’ or ‘castrating prisoner’ type nonsense. The entire piece remains high up in the air of inexperience, textual reading, anthropological myopia, cultural incomprehension, human indifference, racist dismissal and derivative colonial bonhomie. They are nothing more than targets to kill, and a problem to solve. Even now, after decades since the departure of the British, the Waziris are seen as nothing more than the blip in the cross-hairs.
Nothing is questioned: not the least of which is the politics of colonial presence, and false ‘great game’ narratives that people like Kipling did throw out there e.g. that there was an imminent threat of an invasion of India. This lie, used more to justify British geographical ambitions and greed than any real threat to any imaginary frontier, is repeated here without thought, and without the benefits of nearly 70 years of new research and new perspectives.
We are given details of aeroplanes – ah, that technical obsession much like the one we have today with ‘precision’ bombs or the specifics of the flying time of a Reaper drone – we are given ‘gentlemanly’ details, we are told that the RAF killed in a very civilised way, we are told that there was a brotherhood, we are told that techniques of flying and bombing and what not. All these decades later, this guy still writes as if he is a colonial sargeant in India reporting about the wogs who happen to have the bad luck of coming in the way of the RAF humanitarian bombs. All the quotes are from pilots of British speakers – there are no Waziris who speak, or explain. All the material is from British sources. There is no reason to look elsewhere. Throughout the Waziris is written to have no political context, no military though, no rational reasons for resistance, no cultural values of worth. He is a raider, a militant, an attacker, a marauder, a barbarian, a statistic, a killed.