Soldier, Can You Hear?

by Andreas Toupadakis

October 1, 2001

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You were dreaming last night of your wife and your little daughter and you felt a great desire to hold them in your arms and tell them how much they meant for your life and happiness. You finally called them and told them "I will be back soon, in just a few weeks, until we finish the job, then I will see you and we will have a good time." You hung up the phone and you could not forget the weeping of your wife. Your daughter was giggling; she would weep too if she knew, but she is just a little baby. You know your wife is weeping because she does not know if she will see you again.

You say to yourself; "My country has given me such a miracle plane, and anyway, I have orders to fly thousands of feet high. I will drop my load and no doubt I will come back. At that altitude, there is nothing that can touch me. I will be back." And with that conviction, the next day you climb your beloved hawk, which has never been used in combat yet. Your are anxious to try the real job and finish it, to restore peace in the world. You enter your plane with confidence and you feel proud of your country. It never crossed your mind that you are high above someone else's country, ready to kill citizens that never did anything to any one of your country's citizens or to your family. Again you feel the urgency to hold your family in your arms. You wonder what they are doing or thinking at this moment as you are ready to push the button. Well, what else would they be thinking? They will be thinking what you have always told them. "We serve the world. We are the world's watchers. We restore peace in every troubled spot on earth. That is our job and we are proud of it." In a second, you have pushed the button. The load is descending and now you are ready to come back. The job is done. You tell yourself, "I have done my duty; I have served my country and peace. I have not died either, and I can do this again and again if I am asked to. I offer justice and peace and in this way, people like me can now enjoy what I will enjoy in a few days, my wife and my daughter, their smiles and their warmth.

You return to the base and you are saluted as a hero. "Job well done" you hear from your lieutenant, and you feel proud and happy.

Oh, Soldier! Your work is anathema to the powers of the universe, to anything that has to do with beauty and life and joy, to everything that you yourself love and desire to enjoy. What you have done is distasteful to your family. If they could see what you have done, they would be horrified. They would not have the strength to touch you, to hold you in their arms. Soldier, what have you done?

If they had seen the hell you created in that village, the different parts of human and animal bodies scattered under the trees on the grass of the earth, the blood everywhere, the agony of that little boy weeping for the family that is gone forever. Yes, over there is the head of his little sister and over there is the hand of his beloved mother, the same hand that touched his hair a moment before. He remembers the words of his mother, "Do not be afraid, everything will be okay. There are some good people in their government and they will stop it." But now it happened. The mother is no more, only her pieces can he see scattered around, and such a force comes out of him. The little boy is devastated. The first thought comes, "When I grow up, I will go and find those who took my mother's kind smile away. I will kill them all the same way they killed my mother and my family. I will turn them into pieces." Then after the prolonged weeping, silence comes and out of these strong feelings and terrible vision, the kind smile of the mother comes back and her words sound kind and clear, "There are some good people." The boy finds peace in his soul; his mother hasn't really died.

And if your family, soldier, had seen the beautiful eyes of the 15-year-old girl in the hospital, unable to speak because of weeping, her body, her legs full of metal pieces, metal pieces from your load, soldier. And a few of them hit her spine. She will be in a bed forever. And if your family, soldier, could see the man without any legs in the hospital, what would your wife think of you? And the man is a brave man. Listen to what he said, soldier, "Life is beautiful; I feel that I can still live on." And does your daughter know? Will you tell her when she grows up that a little girl with soft hair and as innocent a smile as your daughter's was lying on a pile of rocks and wood, a lifeless body, because you served peace, as you said?

You never really wondered why you dropped your load from so high, 'bombing from fifteen thousand feet above the victims.' You thought it was to save your life and that was a good reason not to question it further. You think that you are not a coward; you are a brave soldier, as you were told. But it never occurred to you, and you were never interested enough to find out, that the political agenda of your government was, "Never again will we bring body bags back to the country. We need the public to be quiet. Therefore, do the job with whatever it takes but with no casualties on our side." And this agenda serves you, soldier, because now you are not dead, you can go and see your family again.

You come back and yellow ribbons are all over the airport and the city, and your family and friends are now calling you a hero. You accept all this and after you have touched your wife and daughter and you have enjoyed their smiles, now you again feel that you are not the same as the enemy. You think that they murdered, but you brought peace. What makes you think that you are not doing the same thing as the enemy? Because you pushed the button and you saw no hell? Your government has the power to justify what you have done around the world and present it as just and noble, and so the years go by. And one day it happens. Your daughter, now a college student, has become an activist and has invited you and your wife to a lecture by a pacifist, and after the speech you cannot walk away from the room. You come forth and you say to the pacifist, "I understand what you are saying," and you break into tears before the crowd of the people. Your wife now pulls you away. "Let's go home, let's go." But now you feel like speaking; you must speak; otherwise, it remains a real hell for you."

Soldier, now that you have heard, now that you have understood, will you tell the others?


       Andreas Toupadakis, Ph.D. 1990, University of Michigan, has done research as a chemist in industry, academia and two US Government laboratories. In January 2000, Dr. Toupadakis resigned from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in protest against the further development of nuclear weapons. Since then he has been lecturing on peace and environmental issues at many universities and colleges, including Tufts University, MIT, the University of Notre Dame, San Francisco State University, Humboldt State University and Waseda University in Tokyo.

       Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Peter Phillips 2001. All rights reserved.

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Published October 1, 2001
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