Looking back, it seems as though I went directly from suckling at my mother’s breast to being a soldier. Oh, I had a few years of what might be called childhood, but given the conditions, they were not happy or carefree. Violence and war and atrocity were all I knew. Fighting and killing came to me quite naturally.
Every male I knew over the age of 9 had been conscripted into the ragtag group of fighters known as The Army. The older boys, the ones in their teens, were our leaders. None of us had ever had any real adult male supervision. Our fathers and grandfathers and uncles were long dead by the same violence we perpetuated. Some — bastards by rape — didn’t even know who their fathers were. There was no one to teach us how to be men so we followed our baser instincts. We were not much better than animals.
We had no genuine ideals or any concept of what we were fighting for. If there had once been a noble cause at the root, we had long since forgotten what it was. By the time I carried a gun, my only goal was self-gratification and self-preservation. None of us had any reason to believe we would live past twenty, so we thought only about what we wanted in the moment.
We were usually high on drugs and liquor. They were so easy to get, we considered them part of our rations. This, in conjunction with the raging hormones of young men, made a volatile combination.
We took what we wanted at gun point. There were few who could stop us. We raped as casually as smoking a cigarette. None of us had any idea how to be tender with a woman. Such behavior was simply not in our emotional vocabulary.
There were often deadly fights even among our own soldiers. What did it matter if you killed someone or someone killed you? Death was ubiquitous. We were inured.
When there is no meaning to life, death, too, is meaningless.
One day, out of our minds on various intoxicants including sniffing kerosene, we came upon an encampment — women and children and a few old or crippled men who had fled from their decimated villages. They were protected by some soldiers from the other side who were better armed than we were but far fewer in number. We killed many of them. The rest fled.
And then had our way with the women.
School girls were raped by boys no older than they were, and in many cases younger. A small group of soldiers found one girl whom they all seemed to favor, and each took his turn with her. She covered her face with her scarf in humiliation. They were cruel. They were brutal. They treated her with less consideration than a wild dog.
And then it was my turn.
I unfastened my shorts. I was already excited from watching. I climbed on top of her. Her scarf fell away for a moment. Was this my sister?! I had not seen her in a few years but she looked like her. What had happened to our village that she was here? Was our mother still alive?
She seemed to recognize me too, and a pleading look passed across her face but she said nothing.
My thoughts on this matter were fleeting. It didn’t matter who she was. The fate of my birthplace or my mother or my family was not at all relevant in that moment.
I raped her in turn, same as the others, then moved aside to allow the next in line. I walked away, joking with my friends, and didn’t give her a second thought.
Never in my short life did I feel a moment’s remorse for that incident. I never felt a moment of remorse about anything I did — not about the innocents I tortured or killed for reason or simply for laughs; not about the destruction and devastation I’d help wreak on my country. I did not mourn the theft of my youth or my family or my humanity. I regretted nothing because I knew no other way. There was only the most immediate future.
When I was about 15, there was an explosion in our weapons store. Many were injured or killed. There was blood everywhere — my own and others. I looked down to see my legs had been blown off. I lay there immobile, my life flowing out of me, my blood mixing with the dirt. I knew I was dying but what did it matter? If it weren’t from this, it would have soon been from something else, something just as gruesome.
I see that without spiritual guidance, without a voice of morality, it does not take more than a single generation for civilization to fall away; for humans to turn back into animals.
Vigilance is the backbone of humanity.