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| There Ain't No Justice |
| #21 |
- Above and Beyond -
(As a rule I don't use disclaimers, but I think I'll make an exception
for this file.)
Disclaimer: The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real
persons, places, or circumstances is purely coincidental.
As I woke up this cold December morning, I was for the thousandth
time greeted by the cold hard staring eye of my accuser. It is ironic
that an object meant to honor me and bring me pride has instead served
only to torture me with its mocking gleam, to remind me of what a
pitiful and despicable being I truly am, a man I would once have been
ashamed to eat with. This morning I could take it no longer. I felt I
must come to terms with myself, with what I have done, what I have
I had the nightmare again last night. I sprayed bullets from the
muzzle of my machine gun at enemies all around me. When I had killed
them all, I turned over the nearest one and looked at his face. It was
like looking in a mirror. I inspected a dozen more corpses, and they
were all ME. I should not have been surprised at this. I have dreamt
that dream more times than I can count. Yet each time I am surprised
anew and struck with a nameless horror. Then I looked down at my neck
and there hung the medal, and from it came the sound of a hideous,
maniacal laughter. The corpses pulled themselves up, each a broken,
lifeless copy of myself. They came for me, they tore at me with nails
and teeth. The pain brought me to wakefulness in a cold sweat.
I went back to sleep then, after a few drinks. I slept dreamlessly.
I never have good dreams anymore. Only the nightmares, or nothing at
I feel the thing watching me from behind. It is making the hair
stand up on the back of my neck. There, I have moved it from the wall,
it is lying before me. At least now I can watch it back.
It still will not let me forget. I cannot shut out the memory that
haunts me all my waking hours and half of the night. Those terrible
months...but that one day, the day I won the medal, was worse than all
the rest combined.
I was a private in the Army, serving in Vietnam. In boot camp they
had taught me to kill for my country, in theory. When I killed my first
man I was sick for hours, but I got over it. I was still quite convinced
that I was doing the right thing, being a good American, repulsing the
enemies of democracy everywhere, saving more lives than I was
destroying. I soon was quite contentedly stalking through the jungle,
blasting away at any Viet Cong I saw or suspected. I gladly followed the
orders of my superiors. Oh, I was nervous as hell. Fear was my constant
companion. But it wasn't so bad. I at least believed in what I was
doing. I knew my duty, and I did it.
Of course, at the time, I spent a lot of time thinking to myself
that war was hell. I didn't know the half of it then. Those were the
simple times, that part of me still longs for even though I now know
that everything I then believed was a lie.
As time passed I was field promoted to First Lieutenant upon the
death of a superior officer, and that promotion had been confirmed. I
took pride then in leading my platoon into battle, though the reality
was not anything like the ancient image of charging into battle at the
head of the cavalry. In the modern way, the leader bravely stayed in the
center, sending his troops ahead of him and using them to guard his rear
and flanks. Most of my subordinates by that time were draftees. The
volunteers had either been promoted or killed.
Then came my rude awakening. Our company was trying to track down a
local Viet Cong base. Some of their local leaders were known to be
hiding in one of three villages. Since we wanted to capture or kill them
before they could flee, the company split up. My platoon and one other
were sent to the first possible village. As it was the most likely
candidate, the Captain came with us.
As we approached the village, we were met by about ten young men,
seemingly unarmed. They blocked our path. One spoke some English. He
told us that they knew what American soldiers had done to other villages
and that though they would not attack us, they would not let us pass.
The Captain called the other Lieutenant and I over. He said, "We
don't have time to deal with this. Have the men shoot them."
I had trouble believing he would really order us to shoot in cold
blood. I said one of the worst possible things a soldier can say: "But
"No buts! They are to be shot! That's an order!"
I gave the order. The men standing straight and tall and quiet
before us fell like the pack of card soldiers in Wonderland. Men lying
flat, dying, piled like sticks. We walked among them, picking our steps
carefully, but I think not one of us passed over without trampling on a
dying human being.
When we reached the village, there was havoc. Mostly the people hid
in their houses. Some of the men stood outside their houses like
sentries. The Captain announced he would search every house for the men
we wanted. He ordered us to get it done, and to shoot anyone who
My platoon was assigned the east half of the village. I told the
sergeant and he detailed men to search all the homes and the few other
buildings. There was one home left over. Naturally the Sergeant and I
decided to search it ourselves.
It was a one room dwelling without much in the way of windows. It
was quite dark inside. As I entered, before my eyes could really adjust
to the dim light, I saw a figure move toward me. It was swinging
something at me. I fired, heard the peculiar grunting noise many people
make when they experience sudden pain. The figure collapsed before me.
In seconds my eyes had adjusted. I had shot a child, I saw, a boy
not more than ten years old. In the stomach. His mother, who had been
huddled in the corner in fear, rushed to him and she heard his moans of
pain. His face was twisted in agony. I knew he would die a slow death,
no one here could take care of him except our medics, and they would
never treat him. I knew that. I had to do it. What else could I do? I
shoved the mother roughly away, sending her sprawling on the floor in
the corner. And I shot him again, this time in the head. It was the only
thing I could do for him.
The woman jumped back to her feet and attacked me, screaming,
raking my face with her nails. It took the full combined strength of the
Sergeant and myself to restrain her. She screamed and cried and raged
with the deep pain of loss, of a tragedy less than half understood. How
could I explain to her, how could I tell her that it was all in the line
of duty? I didn't speak her language. She wouldn't have listened anyway,
or wouldn't have accepted it.
Her screams and my shouts for reinforcements brought four men. I
told them to hold her. I had forgotten my bloodied face until one
Corporal reminded me. It didn't seem to matter even then, but I went to
have a medic look at it anyway. There no injuries much more serious than
mine. And no one had found any Viet Cong hiding among the villagers. My
mind was elsewhere as my wounds were attended to. I began to wonder if
we were really in the right.
In the evening we left the village. Less than one quarter of an
hour out of the village, we were met by a Viet Cong ambush, a big one.
In the battle most of us were killed or mortally wounded before we
fought them off. I saw my Sergeant's arm blown off by a grenade. I
watched as the other Lieutenant was blown into bloody gobbets of flesh.
I saw the Captain be struck by two bullets.
But we won. Barely. At last only the wounded Captain, my one-armed
Sergeant, a medic and myself were left. I was almost miraculously left
unwounded by the assault. The others were not nearly so lucky. The medic
was the least damaged of those three. He only had a superficial flesh
wound on his left thigh. Besides his ruined arm, which we had to
amputate at the shoulder without the benefit of anesthesia or
antiseptics, my Sergeant also lost an eye. The Captain had two bullet
wounds to the torso, neither of which was immediately fatal, but he
would die without treatment. Since he was unconscious, I was the ranking
officer. I decided we should return to the village as it was the closest
place we could possibly treat our wounded and regroup.
After calling one of the other platoons on the radio and telling
them to rendezvous with us at the village, we set out. It was hard
traveling, with the medic's bad leg and the fact that I had to carry the
Captain, but we made it. Upon our arrival we were greeted by angry
villagers throwing stones.
Looking back on it, I understand perfectly well their motivations.
And that returning to the village was a terrible tactical decision. But
I wasn't thinking straight then. I threw my one remaining grenade, and
the Sergeant's last two, at them. I shot the survivors down one by one.
Men, women, and children. It wasn't easy. They were running at us. After
the day I'd had I couldn't usually aim well enough to take them down on
my first shot. If it wasn't for me, though, they would have killed us.
As it was, almost everyone in that village old enough to walk was
The other platoon should have been there. They were waylaid by a
small Viet Cong force. When they found us, I was bruised and battered by
stones. But I'd kept the Captain alive, and both of my subordinates who
had survived the ambush, though the Sergeant was no longer good for much
and would probably be shipped back home. That's all they cared about.
After some patching up and a night's rest, I was more or less
myself again. Only different. I felt like shit. I'd shot women,
children, men without weapons. I'd always thought fighting for your
country was a noble and honorable thing to do. But where was the honor
in that? And I came to wonder if killing armed men was really any
different. After all, many of them had wives and families. It seemed no
less a tragedy to the human race for them to die than me. I wondered
what I was really doing anyway.
But when the word came they were going to give me a medal for it,
what could I do? I couldn't refuse. It was because I'd saved my Captain.
The higher-ups didn't care either that a whole village was destroyed in
the process. The whole thing made me sick to my stomach, but I went
along anyway. The ceremony was a blur. All I really remember was the
phrase "above and beyond the call of duty." That really did it. I
couldn't even use duty as an excuse anymore. It wasn't them making me do
it. It was me. I was a mass-murderer. My own choice. No one else's
They gave me some leave afterward. I didn't enjoy it. I spent the
whole time hating myself. When I was back on duty, as a Captain myself,
I just went through the motions. I was an ineffective leader in battle.
They gave me a desk job. I sat through the rest of the war, filling out
forms like a madman but not really able to lose myself in it.
Then after the war I got my current job. I'm a paper pusher at an
insurance company. Forms are all I'm really good for, it seems. I can't
keep my mind on anything more demanding on the upper brain centers. I
still can't lose myself in it though.
I hung my medal on the wall opposite my bed. I don't show it off to
the occasional visitor I get, unless he or she asks about it. That's
very occasional. I'm not a very social person, now. I don't know why I
keep it there. Maybe so I'll have to face it first thing in the morning,
I won't have to get my first sight of it for the day while fully awake.
Maybe because less people will see and ask about it there. Maybe I just
don't want myself to forget it or the crime it represents for an
The worst thing of all is people think I'm a hero because of it.
Can't they see I'm not? I'm a criminal of the worst kind! I should be in
an electric chair, not an office chair!
I should go to work now, but I can't. I can't face another day of
this. I can't be a hypocrite, I can't pretend to be an honorable and
respectable person when I'm not. I must make them see what I truly am.
[On July 4, 1990, Captain Eric S. Crusher, retired, of the United
States Army, entered a supermarket in Kansas City, shot all of the
cashiers with an automatic pistol, and then shot himself in the head.
The preceding was found by the police on the desk in his bedroom.]
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