Do you know where lies victory?
If leadership rests in the lion's jaws
So be it; you must go and snatch it out.
It will bring you greatness, pride, honor and glory,
And, if all fails, face death like a man.
- Hanzala of Badghis, circa 900 CE
(2008 translation by yours truly)
Do you know the color of blood?
Do you know the way the color changes as it dries? Have you watched it leak from a man, scarlet, robinsbreast, vibrant, a splash of color in the tan dust that screams "I AM ALIVE!" only to dry to the same brown crust that might be ordinary mud or piss?
Do you know what it feels like when it dries on your skin? How hard it is to clean out of the wrinkles in your knuckles and the creases of your palms? How it clumps in the hair on your arms and in the seams of your clothes?
Do you know the smell of a quarter of a man's lifeblood as it seeps away?
Tell me again that you know the cost of victory. Tell me again that your country is willing to bear it, you who will never know, and needn't.
Tell me again when you wake up the next morning still stinking of blood, because you have no change of clothes.
Tell me again when you find a scab in your cargo pocket that might have saved a man if it had clotted in his wound instead.
All of these things are among the prices of victory in War.
Do you know when the sun rises?
In the lines on your palms
is written the fate of the sun.
lift your hand up;
the long night suffocates me.
- Partaw Naderi, Kabul, June 1994
(2006 translation by y.t.)
The sun rises when the killing is done.
The sun rises after the blossom of precision air strikes on a training camp and the dirty red fire of the latest IED casualty.
The sun rises when the dying isn't over yet.
The sun rises when second platoon is outnumbered and pinned down, and they desperately need the advantage of night vision.
Do you know what courage is?
If there is no fear in a man's heart,
His deeds are not those of a good man;
Pay no heed to a man who is skilled
in quoting the Quran by heart.
-Khoshal Khan Khattak, circa 1600 CE
(2011 translation by y.t.)
The deployment dodgers and the perpetually broke-listed have the most to say about the time they spent avoiding the war.
The bravest men I ever met were terrified when they proved themselves, and silent now.
The man who saved a dozen lives hesitated, once, before running across twenty meters of valley to flank a machinegunner. He was hit twice and kept running, and before he passed out he layed down covering fire so the rest could cross.
Before they sent him home with holes in his broken legs he said that in that moment of hesitation, he thought to himself, "This is stupid." I tend to agree; It was pretty stupid to leave the comfort and safety of an irrigation ditch half-full of stagnant water and feces, and dash across a gap covered by ten rifles and a machinegun. But if he hadn't, we'd all have died. The eye in the sky told us they were bringing up RPGs, and they'd have fired them when full dawn gave them the light to see through the dirty optics.
Ask him now how he earned his Bronze Star and he'll be surprised you ever knew he was in. Ask him why it wasn't a Silver Star and he'll tell you it doesn't matter. Tell him that you've read the reports, and it should have been a Medal of Honor, and he'll tell you you're an idiot.
Ask him why he doesn't get angry when the never-was two stools down won't shut their mouth about the things they never did, and the shit they never saw, and he'll just shake his head.
I write because some can't, or won't, or never will. I write because it's the only way I know to let it out.
Next time you drink a beer or breathe free air, think about the people who can't or won't or never will.
Think about the people who died, scared and bleeding, before they saw another sunrise.
All translations released into the public domain. There are probably better ones out there, should you care to look.