emma b. says

Monday, October 25, 2004

Four Rows of Soldiers

Four rows of soldiers on the desert floor, four rows of soldiers with a last breath of sand.

How long have we been at war, now. It's easy for me to ask, all of those bodies are so distant, all of those corpses don't speak my language, there are no ululations here. And the military is circumspect, and I have a sneaking suspicion that they would like me to forget the limbless ones, the burned ones, the ones who would appear physically unharmed but fear hurting their children when the nightmares grip them in the brightest daylight.

Just how long have we been at war?

By my reckoning, it will have been four Christmases of Christiane Anampour (however you spell it) reporting from some godforsaken outpost in Afgahnistan and then Iraq. It means one boyfriend hence and the same job, and three birthdays, and being half way through my jesus year, and another election.

It's all so sadly 1984, and not the petticoated whimsy 1984 of "Valley Girl", but the other sinister 1984 of Winston, and double plus good, and not being able to remember how long the war has lasted and just who we are at war with.

and after a certain time, you become helplessly inured to the images of the desert worn woman in the black hajib (how she must sweat so!) clutching the photo of her husband, child, brother, nephew. She becomes an archetype, her pain and suffering irrelevant to what she represents. Yes, yes, poor woman, in the last three years I have seen three thousand of your kind and you bleed together, yes, you bleed together.

And I don't feel like I am at war, I have no enemy. If anything I am doing my best to keep my personal shit together. I have not had to suffer rations of chocolate and eggs, I have not drawn a seam down my stockingless legs, I have not kissed my father, lover, brother farewell to the front.


It is cold when we leave the base at Kirkush, night is settling on the desert and we are but fifty soldiers full of braggadocio, and fear, mostly fear.

Night is spooling on the darkening road, a road for gypsies and brigands, we are singing the songs of freedom that no one quite believes anymore, but we are young, we will be paid, and in a country where hunger is systemic, the promise of food on the table is a great equalizer.

That is all we are, you see. Our parents paid for our uniforms, we are nothing but a half trained Shia youth (courtesy of the United States military) on three ancient dusk blue busses with collective hope of home. We have no guns.

At the checkpoint, they herd us off the dusk blue busses with Kalishnakov's, by rights we should be countrymen, but we are tribal, and they are Sunni.

And I knew straight away that I did not wish to die in that swath between the indfiffernt stars and the ever shiftting biblical sands.

So I ran.

The first bullet shattered my spine, the second passed under my shoulder blade and exited through my chest, and meant that my poor heart would pump away as I witnessed the carnage, unable, or unwilling to avert my eyes.

And the good soldiers they lined up, in rows of four, and they lay down, and they took off their shoes, and I had seen this very same posture of defeat. I had seen it in the text books that they showed us as children. This is how the Nazi's undid a race, I saw it, I saw it with my dying breath as my fellow soldiers slunk into the sand and removed their shoes and lay down and awaited their bullet.

And the godless will say, it is as it is, and I will tell you as one who has died in the desert, even the most godless among you will quaiver at daylight breaking, and it is there that I died, not nobley but in earthshattering pain, and alone save the restive complaints of my ghostly fellow soldiers who never knew solidarity of batle and died defending a nation that they had no conception of.


for the fifty soldiers dead, may your souls rest easy.


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