MLGW—A PEACE OF WAR
BY WILL MANNING
For interviews with the author, please contact Claxton Creative, LCC in the DFW area at 972-863-8784.
A wife-best-friend who gladly gave up her vacations for my passion. Teena for your support I cannot say enough. Will you read my book now?
Translation help and better understanding of Middle Eastern society, Suzie and Mike Ayoob, Arezow Doost and my many friends in Uniform fighting for our nation.
Flashes of light filled the night air as copper-jacketed death erupted from every alley, doorway and rooftop. Bullet by bullet peace was replaced with the violence of war amid the swirling eddies of sand. In the early morning darkness, death reclaimed the night. Violent, pain-filled screams burst forth with the brunt of each volley, and with equal speed each pain-filled voice was silenced. Feet shuffled as beige and tan clad warriors scrambled in every direction seeking relief from the burning tormentors. As the last form fell, fewer flashes streaked from the Babylonian darkness. Howling winds punctuated by the occasional brap-brap of weapons fired as wounded men were dispatched with bursts from Romanian made assault rifles—AK-47s that so tormented U.S. troops in Vietnam their descendents returned as nightmares for a new generation. Dust filled their mouths that were opened wide with pain while they watched their hearts pump the last precious pints of blood into the street. They were so close to base that everyone, including Lieutenant John James, fresh in from a month state side, had dropped his guard only to find death screaming down on them just yards from sanctuary.
Streets that were once lit by gunfire and explosions were now clouded with the all too familiar smells of spent gunpowder mixed with the coppery scent of blood meshing with feces, sweat and dirt. The only signs of life were shadows of men sprinting from numerous hiding places toward the mass of writhing wounded and dying in the asphalt and sand covered street. Nearing those wounded U.S. soldiers scattered throughout the street, the occasional assailant stopped to complete his task with another round of flame and lead from his overheated, smoking weapon.
“Take the metal tags from their necks,” boomed the order from a large man kneeling beside a dying soldier. “Search their bodies for identification papers and wallets, and cut the nametags from their uniforms.”
While removing his spent ammunition clip and inserting another into his weapon, Hassan Cyrus, his dark skin covered with muddied droplets of sweat, kneeled beside his first victim. Hassan did not bother to cover his victim’s face something the other insurgents were respectfully doing as they ran from fallen soldier to fallen soldier. Barking orders, the Persian born leader marshaled his Iraqi outcasts through the howling storm, though he often lost sight of his charges furthest from the street’s center.
Hassan kneeled at the side of a dying American soldier and reached to extract the metal-beaded chain from around his neck on which his dog tags hung while simultaneously ripping the soldier’s name patches. He had plans for this new prize in this latest battle for Iraq. Hassan’s closely trimmed beard, matted with dirt and sweat, was framed by the scars that stretched from his neck to his cheek and up across his temple to his hairline. His scars, old and deep, blended with new wounds from recent battles. He collected wounds like trophies, and he wore his scars with pride. Some wounds, deeper than others, stretched back many years. Not all his scars were a result of this current war. Many were constant reminders of the torture he endured at the hands of Iraqi guards who held him prisoner during the war between Iraq and Iran in the 1980s. Now Hassan was the leader who would guide the children of his former enemy in this latest war.
What sweet irony comes at the hands of the American invaders with their new crusade to spread Christianity among the true believers of Islam. These American efforts both on the battlefield and in the mosques are even now uniting the factions against them, and I have but to fan their flames of discontent. But, my role is greater than this current war. I will bring many under my country’s heel before my people are through, thought Hassan.
Dust clumped to the bloody, Syrian-made, leather, lace boots as Hassan stood kicking a soldier over with his foot. He bent down and reached out one gloved hand grasping the cloth nametag above the soldier’s breast pocket. With the other hand, he pushed his knife’s edge into the desert-tan cloth. His fingers dug into the torn, blood stained blouse as he ripped the tag from the soldier’s clothing. Hassan stuffed his prize into a pouch at his side already filled with nametags, wallets, photos, cell phones and iPods. He smiled as he silently congratulated himself for acquiring this new bounty. Dropping the flap over the pouch’s contents, he glanced toward his Street Dogs as they scurried about the doomed patrol.
Hassan had fought the Americans in many places, but until now he had never personally drawn American blood. His job had always been to direct the hands of others. As he pulled from a pant leg pocket his victim’s wallet, he relished the idea that he would be the first to notify this soldier’s family of his death. Knowing the wallet would contain photos, phone numbers and e-mail addresses for the dead soldier’s friends and family, Hassan chuckled thinking about his plans.
“We will kill the will of the Americans one name at a time,” Hassan said aloud as he told the night air of his plans. “America will run from this land like they ran from Vietnam, and this land will once again be home to a great empire.”
Pointing with his rifle at an Iraqi who seemed reluctant to touch the body, he raged to pull the dog tags and wallet and cut the nametag from the soldier before more Americans arrived. “Emshe, Emshe get the nametags off his shirts and from around his neck. Take all his personal papers and leave nothing that will make identification easy for his fellow soldiers. “
Hassan ordered his men to bash in the faces of the dying, as well as the dead, American soldiers. “Remember leave nothing on the bodies of identification. Make it hard for the Americans to know their children.”
Terrell Kahn, a sixteen-year-old Sunni of mixed heritage from Tikrit, one of the northern cities of Iraq and former home of Saddam Hussein, joined the jihad with his first kill less than two hundred yards from the American base camp. As he watched his leader and fellow warrior pull identifying items from the necks and bodies of the dead and dying, he failed to understand. Why do they defile the dead? Reluctantly, and with doubt regarding the integrity of the action, he followed his superior’s orders and bent to retrieve his first trophy from the bloody soldier at his feet.
He reached for the once shiny chain and nametags now mired in the muddy mix of sand, blood and sweat from the well of the soldier’s neck. Reaching in, Khan easily removed the objects with an easy flip of the wrist. But when he grabbed for the nametag sewn on the soldier’s uniform, his hands filled with fleshy mounds. He pulled back in shock without releasing the soldier’s clothing.
“He’s a woman,” Khan cried in shock. Still holding her uniform tight in his hand, he stood pulling her torso clumsily from the ground. Suspended in midair, Khan reckoned with his sense of fear and his desire for flight. Should I let go or cut the tag? Khan worried about his own salvation remembering that to look at, much less touch, a woman who was not his wife meant certain death. He looked to Hassan for answers.
“It’s a woman, I, I … cannot…” Kahn stammered in a confused sense of uncertainty.
“Americans send their old and their children to fight in our land! Before we are through, we will … we’ll …” Hassan ranted and mumbled under his breath as he turned to look at the gangly teen now holding the female American soldier aloft by the breast pocket of her army fatigues.
In another time this would be amusing, Hassan thought. But his anxiety was building as he thought of relief units that were surely nearing from the American base. With a renewed sense of urgency he barked, “Remove her shirt Khan, and take it with you! Halcayates (now in Arabic)!”
“I cannot take it off,” Khan repeated more to himself than to Hassan. I am not ready to die, not for this woman heretic. Still holding her uniform Khan had her shoulders lifted almost a foot off the ground. Hassan, becoming increasingly impatient and exasperated with his young subordinate, ordered, “Take her nametag now.”
“But …” Khan continued to hesitate.
Fear reflected in the coal black eyes of the dark-skinned teen as he held the female soldier’s torn and bloody fatigues in his hands. He could be killed under Islamic law for viewing a woman’s body, and the absurdity of this contradiction in religious belief and means of gorilla-jihad was not lost on him. What he could not understand was how it was so apparently lost on his superior.
“But … but …” Khan mumbled while continuing to stall. Sand and wind made his mumbling inaudible as his soul and mind conducted their own jihad.
As Khan stood holding the body aloft, he struggled with his weapon. The wind seemed hell-bent on pulling the American from his grasp. It was as though the Earth itself recognized the impurity of his action. Kahn took one last look into the battered woman’s face, and his internal conflict grew so intense that he failed to see Hassan approach.
“Don’t be an idiot boy. It is not a woman; it’s a dog,” Hassan exclaimed as hatred spewed from his lips. Hassan’s anger was increasing by the second. He knew that with each passing second more Americans grew nearer.
Stepping over the last mangled corpse with a tattered shirt and now missing nametag, Hassan slipped in the soldier’s pooling blood. Angered by the full-body contact with the dirty Americans, he stabbed his rifle barrel into the ground to lift him up but not before injuring his knee. Furiously, he half-walked and half-dragged his body to the idiot boy too terrified for his own soul to obey orders. In one quick move, Hassan slipped a thin knife under Khan’s causing the woman’s bloody brown and tan uniform to go crashing to the ground. All that was left in Kahn’s hand was a palm-sized piece of uniform. Her body fell with a soft thump as more American blood poured into the dirt road.
Surprised by Hassan’s abrupt move, Khan froze in fear. As the reality of what happened became clear, he softly began praying while looking down at the roughly splayed form.
“You are wrong Hassan. She is a woman,” Khan cried out as his focus remained transfixed on the partially denuded form now lying at his feet.
“I don’t want to do this,” Kahn said.
“You have no choice in the matter,” Hassan stated as he looked at Khan. “You have no choice.”
Snapping back to reality, Khan and the others quickly moved on from the scene of the slaughter. But Hassan, now becoming interested in the woman, dropped to a knee to quickly retrieve her ammo and spent clips. In the process of looting her body, he found her personal papers along with a wallet filled with photos.
She is a woman, and a pretty one at that. Her olive skin and dark hair framed in the helmet and tattered jacket sparked arousal in him. Distracted by her good looks, Hassan felt a flicker of a sense of shared humanity coupled with a subtle hint of remorse. Immediately, angered by his own weakness, he said aloud, “This is why women should cover their faces and never be in war. Damn Americans.”
Hassan stood, reluctantly using his rifle for assistance, once again reminded of his own injury. Angered and disgusted with the American blood he was drenched in, he smashed the butt of his rifle in her mouth destroying her beautiful white teeth, and then slammed the butt into her nose. Satisfied that she got what she deserved, he hurried to catch up with his band of wayward soldiers. Although he felt certain he had followed the desires Allah, he raged at the heaviness of his heart. He had known what it felt like to kill a woman. Even he did not care for the feeling.
Hassan could hear the tardy help as they arrived on the scene from the American base. He watched as the American soldiers became progressively excited and afraid as they neared the scene of the slaughter from several blocks away.
Hassan ran to catch up with his fleeing comrades who were each stuffing bags and reloading rifles. As Hassan and Kahn rounded the first house wall, which would lead them to safety, Khan stopped to wipe his thin face with his blood-covered sleeve. He looked disgustingly at Khan who he had now dubbed, “the idiot Iraqi boy.” He saw that this absurd young boy was struggling to be a man. He laughed to himself at the boy’s almost comical attempt at a beard hanging from his bottom lip. The idiot had a fresh burn under his left eye from a hot bullet casing that flew from another fighter’s weapon during the battle.
Why is this idiot boy here? Hassan thought as he shoved the American woman’s bounty at Khan and commanded he take possession of it. He reminded himself that these idiot boys did not matter. Foot soldiers were just cannon fodder, and all of them would be fodder for widows’ wails before he was through with them.
“Sir, why did we take this stuff? Why can’t we just kill them and let their people find the bodies?” Khan asked.
“We will tell them.”
“Them? Tell who what?”
“We have to tell the Americans that their children and women are dead. We have to show them that those who oppose Allah’s will are to die in our streets.”
“Oh,” Khan replied automatically but thought, I don’t understand. Khan looked on as Hassan joined the others who were darting into homes and vehicles situated in the midst of Death’s new home.
Picking up the pace as the men began disappearing into different buildings and homes along the back streets, Hassan looked at the teen with disgust. This is what I have for soldiers. When we are through with the Americans, your kind will be next, you and all your people. His thoughts brightened as he looked at the stumbling Iraqi teen, If all Iraqis are as dumb as this kid, my own Persian people will rule the new world.
Frustration flooded Hassan’s tone as he tried to illuminate the plan for the inferior Iraqi boy. “Tonight I will list their names and show their pictures on the Internet. If I am lucky, this bag contains the soldiers’ family e-mails, and to those I will send their death certificates long before the American military confirms who is missing.”
Khan’s eyes widen as he finally gained understanding.
“Now you know, and soon so will the Americans,” Hassan said as he took the boy’s bag from his shoulder and shoved him through a doorway. “I knew you would understand, and so will they. So, will they all.”
Hassan had entered this war with two goals: First, to make a name for himself. And second, he aimed to move his country into the forefront of the Islamic world. After tonight, he thought, they will see that my way is the best way to fight this war and win. Allah is on my side.
The Americans arrived at the site of the ambush turned macabre scene shortly after Hassan and his men departed. Not only did they find their friends and comrades dead, but the bodies of the fallen soldiers appeared as though they had been hacked with knives and axes. The reality of what had occurred would not come to light for several days, and by then the rumor that the enemy had tortured and mutilated the dead and dying would already have run rampant through the American and base.
The e-mails started six hours later at midnight Washington D.C. time. The e-mails arrived spewing its intended venom and fear into a humble central Georgia home first then to another and another. Like a poison flowing through the Ethernet, it reached parents, friends, girlfriends, wives and children as the pain passed Death’s latest conquest on to the unexpected masses. A tattered and bloody photo from a wallet, snippets of uniform and dog tags all scanned into a jpeg file to make for easy e-mailing, then sent to e-mails found in soldiers’ pockets along with half-written letters of love now sent in anger’s blood. It was in this way that an unwary public discovered the true heart of this faceless enemy one e-mail at a time. The words, pictures and notes struck with lethal consequences. Elderly grandparents checking for a grandson’s e-mail on the family computer found his pictures and the unpublished story of the boy’s death.
Friends seeking the latest news from loved ones fighting for freedoms many Americans never quite understand found only anger and death in their inboxes. Some of the e-mails contained quick snapshots of the dead taken before they were hacked to pieces by this new enemy. Phones began ringing and e-mail trees came to life as more and more people learned of this latest outrage in Iraq.
The U.S. government, slow to understand and even slower to move, first became aware of the e-mails from Iraq to families of deceased soldiers a day later and hoped to no avail to keep this new warfront quiet.
Death hunts the darkness in men’s souls seeking liberties with the living, ‘til in a flash, all hope is gone and death seeks a new home. Angela Saxon paused to rub lotion into her she sun-cracked fingers before returning them to the dusty keys of her laptop computer. Each movement elicited changes in the glowing screen. Her vision focused on the spaces between the lines as thoughts streamed from every corner of her mind. Page after page she released the haunting demons of anger, frustration and despair allowing peace to once again fill her mind and soul. Writing had become a means of prayer, a positive action that filled the many voids in her life. She sought out nurturance, comfort, answers and a sense of being heard, all the things she longed for from her own mother—the mother who abandoned her when she was only five-years-old.
Words begin and end wars. Words record the reasons, however fleeting, for war, and yet no poet or historian has given a good accounting of the awe, anger, angst and atonement a single battle brings, even those within oneself. Angela wrote in an attempt to purge the day’s frustrations. War holds little comfort for those in whose lives its wicked roots become entangled, yet here I am choosing, or at least hoping, to make a difference while watching death take its toll on the living. Her words express the conflict that surrounds her physical world and consumes her emotional world.
Her father’s words push slowly to the forefront of her consciousness. “It’s my little girl’s war, and only she can fight the foes before her.” How true are those words, Angela thought. She missed her father’s healing words of wisdom and sought to honor his words daily has she served her not only her country but humankind as one collective whole.
With a click, her latest blog posted to her Web site and began its sprint around the world. Friends, family and even strangers stayed abreast of Angela’s latest perspective of the deep complexities of life as experienced and revealed through a young warrior. As the words continued to resonate within Angela’s complex mind, she thought back on each line until the green glow returned her reflection to the computer screen. Seeing her reflection in the computer screen, she acknowledged the pieces of herself in the words she had written.
Angela’s tight, tanned, angular face reflected more than her twenty years of life. Her high-cut eyebrows conveyed a subtly naïve, wide-eyed perspective, but her cobalt blue eyes cut a person like a surgeon’s steely knife as they diligently sought out answers. Yet in her own reflection, she saw only a strange woman’s strong, angular, high-cheeked face peering back between the lines of words organized before her. Her journey, mortality, goals—so much has already transpired in her life without her awareness.
At the age of eighteen and nearing high school graduation, Angela found herself lost. What’s next? Who am I now? Where do I go from here? Will I end up just like my mother? Her thoughts filled her with distrust of the future while her faith held open a window of hope just wide enough for the temptation of new adventures and the promise of unimaginable beginnings to sneak into her consciousness, and now here she is wearing army khakis and barely living in a desert land. She knew she had been called to become more than a soldier, more than a warrior … she knew in her heart she was being called to minister to the needs of those in this oldest of places, to be a changeling in this ancient land.
The long, cold Iraqi nights, the dust storms with no discernable beginning or end, the quick showers instead of relaxing baths, Oh for just a few minutes in a warm tub … her mind reeled with the many discomforts of the life she chose. Refusing to indulge herself any further in a pity party, she chose gratitude for her warm meal and a bug-free bed. But the visions of bloody nights, fear-laden trips, her constant hunger for home, were not so easy to dismiss. As her thoughts flashed behind her steely blue eyes, she felt herself maturing before her eyes on the computer screen. Her last words in the blog resonated within in her as her own understanding of her life continued to evolve. She wondered if her father and friends could possibly comprehend her experiences. Or more importantly, she thought, Can they comprehend why I need this experience?
A new home for death, that is an accurate description of Iraq, Angela thought as she signed off the blog and put away her laptop. Stretching her arms above her head, her body seemed to swim up from the chair as her fingers touched the descending wall of the Quonset hut. Standing just over six-feet, her femininity was held in check by the multi-pocketed, baggy, sand-filled khakis and desert blouse issued by the military.
A tall woman, Angela always carried herself upright and proud. Long before Army sergeants grunted, “Shoulders back, head high,” she found strength in her height. Her taller girlfriends seemed to fear their height and acted as though they were ashamed of being tall. With shoulders slumped, their heads drooping and downcast eyes, they all displayed a lack of self-confidence that never plagued Angela. Several of her friends told her that their grandmothers preached that a woman should not be taller than her man. “So don’t stand so tall. You’ll never find a husband by looking down at him,” the grandmother’s advised. But Angela found a confidence in her height. She felt secure realizing early it could open doors for her to do things other women could not. Her height, according to her father, was a positive aspect she had inherited from her mother. This gave her some sense of connection to her mother. She knew very little of her mother beyond the contextual information she gathered from old photos. Her mother was tall, and so was she. She would not deny herself that connection to her mother. Angela did pray that would be the only resemblance—no failures, no fleeing, no leaving a family to wonder why they had been abandoned.
“God gave me height, and by golly I’m going to be proud of it,” she remembered telling her own grandmother. But in Iraq, most of the men were no more than five-feet-six or five-feet-eight, which added yet another complexity to a job already wrought with complexities and cultural nuances. Talking “with” men but not talking “down” to them while still retaining her posture proved a challenge at best. Finding ways to make sure the men she spoke with stood on stairs or curbs allowed her to hold her own head high as she conversed on equal terms, something most were not accustomed too in this ancient land.
This new home away from home opened up to Angela as she strolled through the alleys and parkways. A redheaded, high-cheeked girl of Comanche heritage from Midland, Texas was little by little creating pieces of home in a place where one would least expect to feel accepted. Angela smiled to herself, Home is where I am, and I am here in a land many have called home. So, this is my home. Home belongs to Life not Death. Here I will hold my own war, and with God, we will win this war.
Iraq had been home for many nations who had come to this region, each ending in death. The largest foreign graveyard for British soldiers lay on the outskirts of this Biblical city. This land is the home to the many people who once walked the valleys and crossed the region’s mountains but who remain only a flickering memory in the nation’s long history. It is now home for Angela, but her home had always been Midland and that thought made her heart sink for just a moment. Just as suddenly as her spirits had dripped, the spark of direction flamed again in her soul.
God has me here for a reason so this is my home; it does not belong to Death. I will do everything I can to make a difference no matter how long I am here, she thought. Angela called out to no one in particular. This is God’s war as much as it is mine, and He will not let me fight it alone. She remembered her father’s words as she left for Iraq, “This is my little girl’s war, they’d better be on their toes over there because by God here she comes,” he had said forcing a smile as she headed for the plane.
Tucking her short, cropped hair into the confines of the Army-issued Kevlar helmet, Angela listened to the ancient calls to prayers from the mosques. She moved across the room she shared with ten other soldiers and gathered her gear for anther shift on patrol.
Oh, for just a few more inches of hair then I could … She paused mid-thought. What am I thinking? When my first dust storm reached day seven I was jealous of the guys’ high and tight-crew cuts! Smiling, she continued to ready herself listening to the prayer calls.
As she geared-up she thought of the local teachers who had helped her understand the song-like chant in a tongue as old as time. She comprehended the power it held over the land. Her native English language seldom visited her nightly dreams; even her beloved Spanish seemed to have sought a new home where other dreams roam. It was in the ancient verse of Arabic that she had found most of her dreams to late.
Angela slipped from the barracks with her M-4 rifle slung under her left arm. As she stepped away, she began to recall the names of the children who always hung around the base’s main gate, smiling at her as she stepped into the Iraqi community. Each little face was lead by a seeking hand that dipped into her lower pockets that always held sweet treats and rewards. Warm days, cold nights and the faces of deserted children flooded Angela’s mind. Images of the many reasons she had to make this land her home where ever present in her mind and in her daily dealings in the Iraqi community.
Arabic has become my second language, she laughed to herself. Or is English becoming my secondary language? As she interacted with her fellow soldiers, she often found them chatting with a mixed English-Arabic vocabulary. Angela smiled as she acknowledged to herself that she was becoming a native, even her skin now held the same hue as the women she encountered working in the nearby city. Her mannerisms and routine were more of a reflection of her current home than the dusty, country roads of her native Midland.
Most of her off-duty time was spent at the local hospital and working with two relief groups from back home, each of which brought her closer to the local Iraqis. Her language tutors, several women from the neighborhoods around the base, had come to appreciate and love Angela for her work and patience in dealing with local issues. Each minute she spent sharing and caring opened new doors of understanding for Angela and for the Iraqi women.
Stepping through the growing sandstorm of eastern Baghdad, angst replaced her optimism. She thought of the prayers that were first brought to her heart as the sand filled every crease and fold of flesh and clothing. Then just as suddenly as the sandstorm appeared, so did her unexplainable fear for her unit.
Angela’s unit had gone on patrol without her eight hours ago. This was the first time she had been separated from them while on duty. She had decided to take a refresher class online for her ongoing medic training and had stayed behind. She could not explain, and did not want to understand, the loathing and darkness that was filling her heart with a desperate concern for her friends and comrades.
Angela’s unit had been the first to put women on patrol as part of a presidential initiative, and she sorely wished to join fellow soldiers on the streets of the city she had grown to love so dearly. Her thoughts began to race wildly, Have I come to this ancient battlefield only to leave my blood and the blood of my friends in the sands of time?
Angela recalled her father’s words of wisdom, “Dark thoughts will gain you nothing.” She held to these words closely and tried to push despair far away from her mind. With a renewed sense of purpose and confidence, she pushed through the growing storm towards the Commanding Officers (CO) Office to check on her unit and to retrieve her latest assignment.
Angela watched the growing storm in the evening sky, and her uneasiness began to win her over again as the billowing sand in the darkening streets surrounded the base. Her words on Death’s home, the darkest verse, that spilled from her mind onto her blog whirled around in her mind like the dust that consumed the silent town. This was the first time in her ten-month tour that she was not with her unit. Once again, the demons of doubt gathered about and pushed her fears of loss and failure to the forefront of her mind causing her heart to beat so hard that the throbbing filled her with beating stabs of pain. She had no new orders. She was tasked with the unbearable job of waiting for her units to return so she could join them on the next patrol. After informing her captain of her concerns, he responded by having the unit radioed for an update. The “all clear” from her unit just five clicks out from base brought a comforting smile across the captain’s face. The response from the unit did little to relieve Angela’s fears.
She walked to the main gate of the guardhouse and spoke with the men on duty with the hope of killing time while waiting for her unit’s return. Angela had passed many nights with the sentries as she watched for her friends from other units to return. She saw the distant doors to which her “gate children” had returned. Darkness reclaimed them in their sanctuaries, but she knew their rewarding smiles and wishes would return along with the morning sun. How she longed for their warm, little hands in hers to reassure her that all was well.
Angela began to unconsciously chant the Lord’s Prayer over and over as she looked into the dust-blown streets. The prayer escaped her lips and the men around her joined her in the second verse, each praying aloud while searching for their comrades in the valley of death finding comfort in the words they had learned in childhood.