I Am Become Battle, How White Be My Tears
The wait at the disembarkation center went on for hours and hours, but the training would soon start. A bus would take us all to the place where good, strong men would show us all how to be good, strong men. They would teach us. They would be stern, but they would help us learn the ways of bravery, honor, and manliness. Those sergeants would be good to us, and their lessons would be good for us. The recruiter told me I'd do fine.
The bus driver talked with a corporal as we went down the road from the center to the base. Every now and then, that corporal would make some oblique comment back to us about how we were about to "get it," or something like that. He and the bus driver would start laughing almost hysterically.
After we went through the base gates, the bus driver pulled up to a group of uniformed men wearing big, Smokey-the-Bear type of hats. As soon as the bus stopped, the world changed. All at once, the door opened, the corporal stood up and started screaming at us, and what seemed like every one of those men who had been waiting for us suddenly boarded the bus yelling and cursing.
"Get your fuckin' gear and get off this bus NOW!"
"What th' fuck are you waiting for, little girl?!"
"Move yer ass, you fairy!"
We climbed off the bus as fast as we could, and more of those violent men were waiting for us down below, screaming, yelling, swearing.
"Where are you going, you piece of shit?! Did I tell you to go somewhere?!! Get down and knock me out twenty RIGHT NOW!"
"What th' fuck are you lookin' at, asshole?!" Get down and knock me out twenty!"
It made no sense. People were on the ground doing push-ups, other people were running nowhere because no one had told them where to run.
"You have walked the last step of your sorry-ass life, trainee!"
"I can't hear you counting! Start again!"
"Don't you DARE call me 'Sir', you dumbass. You say 'ONE, Drill Sergeant; TWO, Drill Sergeant'; like THAT. Think your little cunt can handle it?"
"Where the fuck do you think you're going?! You don't go ANYWHERE, you don't do ANYTHING, unless I TELL YOU TO... YOU GOT THAT, MUTHERFUCKER?!"
Different drill sergeants were screaming different orders. Trainees were falling over each other. Some were crying hysterically.
"Aw, look at them tears comin' down. You wanna go home, now? WELL, YOU AIN'T. Your mutherfuckin' ass is MINE!"
ONE, DRILL SERGEANT... TWO, DRILL SERGEANT... THREE, DRILL SERGEANT...
"Yer gonna be one strong-ass trainee when I'm finished with you."
"What the fuck are you lookin' at?! You don't look at me, you fuckin' queer!"
"DO YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU DISOBEY A DIRECT ORDER, BOY?"
"Is your name 'Tinkerbell'?!"
NO, DRILL SERGEANT.
"DON'T YOU FUCKIN' SAY NO T' ME, you piece-a-shit. If I tell you yer fuckin' name's 'Tinkerbell', that's yer name, Tinkerbell! An' that's gonna be yer name from now on!!"
Trainees stopped looking at anything. No one wanted to see someone being shaken by the lapels, no one wanted to see another guy crying, no one wanted to be there anymore.
It made no sense. None whatsoever. The madness, the confusion. They were all screaming different things at us. There was no ordering of the world in this place; it was just insanity stirred to bizarre proportions by men who had absolutely no self-control, who wanted to hurt us, who were hurting us.
And it didn't let up. As fast as we could run, they were right there at our sides screaming and yelling. It was coming from all directions. They got right in our way, and if we tripped and fell down, we got kicked violently by everyone else trying to keep moving forward.
Sounds all around us. Yelling voices, ear-piercing whistles, feet pounding the ground, men gasping for air, choking, vomiting, crying, sobbing.
It didn't make sense. It was madness. And it kept going on. One minute, there'd be no one around; then, all of a sudden, they'd all be there screaming and cursing, ordering us to do something. Standing in lines, the drill sergeants would suddenly be all around: two would gang up on one trainee, screaming at him in both ears, then punishing him for not obeying.
Tear gas training: trying to deal with putting a mask on, getting screamed at, snot and tears pouring out, ear-shattering whistles, more yelling, stumbling, coughing, puking.
Smoke: sounds coming from every direction and from nowhere, threats coming from everywhere, something to do that didn't matter because everything was madness.
Explosions, gunfire: thuds and pops. Ears deafened, nostrils burning, eyes welling up with tears, body aching, skin itching like fire from sweat and dust.
Then, more madness. Then nothing.
Then more insanity.
Not training. Learning.
I become acclimated to the confusion; I start to revel in it; I come to be a part of it.
The sounds, the smells, the blinding lights, the pain, the degradation: none of it matters. Neither do I, as long as I do what I'm supposed to; and that's a good thing. My senses, my feelingsmy very lifeare irrelevant. All that matters is the task before me.
A generation and half a world away was a sprawling place called Fallujah, where lived people: men, women, kids, pets, birds, rodents, and a scattering of armed boy-men and their inspirational leaders. The thugs sort of had their way, occasionally brandishing old AK-47s they fired every now and then. The extent of their training was the harangue of their religious mentors and senior thugs, themselves perhaps seasoned to combat to the extent of hit-and-run operations they had survived in low-level conflict with an army of occupation. No really formal, widespread, intense, sustained training. Not much theoryjust action... a lot of fervent belief... more than a little swagger borne of youth's sense of immortality, not just in the after-life, but in the here and now, too.
The battlefield is not three dimensions. Width, breadth, and height are only the most primitive of the axes of warspace. A battlefield is a large clutch of dimensions waiting to be opened, prepared for exploitation, availed of management.
The sonic dimension is a vast drum waiting to be pounded rhythmically, each pulse stunning the ears, confusing the mind. The thermal dimension is an oven waiting to be turned on, crackling the skin, confusing the mind. The shockwave dimension is an ocean of air ready to articulate concussive force through a body as if it were a thin curtain. The emotional dimension is a chessboard waiting for a master to play the fool into a corner of rage, confusing the mind.
The inventory of weapons is a list of fingers, each tuned to stroke one or more dimensions of that zone, each geared to construct a field ripe with enemy combatants ready to be killed.
The battle begins as a symphony of harmonics, with each dimension suddenly, violently revealing itself to the enemy. The dimensions curl down over his world, compressing it into an ever tightening sensorial experience for which he has no response save panic.
Artillery shells rip into houses and buildings, sweeping them into smoke and raining rubble. The smoke fills the air and burns the eyes. Small arms fire makes ZIP-ZIP-ZIP sounds. Snarling aircraft spit bright little stars that race to the ground and wreck the Earth. Blinding flashes crash through the retinae, mind-numbing explosions excavate the ground and obliterate more houses. Debris makes even the simple dimensions of width and breadth treacherous. Below trees and in the streets lie dead birds, killed by shock waves where they had been perched before they could take flight.
Screaming. Horrified screaming. Bullets and shrapnel make people scream. Kids bawl, old women wail. People hit by pieces of metal howl, sometimes uncontrollably. They run, they lie down, they writhe, they bleed to death. Usually, they get quiet pretty soon.
It's important, that screaming. In blinding smoke, it adds a mind-wrenching overtone in the repertoire of the sonic dimension. But bullets and shrapnel aren't as good as some other fingers to stroke that high note of horror.
To make smoke is one thing; to make it with white phosphorous is quite something else. Chemicals land on the skin like globs and bits of molten plastic, sinking in, making the skin bubble. Try to wipe it away, and the hands turn into raging pain, too. The flesh becomes something that falls away in smoke, ash, and chemical residue. The pain can't be stopped: it goes in, through, and out. White phosphorous kills; but far more importantly, it maims. Killing the enemy does not confuse his battlefield nearly as much as maiming combatants and civilians alike because it is those morbid wounds that cause people to become screaming, disruptive, insistent, shrieking, enraging, horrifying deterrents to the enemy's sense of order.
Maiming is a battlefield management tool.
Women holding pieces of their children run hysterically at you, past you, in front of you. Like you're supposed to do something. Touch one of those human tragedies, and you turn into a screaming, useless statistic, too.
A dog runs by making ungodly sounds, half of his hind quarter nothing but a charred bone. Kids screaming from somewhere in the smoke. Some old woman bawling prayer that doesn't even sound right. Part of her face might be gone.
Civilians, combatants, animals, all of them blisters, black ash, bones showing, red and purple, naked skin parading around all of those other dimensions of confusion.
Shrieks and quiet alternate; thuds, unearthly snarls, and dead calm dance in the tiny place left of you.
The smell of burnt human flesh wafts with the smell of smoldering wood and flaming gasoline.
Some places, the dead are charred bodies; other places, they're pieces smeared in pools and congealing streams of blood.
As the battle rages into the night, the stillness plays to the hand of chaos. Someone walks by, oblivious in his shock. The POP-POP-POP up ahead ends his misery. The sickening smell of burning flesh becomes the putrid pall of rotting corpses. Trucks drive wildly through the streets. Maybe a woman on the passenger side is holding something against her chest.
The BOOM a few minutes later might be that truck getting obliterated by a stand-off weapon.
They can see you at night. If you move around, you die. Trying to put together an improvised explosive device on a road might end with your head splattered away by a sniper.
The walls that were once houses are chambers of moans and prayers. Women kneel, rocking slowly, almost absently, before their little piles of bodies. Men and animals lie waiting for ambulances or other vehicles to take them somewhere that's probably going to get bombed anyway. Pops and whumps occasionally pepper the sonic landscape. When you can, you rig a body. Better still, you rig a wounded fellow combatant who's still alive: he says nothing as you lay him back down on the trigger that will set off the explosion when they come and kick him over.
You try your best to become part of the confusion; but you're not capable of creating the sustained chain that turns confusion into chaos. You just can't do that part. You don't have the training.
Burning straw and grass were used a long time ago; then it was burning oil. Eventually, chlorine gas would come along, as well as other chemicals: VX and other "nerve" agents. But the incendiary stuff is always the best. Magnesium doesn't go out, even if a victim jumps in the water. The jellies came along, and they were super. Napalm was outstanding, if somewhat unidimensional. White phosphorous is better: it's slower, it makes smoke and light as it rends flesh and bone. It builds confusion with every injury it has wrought.
We who use such weapons are acclimated to confusion; we revel in it; we are a part of it.
As we endow the arena of our enemies with confusion, we deliver to them a battlefield of chaos over which they have no control, for which they have no training, upon which they have no hope of domination. They are just unwelcome visitors to our home, temporary intruders in our world. We are not the instrument of chaos; we are chaos.
And as we are chaos, we are more than just the owners of the battlefield: we are the battlefield.
The Dark Wraith has offered his perspective.