They don’t tell lance corporals such things, so God knows why we were sent to Thailand. But by the 1960’s it was clear, even to the dimmest of diplomats, let alone thicko lance corporals, that the South East Asia Treaty Organisation, of which Thailand was a founder member, was dead in the water. There had been several attempts to get it involved in the Vietnam war, but all to no avail. Firstly the French would have nothing to do with such American suggestions and secondly, Harold Wilson and the then Labour Government resisted all pressures to join that pointless conflict. God bless Harold Wilson.
Even so, there was a fair amount of contingency planning taking place – just in case. And no doubt that is what we were up to. We were a fairly small group from Head Quarters Far East Land Forces, and flew out of Singapore in a very old and overloaded Beverly, landing at a massive, huge, gigantic American Air force base in North eastern Thailand.
Korat it was called, about 150 miles north east of Bangkok. Such bases dotted the world and were in effect the international transplantation of the American way of life. Within such bases the currency was the dollar and everything, but everything, was entirely American made and American sourced, flown in, direct from the States, without the slightest regard to the cost. They even had, as I remember, fresh milk, something British soldiers simply never saw in the Far East.
The base was operationally active and heavily armed aircraft, Phantoms and Thunderchiefs, were constantly flying missions into Vietnam. On at least one occasion not all of the aircraft came back, which is hardly surprising as they were tasked to suppress and destroy Surface to Air Missile sites. There were also Royal Thai Air Force squadrons on the base in addition to a New Zealand Air Force contingent.
Our small group of Brits were absorbed into this little America. And into the American way of military service. Actually it was quite a large America and covered a fair proportion of that part of Thailand. It was the first time I had been exposed to the American military and I was both impressed and shocked. They looked after their military very well indeed. Only the best would do. The food was outstanding, the PX incredibly well stocked and wonderfully cheap. Their equivalent of our NAAFI, it was a bit like comparing Skegness to Las Vegas.
But it was the latrine provision that was truly shocking
Most British soldiers will have dug their fair share of latrines in their time. Collectively just the few reading this will have dug and crapped into more holes than it would take to fill the Albert Hall. Such latrines were in addition, almost always segregated, for we other ranks were not to be allowed to smell the poo of an officer, let alone see their naked fleshy bums. But even our other rank latrines were carefully divided, with Hessian sacking or camouflage nets, to provide a basic and primitive level of individual privacy,
Not so for the Americans. They have communal latrines! Good God! Rows of pots, or great long wooden toilet seats. And no distinction as between officers and other ranks. None at all. So you would find, as I did myself that you are sitting on the next pot to a two star American General, not quite sure whether you should stand up and salute or just apologise for the curry.
Am I alone in finding this American disregard for personal privacy rather uncomfortable and a little disturbing? For me it reflects the general lack of regard by the American military, for the sensibilities of others, particularly those against whom they are waging war, be it in Vietnam, Grenada or Iraq. There is a real philosophical problem here.
I am convinced that up at the Pentagon they have a pentagon shaped communal toilet facility, where all the generals go and discuss their next tactical assault on the Iraqi insurgents. They are probably joined from time to time by Bush and Rumsfeld and probably Cheney too. I suppose Condoleezza might have a bit of a problem, unless of course there’s a piano in the Pentagon Kazi. They may even, and this is truly horrible, be joined from time to time, by Blair. What better expression of the special relationship could there possibly be than allowing him in on their communal craps.
Harold Wilson of course, would no more have accepted such an invitation than he would have considered snogging his wife in public. By such wise philosophy did we successfully avoid involvement in disastrous American wars.
There are obvious lessons here and while I might concede that I have not got the whole of this philosophical analysis worked out, there is, in my view, the kernel of a great insight here, with the possibility that it might lead to a world movement for peace. Perhaps movement, on reflection, is the wrong word. But I suspect American toilet habits are part of the problem insofar as world peace is concerned.
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