Woke up at 0200 local.
Couldn't sleep, the ghosts of my past were screaming too loud.
Then I realised that I was screaming too.
The ghosts resolve themselves and take on form, outlined in the haze of last night's bottle and cigarette smoke in the early morning fog.
They always come, a black parade marching past.
"Why, Kapitan?" Their faces always seem to ask, pleading for an answer I don't have.
"Why did we have to die? Why us, and not you, Kapitan?"
I hate remembering, but I don't think I could forgive myself if I ever forgot.
Not sure it would make a difference, though.
I can't forgive myself anyway, and God can't seem to forgive me, either.
The worst part is knowing I'm no good for anyone when I'm like this,
Knowing that I can't do anything to help when I'm like this.
Knowing my friends could have.
Knowing it's as good as my fault that they can't, because they aren't here to anymore.
I wish my friends had made it.
I wish I hadn't.
We were all in that place together, all in the fight together, same blood, sweat, tears, same mud, snow, sand and rock.
We dug out our rat-warren fighting holes amidst half-collapsed, bullet-pocked walls,
and fouled, barren, crater-strewn earth, scarred with tank tracks and rusting hulks.
Clutching at our rifles as though they could offer us salvation,
In no-man's-lands lit by the hellish ochre glow of burning homes and vehicles,
Festooned with razorwire and adorned with the rotting corpses of the unlucky,
While the skies roared their fury in a rain of incoming fire.
The shriek of rockets,
The rattling chatter of machine guns,
The clattering staccato of rifles,
The howling of strike jets,
The buzz of helicopters,
The skull-throbbing thump of cannons,
The screams of the wounded,
The moans of the dying,
Melded into a macabre orchestra of darkness.
All the while, the invaders laughed at our feeble defense of our homes, the lands of our grandfathers' grandfathers.
The occupiers laughed, mocking our efforts, as they stole whatever they liked,
beat whoever they liked,
defiled our temples,
outlawed our Gods,
forbade us our languages,
shat in our houses,
burned our fields,
poisoned our herds,
murdered our sons, and
raped our daughters.
Where others cowered and cried beneath the boots of our oppressors,
We took up what meager arms we could make or scavenge, hoisted our banners, and sought to claim our independence,
to restore to our nation and our people, the freedom that had been denied us for generations.
The struggle was long, arduous, and bitter-fought.
Hunger, hardship, horror, and heartbreak were our constant companions.
Only our idealistic dreams of victory, and our faith in God's provision for us, sustained us through the roughest of the lean times.
Most of the old men had gone to fight already, until there were hardly any old men left.
So when the army came through for the conscriptions, they took us, instead.
Farm boys and village kids with rusty secondhand popguns, or leftovers from our grandfathers' war,
Or ancient muskets and jezzails that once hung over the hearth, inscribed with blessings and records of the deeds of their wielders, heroes whose names we could no longer speak, written in a hand we could no longer read.
When I look back, I don't wonder how we could have won.
Victory was a fool's vain hope in that place.
I wonder how we lasted as long as we did.
In the end, though, we were defeated.
Most of us who fought there, died there.
Not much of a surprise when you send a bunch of kids with rifles that are empty to charge at machine guns that aren't.
Mercy was a weakness in the eyes of our foes, an alien concept, and so they would show none, certainly not to us, those
whom they had been taught to hate and fear, as something other, less than human.
I know one other person from "our side" from those days who survived, but we don't much talk.
They can't revisit that time without completely losing themselves in grief and rage.
I can't find it in my heart to blame them.
Sometimes I wonder if I died there, and my body just hasn't caught on yet.
I hate myself for it, but more and more, I want to die.
I wish I had died years ago.
I know I can't go back home.
I just want to go be with my wife and daughter again.
But I know I won't get to go where they are.
If I hadn't been fighting, they wouldn't have been targets.
More blood on my hands.
It never washes off.
I just don't want to feel anymore.
And I'm no longer sure that's wrong.