When Cowardice is Courage
by Ray Jason…….
Some fictional philosophy…
It happened on the fifth midnight raid. It was on that mission that I “snapped.” But that is definitely the wrong word. Because what truly happened is that I finally “saw.” My vision came into focus so suddenly and shockingly that it reminded me of lightning at night – instantly the flash reveals a startling landscape that only moments before had been stormy darkness. But what suddenly came into view with brilliant luminosity was not “things” but an understanding of “how things work.” It was an incandescent awakening that would change me irretrievably – and probably tragically.
I am writing to you, dearest sister, because you alone amongst my friends had begged me so passionately to “just don’t go.” Damn, do I now wish that I had heeded your wise counsel. I was such a fool to enlist, but with the job market so grim and with the seductive way that they promote patriotism, I got suckered in. Hell, these days the Superbowl is practically a glorified recruiting spectacle.
What I am about to do now, I should have done only two weeks into Boot Camp. The savage way that they dehumanize the recruits in order to convert them into mindless, obedient killing machines, just sickened me. My personal vision had been that I would be a valiant crusader helping to nobly wage the War on Terror. I was so blind… I was so stupid…
So are most of my brothers in arms. They are not vicious psychopaths. They are just normal kids who had ideals and who had no clue about what it is really like over here. First, you are slammed to the ground with the deadly recognition of what war truly is, and then you are kicked in the teeth with the realization that the longer you are here the less you even understand WHY you are here.
But back to that night raid and to the chain of events that it began. I naively assumed that the reason for these midnight sneak attacks was to capture terrorists, who our intel sources had pinpointed at these specific locations. But in fact, we were conducting our own small War OF Terror.
We would break down the door of a mud hut and race inside screaming at them in a language that they did not understand. The high-intensity tactical lights on our helmets gave the scene a strobe light intensity. With every flash you could glimpse the face of a horrified mother or child. The fathers and brothers could only defend them in a half-assed fashion, since they knew they could be gunned down in cold blood if they truly resisted.
On that first mission we did the same at seven other houses. By dawn I was sickened in my body and in my soul. We were not actually chasing suspects, we were instilling FEAR. But at least we had not killed any innocent civilians. However, that quickly changed.
During that first raid, my light had settled on the face of another soldier. His eyes seemed glazed with some sort of lunatic fever. He appeared to want to just start shooting at these horrified people, who were literally vomiting from fear. I shouted his name to try and break him from his spell. He blinked a few times and then shuddered. He said he needed some air and went outside.
On the next mission he did not go outside for air. Instead, he massacred half a family in the few seconds it takes to unload a clip into their kneeling bodies. I was so shocked and angry that I pivoted my body towards him and might have fired, when I heard the sergeant holler into our headsets, “Oh, Christ, who did that? Everybody outta here…”
Afterwards there was no discussion of right or wrong of guilt or innocence of good and evil. It was all about “how do we cover our asses.” The pathological soldier was transferred to another unit so that he would be more difficult to track down. The rest of us were sworn to secrecy and threatened to abide by that oath or face the consequences. We all knew what those consequences involved.
All of this shattered the illusion that is so relentlessly pounded into Americans their entire lives – namely that “we are the good guys – we are the heroes.” But how heroic is it to mow down unarmed civilians who are no threat whatsoever? Do good guys invade a nation for petroleum and geopolitical chessboard motives? And is there any possible political reason that can justify turning a beautiful daughter into a smoldering, bloody puddle?
What made the fifth midnight raid so grotesque was that even I fired. In the pulsing, staccato frenzy of these assaults, everything happens so fast. Someone hollered into the headphones, “He’s got a grenade. Waste him!” But it wasn’t a grenade. It was an avocado. I vomited until I felt dusty dry inside. Hopefully, I didn’t kill any of those innocents. But I will never really know. And I will never purge those sounds and those smells.
That night I could not sleep and I decided that I would no longer be a part of this senseless and obscene killing. I decided to desert. I will attempt to go off on a patrol with some civilian clothes hidden in my pack and quietly slip away from my squad. My chances of success are the proverbial “slim and none.”
It is so ironic that this will be the most courageous deed of my young life – and yet I will be branded a coward. The Army will send some trackers after me. This can then be used at my trial if they catch me. It will lengthen my sentence, since they will claim that I risked the lives of other soldiers. I will tell my plan to the one friend in my unit that I can trust, so that he can tell the officers. That way they will know that I was not captured and do not need to be rescued.
They will surely monitor your mail and your house. So if I do somehow escape, I will try to contact you in some sort of unorthodox manner that I will have to come up with. That is the least of my worries at the moment. The code name that I will use is “Roam Alone.”
Sis, I thank you again for your love and your guidance and your encouragement. How strange and tragic is this thing called human life. I sought honor through the Army. But now, in order to actually find honor, I must forsake the Army.
Please know that the stupid idealism that you once both mocked and admired in me has not been extinguished. My dream perseveres – yes – I still hope that one exquisite day Peace will finally embrace our troubled planet.