That day I saw mankind's true face: human beings are inherently savages and no matter how hard we try to deny our true nature, we cannot escape it. Man is just a machine programmed to kill. We are no different than animals.
Some would claim that what makes us different is that we can tell the difference between good and evil and right and wrong. What is good and evil though but labels to identify what is for or against the objective?
Let's say that a man has a gun trained on another man, who also has a gun in his possession, and the other man is able to use the gun to end his attacker's life. Would this be evil? Surely to the man being wasted this is evil. But the killer would see it differently. In his mind, he is the good guy and his quarry is the bad guy. And with the deceased man it is the same except the roles are reversed.
So good and evil and right and wrong; what's the difference in the end? They are but words used to justify what we do and what we do is destroy because we are man. And like all other animals, we have no choice.
Aesop once told a fable about a scorpion and a frog and it went something like this. A scorpion wanted to get across a pond so he asked a frog to carry him across. The frog initially refused because he was afraid that the scorpion would sting him. The frog was convinced, however, when the scorpion pointed out that if he were to sting him then they would both die since without the frog he would drown. Nevertheless, when they were midway across the pond the scorpion stung the frog, dooming them both. When asked why he did it the scorpion simply replied, "I'm a scorpion, it's my nature."
A bullet took out my leg as Tommy and I were running through the forest. Our platoon had been taken out with us as the sole survivors. However, we were able to flee by escaping within the depth of the forest. Despite this, it seemed that the enemy had caught up with us.
After the bullet penetrated my thigh, my leg gave out, allowing me to tumble forward onto the ground. My face landed in the mud. I could have used my hands to catch myself but I was in too much pain to care. Pain throbbed through my entire leg as the heat of the bullet spread across my entire body.
I then felt Tommy drag me by my feet. I turned over, onto on my back, and saw that he was heading towards a cave. When we reached the cave, I was able to crawl inside it and sit against the wall so I could rest.
My relief was short lived; however, when a bullet tore through Tommy's left shoulder, separating his arm from his body. The force of the bullet caused Tommy to stumble forward but he, being a strong man, was able to catch himself by pressing his right hand against the cave wall.
As Tommy struggled to maintain his footing he stared down at his severed arm in what was either shock or disbelief at what had just happened. It doesn't matter either way since immediately after another bullet passed through his back and chest.
When that happened, Tommy briefly lost consciousness and tumbled forward but his legs got tangled so as he fell, he spun around, causing him to fall onto his back. As he laid there, his chest moved up and done, showing me that he was still alive. Shortly after, his eyes opened and he stared at me. As he looked at me, I stared back into his upside down face.
If the bullet had penetrated the left side, where the heart is, Tommy would have died then and there. It would have been quick and painless, well aside from losing his left arm of course. Instead, he laid there, writhing in pain as he struggled to mouth something to me.
He couldn't get the words out but I knew what he wanted. He wanted me to put him out of his misery. Please don't make me do this, I thought to myself before I pulled my gun out and aimed it at his head.
When he saw me aim the gun, he closed his eyes and prepared to die. It took me a few moments before I was able to muster the strength to do the deed. I closed my eyes before pulling the trigger. After I heard the shot wring out, I opened my eyes and saw that the bullet tore through one of his eyes, obliterating it, before making its way through the socket into the brain. He died in an instant. He probably didn't feel a thing.
I wish to the god that I used to believe in that I did that. Instead of firing the gun, I lowered it and said, "I'm sorry."
He just stared at me, dumbfounded, but by the look on his face he probably didn't understand a word that I said. It's better that way. He then looked up at the ceiling of the cave as he begun to sputter out blood. The blood dripped around his mouth the way that spaghetti would decorate a small child's face.
As he choked to death on his own blood, I just watched him, unable to do a thing, unable to perform euthanasia on him. After a while, I could bear it no longer so I raised the gun but by that point it was pointless, in those five to ten minutes that passed by Tommy died.
Before I could lower my gun, a force knocked it out of my hands and sent it flying into the darkness of the cave. The sniper was watching me. There was no escape. So with nothing else to do I looked over at my friend's body, still trying to comprehend what had just happened.
His dead eyes stared back at me, widened and cold as if he were screaming only, instead of a widened mouth, his was slightly open the way that a lobotomites' would be. In the end though, what's the difference?
Despite being a non-believer, I considered giving him his last rites, he was Catholic after all, and that is probably what he would have wanted, and since his body will probably never be recovered, I might as well have done it. But I didn't since I didn't know the words. So I did the next best thing.
"Hail Mary, hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee…" I stopped there since I didn't remember the rest. I only knew that much because I heard Tommy saying that prayer every night.
He would say that he wasn't afraid since God was watching over him and if he died, he knew where he was going. Oh, how I envy him.
Looking back now, I think about the mercy kill that Tommy wanted and how it is ironic that killing is used to relieve pain. Life is funny that way.
I also think about the sniper and his life. I wonder if he had a family. I ponder on what kind of a man he was. Perhaps he was like me, just some goofy high school kid who was dragged into this needless war. Maybe before the draft his main concern was just getting laid. Who knows?
I used to hate him for what he did to Tommy. But I understand now that he was just doing his job and that it was nothing personal. I'm one to talk, since after all, I had taken countless lives during my time in the war so who knows how many wives I had made into widows. I like to think that he hated doing in Tommy just as much as I hated ending the lives of complete strangers who were merely puppets of people who had no real connection to them.
As I laid there bleeding, I realized that I needed to find a way to escape. I tried my best not to give up hope but it was hard not to since I was at a disadvantage. All the sniper had to do was wait it out and he had all the time in the world to do that. I, on the other hand, was slowly bleeding to death.
Although my wound was not deep, it would be only a matter of time before I would lose too much blood. I could have torn a piece of my cloth off and wrapped it around it. But that wouldn't stop it for good so I would have just been delaying the inevitable.
Quickly, I tried to formulate a plan. As I did that, I kept in mind how snipers are trained to wait hours and hours at a time for their target to show up. They were taught to never take their eye off of their prey and to never aim the gun away.
I realized that there was only one thing to do and it was risky. But that was all I had.
I lied down on my stomach and crawled into the darkness, out of the snipers view. Once I was safe, I scrambled to locate my pistol. I crawled around, moving my hands against the floor before feeling a cold piece of metal lying on the ground. After touching it, I grasped the object and felt that it was my gun. Now it was time for the hard part.
Getting back onto my stomach, I crawled out of the shadows. I quickly rolled onto my back before sitting up. I then aimed the gun at my heart and put it on safety before I pulled the trigger. After doing so, I fell backwards as the sniper fired at me. I felt a bullet graze across my forehead as I went to the ground. If I had been off by a millisecond, my brains would have been all over the cave floor.
Whenever I think about that I wonder if there is a god. Things like that don't just happen, you know. But then I think to myself, where had God been when Tommy and I were attacked in the first place? But in the end, who can know for sure?
I then lied there, completely still, keeping my breathing at a minimum. Closing my eyes, I imagined being dead. I imagined it being kind of like sleep. I imagined my consciousness fading away. I imagined what it would be like to completely cease to exist. Most people probably think that it's peaceful. They're wrong. Nothing is more frightening than the thought of no longer existing.
Time quickly went by before I heard footsteps. The sniper had arrived to make sure that we were both dead. Gripping my pistol tightly, and moving faster than I thought I could, I lunged forward, sitting up straight while at the same time I blindly opened fire on the sniper. I screamed like an animal as I did it.
One of my bullets hit his knee cap, causing him to fire his gun on the ground. The bullet bounced off of the floor and moved diagonally into the wall on the other side of the cave before bouncing off and going across to the other wall and stopping.
This happened in less than a second and at the same time I was reloading my clip. The sniper held onto the cave wall and leaned against it, trying to stay up. He struggled to aim his large gun at me before throwing it to the floor and reaching for his sidearm.
By the time he grabbed his hand gun I had finished reloading and I quickly fire upon him. Blood exploded out of his chest, almost like in paint ball as he tumbled to the floor.
I then lowered my gun before trying to get up. Grabbing a giant rock, I attempted to elevate myself off of the floor but when I had finally gotten to my feet, my leg gave out and I fell onto my face, only this time I was able to hold my arms out, catching myself before it hit the ground.
Sighing, I crawled over to the sniper's corpse. When I reached him, I pulled out his pistol and aimed it at his head. In that instant I thought of King Charles II and how he "rekilled" Oliver Cromwell after he had reclaimed his birthright as king.
Luckily, I decided against it, opting to save my bullets for when I would need it. Instead I looked at the sniper as I tried to think of a way to escape. That's when I realized that the chances of me surviving this were nearly impossible.
As I lay there, I thought of Jessie, the girl that I had left behind, and all the children that we would not be able to bring into this God-forsaken world together. I later learned that she married while I was . Naturally, I was angered by this and I fell into a serious depression afterwards.
In the midst of all the alcoholism and the drug abuse that I put myself through in order to get through this ordeal, I realized the truth. Similarly to the sniper, she did what she thought was right. I probably would have done the healthy thing and move on if I were in her place. That's a lie, I probably wouldn't. I would probably just take LSD and drink myself nearly to death like I did when dealing with her marriage. But the important thing is that I have at least acknowledged that she did the healthy thing.
As I thought about her and all the moments we had spent together (that night we spent together where we stole my dad's car and drove out into the middle of nowhere so we could just stare at the stars together especially came to mind) I finally did the sensible thing by ripping off a piece of my jacket and tying it tightly around wound so as to stop the bleeding.
I then just sat there and watched as day became night. As the air became cold, I shivered but at the same I endured. I endured for several weeks. By the end of it, I had developed a fever and I became delirious.
Throughout my final days I sung all of my favorite songs, completely oblivious to the noise it made. But by some miracle, the enemy never heard it. So I just sat there and sung songs by David Bowie, James Taylor, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, and others. I'm not sure why I did it. Perhaps it was because I was bored or maybe because during that period of time I had completely lost my mind.
Finally, I was discovered by a platoon that belonged to my side, the "right" side. They were astonished when they saw me and they immediately called for a chopper. In no time, a chopper arrived and they took me to their base where I received medical attention. The bullet was removed, my wound was treated, and I was able to regain my proper body temperature. All was well, physically at least.
Very soon, I realized that although I had cheated death this time, I knew that I could never escape it. That nothingness was inevitable. The worst part of all though, was that my life is completely meaningless. It amounts to nothing in the grand scheme of things. In a thousand years the war I fought will be irrelevant.
Again, I'm not religious but I found wisdom in this passage: Ecclesiastes 1: 8-11: "All of life is far more boring than words could ever say. Our eyes and ears are never satisfied with what we see and hear. Everything that happens has happened before; nothing is new, nothing under the sun. Someone might say, "Here is something new!" But it happened before, long before we were born. No one who lived in the past is remembered anymore, and everyone yet to be born will be forgotten too."
Sometimes I try my hardest to comprehend the human condition. How is it that, despite us having consciousness and free will, we still behave like animals? And better yet, how could animals become advanced enough to comprehend why they behave like animals? Perhaps it was so we could learn from our mistakes and create a better world. Then again, better is just another label too.