I saw the world explode today. It was like nothing you could ever imagine. The sky was alight with red glowing flames as the putrid scent of burning flesh filled the air. It smelt identical to that of our comrades' flesh days before, however this time it was different. This time the burning flesh belonged to our enemies, the men and women we had been fighting for so long.
Returning to camp was a solemn affair. For a change there were no dances of victory, no cat calls, no great hurrah. There flesh burnt the same way ours had … they were no longer enemies, they were humans. And we were a handful of tired aging men who were realising that the ones we were fighting were not much different from us.
I had looked into the eyes of a young man. He couldn't have been 18 … the age of my eldest son, yet I pressed the bloodied barrel of my rifle in between his fear-struck eyes and pulled the trigger. This time I wasn't acting as a solider. I was being a father, knowing that if he was my boy I wouldn't want him dying a slow death as the burning destroyed his body. As I heard the blast and felt the gun recoil all I could see was my son.
If we were back home this solider wouldn't have been given another glance. He may have gone to school with my children, perhaps played ball with my eldest on the weekend and nobody would have thought differently. But because he was in this khaki attire, with a gun held tightly in his hands he was the enemy.
Possibly just a young man who'd been promised great things if he picked up a rifle and fought. He may have even been a young man who was determined that what he was doing was right, yet he had to die because we believed differently.
He was a young man, who possibly had a mother and a father, maybe even siblings, yet he had to die because we said his actions were wrong. What difference was there between his actions and our own? What made him a murderer yet us heroes?
The world is in flames around us as we head back to camp… Fires we started fires that we cannot put out. Our numbers have dwindled; our enemy are clearly not the only victims of the roaring flames. My best mate, Steven, fails to return to camp and I know his wife will find no solace in knowing he died a 'hero'. She's a smart woman and knows that there are no winners or heroes in the game that is war.
What was it that made the death of my best friend murder yet the death of the 'enemy' a heroic deed? We went around calling the 'enemy' hideous monsters, murderous villains because they injured and killed our mates, because they defended their territory when we invaded. Yet we were the same. We were no different than them. They attacked our country. No, they didn't. They attacked America, but in return we attacked them. While they murdered our men we turned around and murdered theirs. We called them murderers yet we were just the same.
Murderer is such a strong word, but it is what I am. Dropping bombs and firing weapons at dark targets is one thing but placing the cool metal of a gun to a man's head and pulling the trigger is another. I spend the infernal walk back to camp staring at my hands, discoloured with dirt and blood … the blood of my comrades and the blood of my enemies.
Yet when I return home I will be branded a hero, someone who fought for his country and came out alive. I don't want to be a hero, I don't want some stupid medals for fighting in a war I wanted nothing to do with. I know that no matter what I am given and no matter what I say it can't make up for the death of the boy who looked like my son.
We didn't even know if he was a solider. He wasn't wearing a full uniform, just scraps of one. However that wasn't an unfamiliar scene. They were short of uniforms so they tended to give the younger guys, the rookies, pieces of them. In this boy's case just a red strip of material that he'd wrapped around his arm, wearing what could have easily been US Army Fatigues. He was holding a gun, yes, but what do you expect from a young man who's country was being invaded? I could have easily killed an innocent young boy, because of the flames that we'd caused.
How many innocent people were dying because of us, because we were invading their country to provide them with a 'better life', the American life? I wasn't even an American Solider, I was Australian, yet here I was in a foreign country killing innocent victims for America.
A voice in my head tries to convince me that whether he was enemy or not, I had put a dying man at risk. Yet I couldn't help but think that he was only dying because of us. Because we'd set the world ablaze, because we destroyed everything they knew. When I look at it all, it isn't them that are the monsters, but us. They were acting on their beliefs, we were acting on orders.
As for the nameless boy whose life I ended, he'd never see his family or friends again. However I'd be returning home soon enough, returning to the love of my life and our wonderful children. My eldest would have finished high school while I'd been away and my youngest will be nearly two, she was only 6 months when I left. Would she know who I was when I finally came home? Would she recognise me and call me 'Daddy'? That was my greatest fear, that my family wouldn't recognise me. After all how could they recognise me when I couldn't recognise myself? Looking in the mirror I lock eyes with the boy I killed.
No matter what I tell myself, I cannot forgive what I did. We are in the middle of a war, in the middle of a battle yet I can't forgive my actions. Maybe because the boy could have just as easily been my son. He had the same blonde hair and emerald eyes, the same innocence. I know I've ended the lives of others in this war, but never like this. I saw his sweat drip down his face, as he tried to focus on the cold metal pressed against his forehead. I suppose it was a nice change from the burning of his flesh.
Two months have gone by since the night the world was in flames. A plane trip is all that separates me from my family, my previous life. The past two months had been spent trying to convince myself that he was going to die; that I was doing him a favour. And maybe if I held my wife close enough, loved my family enough and made sure Steven's family was looked after, the boy's young face would fade from my memory and I could look into the mirror and see my face … not his. Then I may be able to convince myself that they were monsters and I am human.