The Haunted Courtyard

I don’t closely follow the news out of the ghastly war in Ukraine.

I can’t do it. It’s pretty bad over there, a war to the knife. Killing and fighting on a World War Two scale. Refugees, atrocities, very bad stuff.

However, one can’t escape the news cycle. Not even when I open my email, the information is right there. You can’t ignore it entirely.

This article caught my eye, I had to read it. It was pretty bad. A terrible situation that illustrates what is known as “the prisoner’s dilemma,” a well-known factor in infantry combat.

It’s hard to surrender. Every grunt knows this. When you lay down your arms after battle, anything can happen to you before you are processed and taken to the rear. There are so many factors in the decision to give up. A big one is the reputation of the opposing side. Do they treat their prisoners well? Another is how many people you just killed. Are the other guys going to even consider taking prisoners after you just gunned down their friends? Is someone going to just accept your surrender when you have a smoking machine gun next to you, with a big pile of expended brass beneath it?

I look at some of the commentary in this article, and I shake my head. These people have clearly never been in a fight. They come up with all this lawyerly bullsh*t, and they’ve never spent one day on the line. Hell, they’ve never spent a day in uniform, let alone been in infantry combat.

There was a reason the insurgents took very few prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan. We all knew that our chances of living were pretty slim if taken. Most likely, we’d end up on one of those horrible videos where people were tortured and then beheaded. Plus, we usually won our engagements.

I can personally attest that the US Army goes out of its way to treat its captives fairly and humanely.

I’ve seen the process first-hand. I took prisoners after a vicious little firefight on the morning of the 28th of September, 2011. This was not without personal risk. My guys had taken casualties, and emotions ran high. There I stood, in a shitty little field choked with marijuana plants, shrouded by the red smog from a smoke grenade that I tossed into some weeds. Medevac was inbound, and the fight was kind of over. The wounded were screaming and writhing. My medic was a very busy man.

My Afghans wanted to kill my prisoners. I told these dangerous men to f**k off in no uncertain terms. The prisoners were under my care, custody, and control. Things were tense, to say the least. There was still gunfire, 2nd Rifle Company was engaged in clearing the village. It was very, very bad news.

After a couple of chancy moments, it ended up working out all right. The Afghans stood down, my medic saved a couple of guys’ lives, the prisoners were loaded onto an ambulance, and our guys took a bird.

As I read the article, I couldn’t help but to think on that morning. What if one of the wounded or surrendering insurgents had went for a weapon, or had concealed one, as seems to be the case in this episode in Ukraine?

I don’t doubt that none of them would have lived. It would have happened in the blink of an eye. As soon as one of the prisoners morphed into a deadly threat, they would have all been shot.

This could have happened to me. Easily.

War is an atrocity. You are licensed to engage in that most dreadful activity, taking another’s life. In fact, you are encouraged to do so. They give you shiny medals and financial incentives to kill. They train you in such a way as to dehumanize your opponent to make pulling the trigger easier. This starts in the very beginning. The first time you step onto a firing range, the targets have a human silhouette for a reason- they found out in WW2 that the traditional circular targets don’t mentally prepare the shooter for killing people. So, they switched it up, and these days the E-type silhouette is ubiquitous.

Therefore, I think it’s crazy to compare grunts under fire in a bad situation to characters who chuck women down wells and set up torture rooms.

The former is an ugly combat incident, a haunted courtyard that will probably live in the combatant’s dreams for many years to come. The latter is a deliberate policy enacted by sadistic NKVD types who want to relive their grandpa’s dark fantasies of Soviet power.

This. This is why you don’t start a war. Because wars are disgusting. Let’s just face the fact that war means killing, the waste of lives and resources. The biggest butchers aren’t the besmirched and defiled fellows with the well-worn guns. The ones who end up drinking themselves to death. No, the real butchers wear Saville Row suits. They circulate with diplomatic immunity and have fancy yachts. They die of old age in comfy beds, like Josef f**king Stalin. They give a few orders, and millions die.

Why don’t we put those guys on trial? Why don’t they face justice?

Sometimes this happens. Nuremberg. The Hague.

But something tells me Vladimir Putin will never sit before a tribunal, although his sins are legion.

Ultimately, he is to blame. This terrible situation would have never happened if he hadn’t given the order to roll the tanks into a neighboring nation that just wanted to be left alone.

He created a situation where millions with battle rifles and killing implements were unleashed upon each other in a land that has seen more than its share of apocalyptic violence.

This haunted courtyard. The soldiers twisted in unlovely death.

This is on him.

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