A soldier’s unasked question:
They come back to haunt him in between his waking and sleeping hours….images of a past drenched in Afghan blood. The days are still bearable, but things he’s denied by the light of morning scream for help in his dreams. Faces of children, with their dark liquid eyes, follow him with hatred…almost as if mocking his very presence in their land. There is a certain truth in the way children look at you: you can tell when you’re not wanted…and there is certainly no mistaking fear in their eyes. Yes, he feels their gaze on him still, even though it’s been more than a year since he left Kabul to return home to his country. Except, home feels like hell now.
Five years he patrolled the streets of Herat, Kabul, Kandahar, Mazare Sharif - like a litany the names repeat themselves - the sound of his heavy boots echoing through the dusty alleys. He still recalls his first day in that alien land…how along with his comrades, he wore the tough exterior of a soldier on duty, while burning underneath with questions he dared not ask. High on patriotic rhetoric drilled into them, each was prepared to kill, avenge and fight for his country. Except, no one told them they would no longer be human by the time they were through.
It took less than a month to crumble any illusions he had about their occupation of afghan territory. Entering villages on military tanks, expecting a warm welcome, even relief was too much to hope for, but no one had prepared him for the look of absolute resentment he saw in the eyes of the villagers. He had heard about the occasional protests and riots against the US led coalition, but to see such bitterness and anger wherever he turned, burnt a hole in his heart. Intruders that’s all they were, and there was only one cry in those emaciated faces after decades of war: ‘for god’s sake, leave us alone!!’
There are certain rules of war, laid down in certain books at certain conventions in times of peace.
….. All civilians, wounded combatants, and prisoners should be spared, protected and treated humanely…Civilian objects (houses, hospitals, schools, places of worship, cultural or historic monuments, etc.) must not be attacked…..It is prohibited to attack objects that are indispensable to the survival of the civilian population (foodstuffs, farming areas, drinking water installations, etc.)….Forced displacement of the civilian population is prohibited….
They have nothing to do with real wars of course. Or choices you have to face in the moment staring down a gun’s barrel. And so the rules kept breaking… missiles striking… bombs falling. Civilian deaths adding on endlessly. And all along, telling themselves, ‘they were only militants, it was necessary’.
Collateral damage is what they call it back home. Unavoidable… for the ‘greater good’ of all, they say. Try holding a bleeding child in your arms, struggling for his last breath.. choking on it… because a bullet intended for the enemy misfired…try explaining to his mother that ultimately some good will come of it….watch the look of horror in her eyes…the burning hatred in the fists she shakes at you…. feel the tide of nausea rising form somewhere deep within your gut… yes….there is no reason to that moment; It’s stark.. blatant…. sharp as the bullet your gun fired. And there is only the smell of burnt death to it.
Yes, there is no glory to the helpless cries of wounded children in war….or women shrieking in agony…or dying men caught in cross fires. Nor in schools set ablaze because they could be used as ‘madrasas’….or mosques bombed because innocent people sat there in silent worship….or homes burnt down because a militant could be hiding there.
Not is there ever rest for the eyes that witnessed such horrors. The medal he’s received and the occasional speech on veterans day cannot change this reality. No. There are just sleepless nights…. and a past that bleeds into every present moment.. slowly.. drop by drop…like tears.. like a gaping wound that never heals.
And only one question, burning in his mind: How necessary is this war?
This is a clear and truthful plea. I wish every adult could read this. It is always someones child. It is never impersonal. I hate what it has done to beautiful young men and women.I cried as I read this, and fear that some can't cry anymore.
All the world should have this written on there arm.
Thank you, you have my respect and best wishes.
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