I had joined the Army when I was eighteen. I had the idea that I’d go on adventures if I were a soldier. Many of my ancestors had been soldiers, but the soldiering in my family ended abruptly with my great grandfather. I was the first to resume the tradition. My parents weren’t too keen on the idea. They had been hippies in the 1960s, and though they became part of that wave of new capitalists in the eighties and nineties, you know the type, the green capitalists, the ones who think they can make lots of money and still care for mother earth, they still had their roots in the make love not war generation of activists. I was never into all that hippie stuff. It seemed like so much wishy washy, airy fairy nonsense. I dreamed of adventure and danger. The soldier’s life was for me. So when I graduated from high school I went straight to the Army recruitment office and soon I was sent off to boot camp.
I earned kudos for my efforts. But, when boot camp was over I was deployed to Iraq. I was nervous, but excited as well. I was being sent into a real combat zone, and would have my first taste of war and danger. I was ready for action, but not for the reality of war. It didn’t take long for my idea of soldiering to change. The first time I saw a fellow soldier killed I shat my pants. His head was blown nearly clean off his shoulders right next to me. His blood, brain, and bone splattered on my face. I almost lost my mind. That was about a week into my deployment. It was downhill from there.
One afternoon my unit and I were on patrol. We were ambushed by some insurgents and an explosive shell struck one of the vehicles in our convoy. It turned over blocking the way for the rest of our patrol. The insurgents used this tactic to trap us and lay down heavy fire. Most of my unit was killed. I was scared. I had never been so scared in my life. I managed to get out of my vehicle and find cover behind an abandoned building. I didn’t dare poke my head out to see what was happening. I just prayed to God that I’d get out of this mess alive.
I could hear gunfire for several minutes and then all went silent, but not just silent, there were no sounds at all. It was as if everyone had vanished. Nervously I peered around the corner. The smoldering remains of the vehicles were still there, but I couldn’t see any sign of any of my unit, or the insurgents. There weren’t any bodies, dead or alive. I thought the insurgents might have taken the corpses, but there was no sign that they had. I crept around the scene of the attack. My whole body was shaking from fear. Then I heard a strange voice. It was deep and accented like one of the British soldiers I met during my deployment, but not quite the same. Put down that weapon private. It said. I whirled around looking for the source of the voice, but nothing was there. I was starting to think I was crazy. Then I heard it a second time. Put down the rifle now! The command was shocking. I lowered my weapon. I thought it must be an insurgent who had learned to speak English. I raised my hands and walked away from my weapon, expecting to be shot.
That’s better monkey-boy. The voice said, to my surprise. Suddenly I felt a massive hand on my shoulder. I turned and saw the face of a sinister cat grinning at me; a large cigar dangled in its mouth. I fainted.
Wake up you silly monkey. I heard the voice saying as someone slapped me on the face. I thought you soldiers were supposed to be a brave lot. I’m starting to develop a complex. Every time I meet one of you baboons, you faint, or scream like little girls.
My vision was blurry but I could see that the cat-face was staring down at me, and that that cat-face was attached to a very large man’s body. I scooted away from the creature and felt my hand touch something metal. By good fortune it was my rifle. I picked it up and fired at the creature. I was so close that there was no way for me to miss a shot, but every single bullet passed through the creature without any effect on it. It just grinned and puffed on its cigar. Finally I stopped firing, but only because I ran out of ammunition.
Now is that anyway to treat the fellow who saved your life?
What? Who are you?
Which question would you like me to answer first my dear boy? The creature took a few steps toward me and removed the weapon from my hands. He looked at it quizzically. I’ll never understand you monkeys. You’re always killing each other. If you keep at it, you’re species will be extinct in a few generations. Not that I’d miss you.
Who are you? I asked.
What do you mean you saved my life?
Well isn’t it obvious? I made the bad men go away.
You people really must learn to ask one question at a time. As to where I sent them, that hardly matters. And as to how, well you wouldn’t understand me if I told you. Suffice to say it’s a little trick that my dear old mother taught me.
What do you want from me?
Want? Why do you primates always think I want something from you? You have nothing I need. I’m here on business of a different sort.
Business? What sort of business?
Shamus took his hat off and revealed a book resting on his head. He took the book and thumbed through the pages. He murmured to himself a few times then closed the book and tossed it aside. It seems you are an important person with an important mission to fulfill.
Sorry, that’s not my department. I’m not privy to such information.
Well how am I supposed to complete a mission if I don’t know what it is?
Look monkey, that’s not my concern. I’m just here to make sure you fulfill it. Whatever it is?
I’m confused. This must be a hallucination.
I assure you that I’m as real as you are.
My head hurts.
That’s probably from the bomb. You are in a war zone after all.
I’m going to be sick. I keeled over and hurled up the contents of my stomach, which wasn’t much.
Well that’s absolutely foul. You could’ve waited until our business was concluded.
Kaff. I don’t understand any of this. I said, wiping the vomit from my lips with my sleeve.
No, your kind usually doesn’t, that’s where I come in, to help you understand. Now get on your feet, you’re a soldier, aren’t you?
It took a few seconds, but I made it to my feet. Shamus helped me keep my balance. Look around you monkey-boy. What do you see?
I scanned the area the way I was taught at boot camp. I see some destroyed vehicles and three possible routes of escape.
Said like a true soldier, always reacting but never thinking. No my boy, what do you really see?
I don’t know what you mean. I see what I see.
That’s your problem. You’ll never fulfill your mission if you only see what you see. You have to see what you don’t see.
What? I was starting to feel woozy again.
Think like someone who isn’t a soldier. What would you see if you weren’t a soldier?
I looked around again. I’m not sure.
Look over there at the building. Shamus pointed to an old storefront that had been blown open by a one of our shells. What would the civilian who owned that store see?
He’d see his store destroyed. His livelihood annihilated.
Exactly. And look over there, what do you see, not with the eyes of soldier, but of a father?
I saw three graves clearly marked. I take it those would be my children, perhaps a wife too.
That’s about the size of it lad. All around you are the fruits of war, the handiwork of people like you.
But we have to fight. We’re protecting our freedoms.
From whom? Shop keepers and fathers, those terrible foes of freedom? How dare they make a living and raise their children.
That’s not fair. It’s not them we fight. We fight the insurgents.
And who do you think they are. You think those insurgents weren’t shop owners, or doctors, or teachers at one time. They were farmers and lawyers and construction workers. Now they’re enemies. They’re terrorists. You’ve turned them into something they never wanted to be.
But they struck first.
Did they? What a limited frame of time you have. That’s typical of primates. You can’t see the long term, only what’s immediate, only what’s right in front of your faces, and only when it’s convenient for you to notice. You don’t see beyond your immediate concerns.
Well, neither do the insurgents.
Trust me my boy they’re getting their comeuppance too. Right now I’m addressing you. That’s one of your species’ greatest faults, a failure to take responsibility for personal actions and inaction.
We’re only human.
There’s never been a more dangerous excuse for malicious and destructive behavior in the history of excuses. Do you know what it means to say, “I’m only human?”
It means you are resigned to failure. It means you think your human nature is an excuse for destroying your home world, your entire race. Any mistake, any felony, any atrocity can be excused lightly by saying, “I’m only human.” It doesn’t fly monkey brain. Accountability is the foundation of a free society, and excuses are the shield of despots and tyrants.
But we’re Americans. We fight for liberty.
More words. Mere semantics. It’s the propaganda of an empire, to say it fights for justice, liberty, equality. But how can you secure liberty by killing others? How can you claim justice by bombing a village? What equality exists between people when a few have much and so many have so little? You’re a soldier in a war against yourself. You are a tool. You are a tyrant’s heavy stick to be used against anyone who defies him.
No, America is the land of the free and the brave.
How brave is it to drop bombs on farmers? How brave is it to decimate entire cities from the air? You’ve been duped.
No. I love my country.
Who said you didn’t? What’s love of your country? Is it a free pass to murder other people, people who love their countries? Whatever happened to love of humanity? You primates are supposed to be the most highly evolved creatures on your world, and yet you’re constantly trying to extinguish each other. You’re like parasites, but worse, because you feed on your own kind.
I was getting very angry and starting to cry. I won’t let you speak about my country that way.
What’re you going to do, bomb me? That’s how America deals with things. If they can’t have their way by intimidation, then they use force. America is a barbaric nation, led by brutes in suits. There’s nothing noble left in America.
No. I don’t believe it. I started to walk away from Shamus.
Where do you think you’re going poindexter? Shamus said.
Away from you! I snapped; suddenly I bumped into something sturdy. I looked up and it was Shamus, puffing on his cigar.
Fact: you’re in the desert separated from your precious Army. Fact: I’m the only one here and the only one who knows you’re here and still alive. Fact: I’m not budging. Face facts, accept them and deal with them.
Get out of my way! I said, with a soldier’s bravado.
Or what? Shamus puffed without any sign of being afraid of me. You see, that’s how you monkeys operate. Intimidate. Dominate. Will to Power. You already know you can’t kill me, so why fight the inevitable. Face the truth soldier boy. You’re a willing accomplice to murder, mayhem and destruction.
That’s treasonous talk.
So what if it is?
Well…I was silent.
That’s right monkey-boy, you have nothing to say. That’s because there’s no substance to your existence. You’ve let the propaganda of your government strip you of your humanity. Understand this kid, your country is not your government and your government is not your country. Don’t be fooled by people who tell you otherwise.
I only wanted to serve my country. I wanted to protect it.
Sure you did. You wanted the glory of being a hero. That’s why most dumb kids get hooked into joining the Army. It’s all a sham. You know. You’ve seen it up close and personal. War is hell. That’s not just a proverb. It’s a literal fact. It’s total chaos. It’s total anarchy. It’s every man for himself. And, there’s only two ways out of it: kill, or be killed. It’s evil made manifest. And you wage war at the behest of men sitting thousands of miles away, fattening up on the hard earned wealth of the very people you wanted to protect. You’re an accomplice not only to murder, mayhem, and destruction of other people, but to the mass theft of property going on in your own country. You’re part of a criminal organization so large and so well-orchestrated that it dominates the world.
I can’t believe that.
Sure you can, you just choose not to believe it, because it’s convenient to ignore the facts.
Denial. It’s one of the symptoms of your disease.
What do you expect me to do?
I don’t expect anything. I just tell it like it is. You have to choose.
Grow up, for a start.
What do you mean? I’m a man.
You’re a boy in a man’s body. Grow up lame brain. See the world for what it is, not what you want it to be. Understand! Don’t just accept what your leaders tell you at face value.
Why should I believe you then?
You shouldn’t. Test and retest everything I say, and everything anyone else tells you. It’s your obligation. It’s what being a grown up means. You figure things out for yourself. Children are told what to think and do. Don’t be a child you’re whole life. Grow up, take initiative. Have the wisdom to resist propaganda. No one under the age of thirty is mature enough to choose to go to war, and none one thirty years old or older is dumb enough to go to war, willingly. It’s a complete farce, dreamed up by men who sit safely away from the danger. It’s easy to rile things up when you know bullets won’t be flying through your living room.
My mind was swimming. How could I believe what Shamus was telling me? Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be a soldier. Now all of my ideas were being shattered by a talking cat smoking a cigar. I lost my bearings and my balance. I fell to the ground and vomited, again. I felt my whole world turning inside out.
Come on kid, it can’t be that bad?
I think I have a concussion from the attack.
See, more reason to ditch this soldiering business.
Give me a minute Shamus; I’m trying to sort this out in my head.
Well don’t take too long, I’ve got business elsewhere to attend to.
I sat on the ground for what seemed like hours. The sun was setting behind the horizon, and an eerie array of colors streaked across the sky. I’d never seen a sunset like it. I don’t think I’d ever paid attention to the setting sun throughout my entire deployment. There wasn’t time. We were too busy avoiding ambushes and raiding villages suspected of colluding with the insurgents. Something about the view made the nausea and headache vanish. A refreshing calm came over me that I hadn’t experienced in a long time. Shamus, something wonderful has ha…I looked around but Shamus was nowhere to be found. I walked over to the wreckage of the convoy and sat against one of the damaged hulking metal vehicles, these weapons of war, and watched the sunset. My hand fell on something solid. I thought it might be one of the weapons of my fellow soldiers, but when I picked it up, I noticed it was a child’s toy. I held it to my chest and closed my eyes, weeping uncontrollably. Then I opened my eyes and watched the sunset beneath the horizon.