Karl Mellor's Gulf War Diary, 1991
This diary was written and drawn by Karl Mellor in 1991, during George Bush Senior's Gulf War. Born in 1953, Karl Mellor served in the Falklands in 1982 and left the army traumatised by his experiences. 'What's the opposite of a machine gun?', he asks. 'A saxophone'. Karl put down his machine gun and took up tenor sax. He can really play the thing (as he proved at the Somers Town Stop the War Saint Valentine's Day Make Love Not War party), and possesses a photo of himself with his hero and inspriation, Stan Getz. Karl can also wield pen and brush and we're delighted that he has lent us his 1991 Dairy so that we can scan it and present it here. As the horrible events of the 1991 Gulf War went by - Karl registered each stage with shocking directness, week by week, drawing, painting and letrasetting over his personal appointments and notes. He'd been under fire. He knew what this shit was about. Karl's war trauma opens a window on a landscape which teems with psychic energies, but is also cognisant of imperial greed and atrocity. Imagining the world requires uncensoring the self, letting love and anger speak, which is what Karl's art, both horn and diary, does.
We were shocked to read in Camden New Journal (18.09.03) that Karl has been evicted for racist abuse after an 18-month feud with a neighbour (we also received an anonymous e-mail saying Karl abused his dog and sold crack to kids, which we ignored because it was anonymous). We hate racism - something Karl has always said he does too. The way he played the blues so well merely seemed to underline this. We originally decided to put Karl's diary on-line because it's such a shockingly raw, graphic and personal response to the 1991 Gulf War. None of this bad news about him lessens its impact. As Helen Spandler points out in the issue of Asylum dedicated to Pete Shaughnessy (Vol 13 No 4), war isn't just about the murder, injury and devastation inflicted on poor nations; it is also about the trauma inflicted on working-class squaddies (according to Spandler, the Ministry of Defence's own figures from the 1991 Gulf War record that nearly five times as many service personnel killed themselves as died in combat, while the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association say 70% of service men who died since 1991 committed suicide). We abhor the way comfortable middle-class liberals believe that punishment of "bad" individuals can solve problems caused by structural inequalities and military violence. We also think art's purpose is to be revealing, true and unsettling rather than soothing, moral and complacent. If Karl's actions were as described - and after the Crown Court's judgement we're in no position to dispute the judgement - they were evidently destructive aberrations caused by his alcoholism, itself a product of his war trauma (we also received complaints from most of the women at his behaviour at a party following a gig at Theatro Technis). We're very sorry that Paula and Yuming Suen and their four children were harassed by Karl, but we're not responding by taking his pictures off-line: too many stories like this are hidden from view in order to present a "nice" image of Britain. Her Majesty's Forces aren't "nice" for either their victims or the soldiers or for those who have to suffer from their insanity. In his diary, Karl is explicit about his personal problems with relationships and drugs: we think art should be viewed as concentrated information about society, not as a moral fable. So please view his diaries that way - and join the demondstration against troops in Iraq on 27 September!
Key: A triangle stands for a day without drink, drugs or smokes; 30 in a circle means Karl swam 30 lengths; a heart means a sexual liasion.