My Truth About War
Mohamed S. Suliman
24 September 2002: My Truth About War.
War;an orgasm of chaos, death, and destruction.
What do you know of war? Besides what you’ve read and saw in movies? Besides what you sit alone in your home fantasizing about. Besides what you think you know. I hold all those who speak of it in contempt. You know nothing of war.
Stick to your books and your theories and your everyday life. Do not talk to me about war. Stick to your college classes and your social circles and speak not of something you haven’t the faintest idea about.
I know war. I have smelled the burning CLP of the 5.56 mm brass as I sent round after round out of the muzzle of my M-16 A2 Service Rifle, and down towards the bosom of the awaiting. I have the scars,acquired in THIS life might I add, to remind me. Memories I can certainly do without. There is no glory in war. There’s no drama or background music as you fall, an enemy bayonet to the stomach presenting half a foot of cold steel to your insides.
It doesn’t work out that way. Speaking in such vague terms belittles everything that goes with putting on a uniform. Let the soldiers speak of war, for only they know what it’s like to hold a friend’s head in your lap as he draws his final breaths, and as his body begins to shut down, releasing all it’s bowls in the process.
War is loud, violent and confusing. There comes a point where you can hardly tell the difference between friend and foe. And the fear, the fear never lets up. The sheer mortal terror, that threatens to freeze you in place, thus sealing your fate, is always by your side. Whispering in your ear.
There is no room for ideals in war. You fight to preserve your own mortality, and the mortality of those who mean the most to you, the men around you at the time.
Friendship is a word that falls short when it comes to describing the bond that grows between those who face such conditions together. Brotherhood and love are nothing but a collection of letters, and sounds that do nothing to describe the emotions involved.
You don’t fight for some silly flag or for mom’s apple pie or some other fuck me in the ass stupid ideal. Sure you might
sign up for those ideals. You might even have those ideals in mind when the shit starts. But rest assured, when you see your fellow soldier gunned down before your very eyes for the first time, all that bullshit about dying for your country goes right out the fucking window.
Those of you supporting sending troops over to hostile, foreign soil, especially politicians; should be aware that war is much like killing a single man, but even more so. It should only be done as an absolute last resort, when no other fathomable options present themselves.
But of course, it’s so easy to send others to do the dying and the fighting for you, while you hide behind the safety of your desks and your computer screens.
Does this strike a nerve?
Good, it was designed to.
Paying taxes is not enough, go enlist or shut the fuck up.
Lance Corporal Suliman, Mohamed S. (SEP)
Second S.T.A Platoon
Third Marine Regiment
United States Marine Corps
He Said, She Said
Garry the Writer
He said “When I met you, you where chasing love bugs at the rivers edge. We where fascinated with the simple things that filled our lives. You discovered life on a small farm in a far away place; I discovered the friendship of a lifetime. Chasing railroad tracks that went from home to the universe and back. While playing down at the river’s edge, I fell in love with the girl next door.
She said “I remember a bright eyed boy that would bring me flowers from the rivers edge. I remember the times we sat and listened to the night, stars shining. Times when we built a fire to cut the night?s cold air and your father would tell story?s of far away places to two kids who knew only the tiny world they lived in. Chasing our dreams across fields, I was as happy as a girl had ever been.”
He said “We reached out into young adult hood, you where the ?Bombshell of Hoboko High?, and I was the country boy that hung out at the country store with a head full of idea?s and the hots for a girl he knew better than himself, a girl he had known for a life time.”
She said “you where always there for me when I needed a friend to fall back on. You where always silent when I thought I had all the answers, you where always understanding when I realized I didn?t. My heart lead me hear and there and you would lead it home again. You where a good friend.”
He said “But I wanted to be more than a friend, I wanted to be your lover, I wanted to be the one you came to for good times, not just when your heart is ripped apart and I would mend it only to send it out again. I wanted you from the very first time I saw you down at the river. The sunset at the river put its spell on me; I would not be happy until you where mine.”
She said “I was young and dumb, I searched the world for the treasures that lay in my pocket. I thought love was an ocean filled with waves, I didn?t know that love could be a bridge over troubled waters. I came to know and appreciate you. I came to realize a love, a love that I had denied.
He said, “I worked hard for us, young and foolish, filled with passion. I worked the riverboats and the cafe?s for a few cents to feed our happy family. You made me a proud father and I loved you for that and so much more.”
She said “I bore you our children, I cleaned the clothes and dusted the mantle that held the pictures of our lives. I stood by you when you had your heart attack and I loved you through our hard times because you where always there, always there for me, always there for our children.”
He said “Then the kids grew up and we grew older, we changed picnics at the river to an evening of chit chat. Though the river still held its charm in our hearts. It seemed the river that once washed life down stream to us now washed our lives down river bit by bit as our children grew up and moved on. Our lives had become like the roots of an old oak down by the river?s side; worn and exposed, protruding out into the air.”
She said “Yes but our roots are strong and run deep, life moved on from struggling parents to proud parents who?s children have done even better than we did. Though we denied the gray hairs that sneaked into our heads we still visited the rivers edge, I still saw the bright-eyed boy picking flowers for the girl next door.”
He said “Here we are now, old and slow, with the best part of our lives down stream and yet my heart is still an oasis of memories and emotions for you my love. Let us sit here on the edge of the river and feel the cold night air once again. Let us enjoy each others warmth one more time before the night takes us.”
She said “Yes this journey of life has been long and I am weary, I have lived and loved, raised life, stood by you and now happily sit by you. Let us write our own ending, choose our own place, let us end the great journey where it was begun.”
They sat together in the cold winter night, huddled together at the river?s edge. They let deep sleep come over them and they dreamed of days gone by. The next day a neighbor found them huddled together, a handful of flowers and a soft smile; and the river flowed on.
His name is Stoney. Stoney Stevens.
My apologies to Stoney if I have misspelled his name,
but I’m not a reporter. I didn’t have a tape recorder
with me, or even a notepad, and I wasn’t prepared for
the chance encounter.
Most people would never stop and consider (or even
care) that this insignificant speck of human flotsam
had ever been given a name by loving parents. To them,
“derelict”, “vagrant”, or “homeless guy” is
sufficient. And “Stoney” isn’t some streetwise
nickname that was given to him by his fellow discards.
Although he’s not sure why, it was the “name his mama
gave him”, and it’s about the only possession he has
that can’t be taken away.
I was out taking photos of some parts of St. Pete that
are never mentioned in the travel brochures when I
first saw him. He was emerging from a patch of tall
grass between the seldom-used railroad tracks and a
rusted chain link fence. When I looked in his
direction, he immediately dropped down, attempting to
hide himself with what little cover he could find.
“Hey, howya’ doin’?”, I called out.
Evidently he decided I was not there to prey upon him,
or to displace him from the little patch of dismay
that is his world. He peered back from beneath the
brim of a dirty black ball cap. “Okay. How ’bout you?”
Even though I’ve lived in St. Pete for going on 48
years, I’m new to this. Trying to “fit in”, I called
“Aw, same s***, different day.”
“Yea, I heard that”, came the reply.
Side stepping broken bottles and unidentifiable shards
of metal, I continued down the tracks, grabbing the
odd shot here and there, until I felt the warm splat
of rain from an approaching summer storm. As I headed
back for my car, Stoney was crossing the tracks,
seeking the shelter of a nearby warehouse overhang. I
stowed my gear in the trunk, with the exception of the
Minolta I was using for black and white. By this
time, he was sitting on a discarded plastic crate,
leaning against the rough brick wall. He seemed
oblivious – no, make that unconcerned – about my
approach. He pulled a pack of Bugle Boy from
his pants pocket, and proceeded to roll a smoke.
Stoney is… I don’t know – mid to late forties? It’s
difficult to say with any certainty. His skin is
tanned – not the glowing, tropical tan of a sun
worshiper, but more like the chemical tan of crudely
processed leather. His eyes are tired, accented with
dried bags of skin. There are old tattoos on his arms,
some professionally done, while others look as though
they may have been scratched there with God-only-knows
what sort of device. He is shirtless, with ill-fitting
pants held up with a dirty bandana threaded through
the remaining belt loops. He has scars on his face,
hands, arms, and I would suspect other, less
conspicuous places. His speech is clear, but slow and
economical, punctuated with the occasional rasping
Talking with Stoney is an education; the more you talk
to him, the more you begin to put your own life in
perspective. He came to St. Pete 15 years ago from
West Virginia. From what I could gather, he didn’t
to work in the coal mines, so he headed to Florida.
I’m not sure what kind of life he expected to find
here, but I’m pretty sure this wasn’t it. In his
parlance, life on the street “sucks”, and St. Pete is
“hell”. He has tried to find work, but to no avail.
In his time here, he has been beaten, robbed, shot,
and stabbed, each on multiple occasions. Two
of the stab wounds were in the neck, near the
windpipe. He almost didn’t survive that attack. He
didn’t mention what year it happened, but he did
recall the day – Thanksgiving.
He hopes to make it back to the mountains of West
Virginia some day. Until then, he spends his days
picking up aluminum cans for the few cents it earns
him, or sometimes standing at interstate exits with a
sign that reads not “need money” but, simply, “need
work”. When he’s not doing that, he sits in whatever
protected area he can find, smoking hand rolled
cigarettes and drinking Colt 45 from a paper bag.
Admittedly, there are better ways he might spend what
little money he has, but this is his means of escape –
rather like movies, vacations, dinner out, cocaine, or
a nice Verdi opera, but scaled to his limited means.
Ironically, Stoney is like the inhabitant of some
impoverished Third World nation. Like them, he lives
in squalor, subsisting on only pennies a day. But in
contrast to them, he is living this way not in a
country ravaged by drought and civil war, but in the
middle of a city of over a quarter million people,
within site of Tropicana Field, not terribly far from
museums, yacht clubs, and trendy bistros.
I asked Stoney if he would mind if I photographed him.
He muttered that, naw, he didn’t care. I took only two
shots, neither of which showed his face. That seemed
somehow appropriate, since faceless is the way he
appears to the rest of society. I shook his hand (He
appeared surprised by this gesture – I got the feeling
this was something that didn’t happen too often), and
gave him the remaining two singles from my wallet.
Maybe he’ll spend it on food, maybe tobacco, or
possibly on another bottle of Colt 45. Or maybe he’ll
be beaten and robbed, before he has a chance to spend
it. It’s happened before. The last guy who tried wound
up on the business end of a butcher knife. Us decent
folk recoil at the very idea of such an encounter. For
Stoney, it’s a matter of survival. The status quo.
I remember some years ago when the old Gas Plant area
was razed, and the sparkling new sports arena was
going to be built. Politicians, developers, and sports
franchises told us what a boon it would be. How it
would create jobs. How it would help revitalize the
downtown area, bring revenue into the community, and
be a shining example of all that is good and right.
I wonder if anyone bothered telling Stoney.
You can see a picture of Stoney at
http://www.geocities.com/philpenne. Click on “People”
under the “Black and White” area.