I wrote this after listening to the song "Hero Of War" by Rise Against some time ago, and I thought it was worth posting here. So... here it is!
This is a one-shot.
We were sat in our comfy chairs, looking into the burning fireplace. Or at least my father was. I was reading a book. I was reading this book because I was looking for ideas. Because this was what I wanted to be. An author, a story writer. Because all I needed to do was write a story, and with a mind like mine, it would be easy! What was stopping me from picking up a pen and paper and starting my dreams, right at that moment? Nothing was. So why didn't I?
"Son," my father said, pulling me from my deep thoughts. I looked up at his dark blue eyes, the ones that reflected the light from the fireplace. He stubbed out his cigarette into the ashtray (which I was glad of, I couldn't stand the smell). "Have you ever seen the world?" he asked quite simply, with a smile.
I frowned and shook my head. I had never really thought about seeing the world. Being in the confines of a lifestyle surrounded by quiet neighbourhoods and the odd incidences of illegal actions, I had grown so used to this routine. But I also wondered what life was like without them. I had once been to a big city, away from the small town – and it had blown me away! The busy streets, the people bustling around the centre. It was all new to me. But what about the rest of the world? Could it really all be like that?
"Well then," my father continued, once again bringing me back from my in-depth thinking. "What would you say if I said that you could?"
And at that, my eyes suddenly dazzled, dazzled brighter than the fireplace. The whole world! Everything! I would be able to see it all! From the big cities to the little villages – everything! At this point, my father explained to me what I needed to do. I was old enough, sure – eighteen at the time. So I followed his steps. It sounded pretty good!
I joined the Army.
They gave me my uniform. My boots were of leather, shining in the light of the rooms. My hair was then shaved off. At first, I was a bit concerned about loosing my brunette hair, thinking that the medium length of it was just the way I liked it. But after the shaving, I thought it actually quite suited me.
Then they put me through my paces. The Sergeants weren't as lean and mean as the movies made them out to be. Actually, they were really nice! Me and the other recruits became very good friends and we were already sharing life stories and secrets with each other. Whenever we practised our marching, we would always sing a song or two (well, until we were told to keep quiet that is). We beat everything from the training courses to the shooting range, proving we were the best, proving we would not be beaten.
And one day, we were told we were ready. Ready for the front lines. Ready for what we had spent so much of our time practising for. Now, we were ready. We suited up and we were taken straight to the blistering heat of Afghanistan. We didn't mind too much. I was nineteen when we got there. Just a few days before we arrived, it was my birthday.
And it was the day I realised – we all realised – that we'll come back as Heroes of War. I promised I'll make father proud, I'll make everyone at home proud. And if we died trying, we would hold our country's pride right down to the bitter end. We would even take our flag to the grave if we had to.
So we fought our way through. We took on what the enemy had to offer; everything from simple patrols to securing an area – we made sure we did everything perfectly, we made sure everything was flawless. And when everything went downhill, we got right back up without a scratch.
But one time, someone fell. This day is one of the most memorable. They weren't from our squad, but we seen an ally, a fellow soldier, a comrade, a friend eventually bite the dust. As we fought the enemy in the streets, bullets flying in every direction, one of us was hit. The bullet had left a massive hole in his leg and he lay on the ground screaming for help. His friend tried to comfort him while treating the wound, but it was in vain. We didn't have what was needed to save his life. Eventually, he passed out. And the sand below was stained red with his blood. He sopped breathing, he stopped moving, he stopped everything and just lay there with a face still contorted in pain.
And it shook us. It shook us like an earthquake. Just for that split second, we went numb. We went numb as they fell – and it was like we had died too.
Then the anger kicked in and we attacked. We attacked them harder than ever. We made every bullet count, every bullet connected with the enemy, every bullet took another life. But did we care? No. Because we lost somebody.
It wasn't until the fire and smoke had cleared that we realised just how many lives we had taken. They had taken one – we had taken many.
But we dealt with it. We pressed on with our missions. Shooting and taking, taking and shooting, falling back, pressing forward, blowing up this, sneaking into that. And we succeeded every time.
One day, we broke into a house. We were looking for somebody, somebody who had caused us so much trouble and the reason why many others had gone home in a flag-draped coffin. We kicked in the door. I yelled my commands. The children cried, but we had him nonetheless. I got my man.
So we took him away at gunpoint, hiding his face with a bag. People begged for us to give him back, telling us he had done nothing wrong, telling us he never wanted anything to do with the war because he had a wife and kids. But we ignored them and pressed on.
We took him to a nearby house where we would have to camp for the night. The journey back would be too dangerous. So as we nestled in, we looked at the man. Looked at the fear building up in his eyes, the wonder of what would happen to him next. And slowly, very slowly, we got angry. Angry because of the deaths he had caused, angry because he was responsible for so much.
I tried to resist the temptation, but the others lost it. They tore his clothes from him, and started to piss in his hands.
I asked them stop, I begged them to stop. I ORDERED them to stop! But they carried on, even when I threatened them. Then I looked at the man. And I remembered the allies that had died because of this man. And I looked into his fear-filled eyes. And I too lost it. And I started to attack. Not just once, but again and again. Constant brutal assaults from the butt of weapons and batons. Over and over again, his blood spilling on the floor.
The next day, we took him back to our camp. Because of the scars and bruises we had given him, we were forced to carry him. So we did. We carried him through the harsh deserts to base camp. And when we arrived, they questioned about the bruises. We told them that he tried to resist and we fought back in self defence. And they took our word for it. Because who else had seen what happened? We weren't going to be sent home and arrested because of this man. The one who had killed so many without even firing.
A few days later, another call. We thought it was our next mission. But what was it really? An apology. From our intel. They had given us the wrong man. The wrong man! The one we were looking for was in a village three miles from where we were – in the opposite direction.
We couldn't believe it. We had brutalised somebody with a wife and kids, dragged him for miles across the desert, ruined his life completely – to be told it wasn't him. We couldn't believe it because we had beaten this guy so harshly for a crime we now know he didn't commit.
We felt like monsters. Monsters that deserved no respect whatsoever. So why were we still getting it?
A week later and we were once again blazing our rifles, shooting anything that shot at us. I ducked behind a car, to watch it be riddled with bullet holes. So I ran again, across the street and behind a wall. I realised I had ended up next to a team mate from another squad, a woman. It wasn't unheard of, but certainly unusual to see someone like this here. But she yelled commands and so did I.
We were pinned for so long, I lost all track of time. No idea how to get out and support didn't look like it would be here for a while. My allies, my friends, had no chance of getting out either. But at least they were alive. For now, at least.
Eventually, this must have got to the woman next to me. She said something. I didn't hear what it was, but she pulled something from her pocket and made a dash from the wall. I grabbed her arm and held her back. I asked her to stay – I begged her to stay! I had seen so many die, I wasn't going to lose another, not if I could help it.
But she pulled away and disappeared. So instead, I helped her. Leaning out from the wall, I began to shoot in the enemy's direction. I held my trigger down, yelling to my team mates for help. I held the trigger down until the magazine was empty, until every cartridge had been spent.
And I watched her. And I watched the streams of shells, jumping through the smoke, spinning the mist into tiny swirls. The sand, soaked in blood, was scattered into the air everywhere, making the haze all the more difficult to see through.
And she collapsed. Quite simply collapsed. She collapsed to her knees and keeled over, her blood drenching the sand evermore. And what was it she was carrying? What had she brought from her pocket?
A flag. A white flag. A flag as white as snow. And I realised what she had been doing and I realised where the bullets had hit her from. Behind. She had been hit in the back, where we were. We had shot her! We had taken her life! She was going to end this and we stopped her! We could of walked away, but we were so stupid, we didn't realise and we just kept firing. Why here, why now, of all places?!
We got out eventually. But we were so angry. So angry with ourselves! And we had only ourselves to blame. We were jumpy at every tiny detail, every night we started to lash out at soft objects in a fit of blind rage. All of because of what had happened.
Eventually, we were sent home, now deemed too mentally unstable to stay out here. We were relieved. We couldn't stand it any longer, it was driving us insane. The deaths, the heat, the responsibility of each other's lives, everything down to even the food. We couldn't take the weight of any of it anymore. So we were sent home with a few badges to prove what we had done.
I came back to my family, my father greeting me with a smile and open arms. My mother crushing me to her chest. My girlfriend who I should have married before I left clung to me like a magnet.
I looked at them all, so happy to see me, so damn proud of me. Looking at my medals and my scars, the girls freaking out whenever they touched them. But was I happy?
No. None of them understood what it was like to be out there. The lives I had taken, the lives I had helped to take. I must have taken hundreds. But only tens of ours died. That's what you do in war though, isn't it? You forget about your enemy being human, you just see them as a moving target. And when you lose an ally, who you know is human, you get angry
I looked at our flag. Flying away in the breeze as if nothing was happening. I was prepared to die for that flag. But what had I done for it? Nothing. Only spilled blood on another. It can gather dust for all I care.
But... I still love this country, I still love this flag... but why? Because it's the only flag I trust? Because it's the only one I've lived in? How can I trust a flag that asked so much for me and gave nothing in return except memories that will haunt me forever?
When my father asked "son, have you seen the world? Well, what would you say, if I said that you could?" What would have happened if I said no?
I would have become that author. I wouldn't be shaken up like I am now. I would be living a normal life, one where people could enjoy my fictional stories, instead of being left in sadness at my more realistic ones. This is what the world looks like?
Then we need to start changing.