combat writing badge C O M B A T
the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 02 Number 01 Winter ©Jan 2004

Village Life

          The ground is wet and slippery like it always is this time of year and if you're not careful as quick as a bullet it could cost you your life. The jungle is something you can get use to, but it is something a person has to respect because to lose that respect means death. It seems like everything here can and will, given the right circumstances, mean your life will end, right down to the insects. The enemy can shoot you, or if you're not paying attention where you step, one of their booby traps can bring you back to your senses and show you the error of your ways. The people we are fighting aren't known for their generosity, and in the bush there aren't very many second chances, but that's just the way it is.

          Walking away from the village my squad and I just torched, I have to keep these things in mind, while I'm trying to help the old, the very young and sick on the trail. I can feel the heat from the blaze on my back and the overriding sorrow that is coming from these poor and down trodden people. The guerrillas will use what we've done here today as another propaganda tool against us, but there is nothing we can do about it. The questions keep coming to my mind though, distracting me. "How can you explain to a people that wouldn't know there is a war on if someone hadn't brought it to them, that you destroyed their homes for their own good."

          As we walked into the village this morning the people were in hiding afraid that we were there to kill them, because they had been giving aid to the insurgents that have been raiding this area. The only ones left were the old, the sick, and the very young, and they huddled together in fear. The chief of the village brought out his three daughters and a teenage son, who's just about old enough to be sent into the army, from where they were hidden when he realized we weren't there to harm them. There are stories floating around everywhere of rape and mass genocide, where entire villages had been wiped out and after talking to the old guy, I understand he feels lucky. The insurgents in this area had only raped his daughters and not taken them back north, where we aren't allowed to follow them, to serve in their brothels or worse.

          Other villages in the area hadn't been so lucky. Looking around I can see where these people have been visited before, they only have three pigs when a village of this size should have had at least twice that many. Then there's the post that the guerrillas put there, just like they have in so many places like this before. It stands in the center of what would be our town square. A reminder and a sentinel, of what could come. It is where this man had probably been bound and forced to watch his daughters being raped, by those that had supposedly come to free them from us, as a form of punishment or incentive of some kind. When I asked them if they wished to leave though, they refused. This is where their ancestors had lived for centuries and this is all they have ever known, so it's left up to us to protect them as best as we can, or make them leave, and that in turn makes us the bad guys, not only here but at home ... that is, if we could tell them we were here. Our country just got out of one mess and I suppose the powers that be don't want the public to know we're involved in another one.

          Given a choice I would prefer to just leave them alone and try to watch out for them, but politics being what they are and there being a manpower shortage seals their fate. We can't leave them alone to be massacred and we can't let them continue to help the enemy, so as a stopgap measure we're forced to turn the only thing these simple people had ever cared about into a pile of ashes.

          In a couple of weeks the jungle will swallow what is left leaving naught but a memory for those that lived here and the ones who were forced to destroy it. So as I'm walking, the monkeys up in the tree tops squawking at us as if they are sitting in some kind of judgement, and listening to the sounds of weeping along with feet being sucked out of the mud, weighing it out in my mind, I'm also praying. Praying for understanding, and yes, maybe forgiveness, because just because I know what we're doing is right, it doesn't make it any easier to do it, or live with it when I'm done.

by Rick Heuer/Knapp
... who is a veteran and freelance writer.