We have spent the past few days talking about the horrible murder of 24 civilians in the Iraqi city of Haditha by angry U.S. Marines. Make no mistake, this is an atrocity that should never have happened. But it was also inevitable.

Soldiers are people. They fall prey to weakness, frustration, boredom. the whole gamut of human emotions. And they are fighting a war, possibly the most terrible thing men have to endure. Consider an ordinary day for soldiers in Iraq. Go on patrol, maybe you make a friend but most everyone looks away or gets out of your way. They cower in ther homes and run away when they hear you coming. Your enemy is not one you can attack directly and use the skills carefully honed in training. He is a civilian most of the time, the guy who sells you oranges, the cabby, the woman with kids on the corner. He goes around unarmed and kowtows. He smiles at you and lies.

And he never attacks except when sure of absolute surprise. The first you see of him isn't a prepared position, but a bomb that explodes underneath your best friends humvee. It's an RPG round that flew overhead, or the crackling of machine gun bullets. Most of the time you're okay, but other times you are not, and a buddy, a man you trained with is screaming on the ground with his intestines strung out behind him.

And what can you do? That price is much more bearable when there is an enemy to fight, when the bodies of bad guys lie on the ground next to your friends. But this didn't happen. Just a big explosion, a comrade is dead and nobody knows anything. Nobody is nearby but a bunch of civilians and you know that at least some of them watched the bomb being buried. They helped your friend die mutilated, or at least they did nothing to stop it. Sure most of these people, maybe all, kept silent because they're terrified by the bad guys.. But this has been going on for months and you've seen this same scene again and again. You've written letters home to widows, orphaned children and grieving parents. You've watched your buddy the great athlete lose his legs.

How much can a man take anyway?

If you study the history of small unit operations you quickly learn that war crimes are fairly common. All the training in the world cannot undo the emotional nature of human beings. Men angered at the loss of friends sometimes murder and mutilate. That in order to kill you must dehumanize your enemy is some way and that default the prejudice extends to his countrymen. Prisoners get shot and mutilated. Men relieved to be alive rape. Combat somtimes brings on the red mist in men's lives. There is a story of a unit in Korea that atter a successful bayonet charge agains the Chinese kept running over the hill and bayoneted the Chinese pack animils until the helpless beasts were cutlets. Combat is a mad thing, and it brings on madness to men both temporaray and lasting.

What happened at Haditha was inevitable the day troops crossed into Iraq. We should be displeased that it happened, at the same time thankful it took so long. And so while I agree these men need punished, they also deserve some measure of our understanding, for what brought good men to this point. That includes the officers who looked the other way, for they did so not to protect themselves but their men who go out there every day to face death and mutilation.

IN war bad things happen. Horrible, terrible things. That is part of the price you assume when you choose war. If such things coming to light can threaten a nation's will to fight, or ability to achieve victory, then perhaps the war is not worth its cost.


This has been ringing through my head for a while now.


Somebody in trouble. Somebody falling through oblivion, out of power or rapidly running out of it. He says it twice, then:

"Somebody help me."

It's not real, it's just an idea in my head which has been struggling to get out. Most of my recent nodes have been written along these lines - inspiration strikes in the form of a word or a phrase or a scene and it bounces around my skull until I get around to pinning it down on my scratchpad. In fact I've already written up something very like this so I don't quite know why this idea hasn't gone away. There's this person falling into oblivion and this alarm, the biggest alarm in history, the one which sounds for one low, terrifying and incredibly long note, "MAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAM", then pauses just long enough for you to think it's stopped, then sounds again. That's the Space-Shuttle-about-to-launch alarm. The oil-tankers-on-collision-course alarm. The end-of-the-world-is-fifteen-seconds-away alarm. Where am I going with this?

Within the context of a work of fiction, the world is real. Itchy & Scratchy is real within Itchy and Scratchy's world, but that's fiction in the context of The Simpsons, which is real for the Simpsons but fiction in the context of our reality. DC Comics have taken this to unimaginable extremes, with this universe's heroes influencing the subconscious of that universe's comic book writers and so on and so on, with all of them - it was initially implied - influencing the real world's comic industry.

The obvious and very cliched step up from this is to wonder if our reality is, in some way, fictional in some greater context. True, it's been done, thousands of years before The Matrix.

But the thing is, in a very real sense, this world IS a work of fiction being created by some higher power. Not "in a very real sense". For real. Because this is just a writeup on Everything2. I, the narrator of this writeup, do not exist. I am fictional. THIS IS NOT REAL LIFE. THIS IS TEXT.

A point made long ago by smarter people than me is that fiction often perseveres longer than reality. Characters from fiction never age, they are immortal; even if they do die, they live over and over again, whenever somebody opens that book or watches that film a second time. Here is a real conversation I had with my family at dinner the day before yesterday:

"So anyway, I've decided that I'm going to take this conversation, that we're having here, right now, and turn it into a node on Everything2. I'm going to try to remember it as best I can and write it up and put it online."

"Why?" asked my sister's fiancé, James. My sister was at university at the time.

"Well, it's to demonstrate a point. Because right now, this is reality, us, you and me talking. But at the same time, because I'm going to write this up, and because I have in fact, already done this, and people are also reading it right now, you're all fiction!" I pointed to them all at this point. "Everything you say right now isn't real, it's just writing on a web page. It's probably not even what you actually said, because I'll forget what you said exactly and have to paraphrase."

At this point my mum made a humorous confused noise.

"Gareth's got a tape recorder," said my dad.

"It's in the other room, I'd have to look for it," said my brother, Gareth.

"Never mind, it's probably better this way. Anyway, you are all being watched by everybody on Everything2 right now, so say hello!"

"Hello, Everything," said my dad, and the others made similar comments.

That's about as much as I can remember, although it was as short a conversation as the above implies. It was a pity, because I'd been running through this conversation in my head for several weeks leading up to it, trying to get a grip on where to go with it, and I'd hoped it would work out longer or more insightful.

You, right there, are sharing this moment with hundreds, perhaps thousands, perhaps millions of other people. You might not even reading this on a website. You might be reading it on paper, or watching the movie. You might be sam512, reading his work a second time; I, meanwhile, might not sam512, but just actor portraying sam512 - in fact, it may well be that sam512 is dead by now, but simply can't be made to stop talking! If this is messing with your head, wait until the "Making Of" feature!

I was sure I had a point when I started this, and now I remember it: What you're reading right now is a distilled fraction of what its writer, the "real" sam512, thought in the weeks leading up to when he wrote it. And all the time, all those weeks I spent sitting on the bus to and from work with those, well, these strange ideas ringing around my head, I was thinking about how eventually I would put those ideas to paper. I was, in fact, thinking about this very moment when I'm writing this node, and about these myriad moments when you're reading it. And the thing I was thinking at the time was: "this isn't real life". Because they've now been written down, and because I've got this wrong in tiny and not-so-tiny ways, those moments, also, were not real life. They were text. The last three weeks of my real life are and always were a work of fiction.

I wish I was as good at this as Grant Morrison is. Pseudo-existential guff; I'd probably better daylog it.

So, in this very special episode of Sam512's Nodes, I've realised and proved that my life is just a work of fiction, and successfully broken my own fourth wall. Hi there, reality: great to be here. Try the fish. And who's the mysterious individual screaming for help? Nothing. An idea, not fully exorcised; maybe I'd better write more about this helpless person so he or she goes away. We'll see.

My black leather criss-cross low heeled slides happen to be the best looking, best feeling, best overall best in show shoes that have ever had the pleasure of dressing up my dainty tootsies. Except that as I reflect, the open-toed stiletto heeled two-tones do very nice things for the line of my leg. Then of course one can't overlook the surprising comfort of my tan leather Brazilian three-inch-heeled sandals. Ai, let's face it, I've grown a shoe-gland. Located in the arch of the foot, the shoe-gland secretes an endorphin when you see, buy, or wear a really great shoe. This endorphin negates the pain of pinched toes, tired calves and blistered heels.

But a great shoe, and great shoes cost money, has the added benefit that it only hurts you for a day or two while you and it adjust to one another. After the initial pain, it's beautiful. You walk better, even with a little strut, which actually makes people react better to you. Other women now have an opening line to make contact with you. "Hey, nice shoes," she'll say, and then you tell her where you got them, and that opens up a world of relating and listing which are conversations between busy women.

Me being the me that I have become, of course I usually slip in the gaffe that stops the conversation, which means that I have to start it again. It goes something like this:

"Thanks, I got these at DSW with my husband."

"Your husband takes you shoe shopping?"

"Sure, he likes it. What he usually does is sits me on a stool and fetches shoes I might like to try. Then he puts them on my feet and tells me to walk around."


"Um, you know, he wants me to be happy..."


"I know, not every guy is into shoes like that..."

"My husband wouldn't notice I had on new shoes until he saw the bill."

"Oh. Well. Papi is different."


One might be tempted to think that the other woman is jealous, but if she were, she would talk about the things her husband also does for her. This, I notice, never happens. What has happened between her and me is that I have revealed my weakness; no woman who wears great shoes and has some very fetching outfits should ever admit that she cannot shop. Other women may complain that all their husbands do at the mall is sit in chairs and whine about the tools they are not looking at. That complaint is really a source of pride. My husband, it asserts, is intimidated by my shopping prowess. Yours, darling, has to help you.

Essentially, I have not earned my fabulous shoes because I did not hunt them myself. My shopping strategy is the equivalent of shooting a predetermined number of quail that have been clipped and stuffed in tangles of weeds. I partly blame my upbringing. Our mothers are supposed to teach us the ways of the department store. They should show us how to gather quantities of merchandise and weed out the ill-fitting and the unflattering. Mine had very little patience left after dealing with other teenage girls all day -- she taught English in a Girls Catholic High School -- and so the shopping didn't happen often.

Of course, I could have gathered the lore myself later, shopping with friends and such. Well, I didn't. I'm a hard-head and I learn slowly. One friend did make valiant attempts to educate my hunter-gatherer instincts. There was some improvement, but it didn't last.

Landing me where I am today, being helped to shoes and clothes by my husband. Well, fine. Good, in fact. Wonderful, even. So I'm a dysfunctional shopper. I have found the man with the patience and care to help me past that, so that I look well despite my lack of talent.

The next step is keeping my mouth shut.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.