The Heart of Darkness

My father is dead. Even so, I remember a couple of the things he told me.

"Always look where you're going." This was one of the big ones. When I was very young I'd walk and look off to the side. Inevitably, I'd crash into things. Once I was working at a department store, walking in one direction and a customer called to me. I looked over toward her, and ran into a pole and broke my clavicle. I've not forgotten my father's words since.

"Son, do not play a game you do not intend to win." He said this when I got pulled from one of my football games. I was beaten, mentally. Tired. Everything I did came out wrong. He smacked me in the head. The coach sent me out. I got trampled. We lost the game.

"You didn't have it in you," my father said. That day, I didn't. That day I was not a warrior.

There is a truth to war only warriors know. It is impolite to discuss in civil company beyond the assertion that war is hell, and to survive the victor, one must become hellish.

Joseph Conrad wrote Heart of Darkness in 1902. Francis Ford Coppola made the movie, Apocalypse Now in 1979. They are the same story. Coppola even left the name the same. Kurtz.

You know where I'm going with this. If you don't by now run away. You're not going to like it at best, and you won't understand it, at worst. But finally, I understand my warrior father.

The graphic images, passed around among military police who served at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, are a new batch of photographs similar to those broadcast a week ago on CBS's "60 Minutes II" and published by the New Yorker magazine. They appear to provide further visual evidence of the chaos and unprofessionalism at the prison detailed in a report by Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba. His report, which relied in part on the photographs, found "numerous incidents of sadistic, blatant, and wanton criminal abuses" that were inflicted on detainees.
-By Christian Davenport
The Washington Post
Thursday 06 May 2004

What were we thinking. Dear Lord. What were we thinking?

The pictures are appalling, the words devastating. As a wounded Iraqi crawls from beneath a burning truck, an American helicopter pilot tells his commander that one of three men has survived his night air attack. "Someone wounded,' the pilot cries. Then he received the reply: "Hit him, hit the truck and him.' As the helicopter's gun camera captures the scene on video, the pilot fires a 30mm gun at the wounded man, vaporising him in a second.
-By Robert Fisk
Independent U.K.
Thursday 06 May 2004

We the people of the United States of America engaged a war in Iraq, one presumes, to win. Though "winning" was a nebulous goal, and despite the admonition of the entire cadre of human teachers of modern day that one should never enjoin a battle without a clear end in mind, we did it anyway. And so we engaged in war. We sent our fathers and brothers and sisters and mothers there--to win a war we could not properly define. As true warriors, they engaged in battle.

Colonel Kurtz works his way up river, out of the sight and mind of civilization and we hear nothing from him until the bodies begin floating down stream. And then the resources start flowing again. Somehow he's cleared out an impossible enemy and the goods start moving again. Civilization is happily ignorant of his methodology, because the end game for them is the goods and they're getting them in Conrad's 1902 story.

But something's not right. There are stories coming out of the jungle. Terrible violence. Atrocities.

Kurtz has gone nuts. He's lost his humanity. In 1902 or 1979 it doesn't matter. Apparently, he's killing everything and everyone in his path. He's made his own rules. Geneva convention, out the window.

We have to stop him. It's not right. It violates the natural order. It doesn't represent us.

We send someone up river to kill him. And when our man gets there, he has to become Kurtz to kill Kurtz. He has to abandon his humanity to succeed. That's his job. He does it.

He does it even though he's sure not one person in the civilized world will ever understand him.

You see, what none of us assholes sitting on our loathesome spotted behinds in the safety of the U.S.of A. is willing to realize that to win a war--a killing war--you have to become something none of us feels is polite to admit. Sure, we have our DVDs of Mel Gibson killing the British or the Vietnamese. Valient men shooting each other fair and square. But the truth is, it's only like that sometimes.

People who have been in wars don't talk about the times they had to abandon their humanity to survive.

Hasn't any one listened to them? We have done this--not them. We are fighting an enemy who has completely dehumanized us. The war against terror is a war against a faceless, unorganized mob who does not value human life, even their own. They have blown up our cities. They kill themselves in killing our innocent. And what we cannot admit to ourselves is that to beat them, we might have to become them.

This is why people are against wars. Not because we enjoy being weak or trod upon. Not because we want to hug trees and believe the woods are populated by cartoon bunnies. We are against war because we have to become hateful to win them. Because we have to do things like those reporters saw to achieve our aims. Wasn't anyone listening to the protests? Doesn't anyone remember?

We have sent our fighting people to Iraq to "win" even though we don't know what it means, but we do know war--because war has been war since the beginning of humankind. And we sit at home and read a newspaper or watch a television show and presume to judge our warriors.

What, dear Lord, are we thinking?

They are not living in our world. We have sent them to a different planet where the rules of survival are different. They are watching their friends die. They are being killed and injured for our objectives.

This is why I objected to this war. Not because I liked Saddam Hussein. Not because I didn't want to tear the heart out of every frigging terrorist who plotted the destruction of the World Trade Center--because I assure you, personally, I would have liked to see some nation somewhere turned to glass by the force of our nuclear weapons for it.

No. I was against the war because we have been taught time and time again what war means.

And so I believe every American should see every combatant killed every day. We should be forced to watch our sons and daughters vaporizing Iraqui insurgents. We should witness the torture inflicted by both sides just as we have been forced to witness the passenger planes crash into our buildings over and over. We should see our soldiers killed and the innocents caught in the crossfire. Do you think precision bombing avoids killing the innocent, the children? Do you think mistakes are never made? As Kurtz knew, they have had to become killers to do our bidding. What makes us think their rules will make any sense to us?

They are doing our work. All of them. Love them. Respect them. Realize you won't understand them and that you put them there.

This is the work of war.

After hating the idea of this war before it started, I now have no choice but to support it because we are there. I love our people. I want them to win. They have to do things I find terrible. That is their job. I want them home so the horror can stop.

We are fighting an enemy who does not understand our good intentions. The pictures are coming out. Kurtz knew what was necessary to win. That's why his last words were, "the horror."

Witness it. It cannot be avoided. This is what it means.

Patti Davis in Newsweek, May 11th at 3:00PM has just published an essay in those pages with essentially the same message & story. Of course, I have not been referenced... Writers beware, when you have an idea, write quickly. It occurs to others.