Archive for the ‘Social Issues’ Category

Sleeping among the dead

October 19, 2010

By David Farside

Oct.  4th, 2010

The river’s edge on riverside drive is one of my favorite spots in Reno. On Saturday, I ran into an old friend who was busily washing the few clothes he owned in the cold rippling river water. He stretched them over the sun drenched rocks to dry, guarded them with his life and sipped his vodka from a plastic water bottle. His ragged appearance and large physical size was intimidating and usually prevented most people from invading his mental space or challenging his rights to live as he pleased. 

After the dried clothes were neatly folded and rolled in his sleeping bag, he made his way to where I was sitting, sat on the grass and decided to talk. I watched him live his same street lifestyle for more than 40 years. How he lasted this long, I’ll never know.

His father was a local doctor. They lived in Verdi and Steve attended some classes at the University of Nevada, Reno before he decided to join the Army, defending America’s honor in our fight against the Asian “commies.” Little did he know the personal price he would pay and how that decision would affect his life.

He was a physiological victim of American atrocities during the Vietnam War. In and out of mental facilities and prison, he survived by living in the streets.

Steve was one of many naive and unwilling young soldiers involved in killing unarmed Vietnamese villagers.

Although they were no military threat to Americans, we killed them anyway thinking they would give their countrymen refuge in their battle defending their culture against the utopia of the great humane democracy of the Western world. Sound familiar?

Having one of his more coherent days, we discussed religion,  politics and the current war. Steve read the newspapers at the library almost everyday and was well informed about current topics. With reluctance, he talked about the soldiers who were accused of killing civilians in Afghanistan and how it reminded him of his platoon slaughtering the “Innocents in ‘Nam.”

The accused men took pictures of their murdered Afghan victims and were so proud of their accomplishment they kept fingers as war trophies and took pictures to prove their brave deeds to the world. One U.S. soldier was pictured holding the decapitated head of an Afghan civilian by the hair. Maybe he was an American Indian.

In another example of American tax dollars at work. Jeremy Morlock testified on a videotape of throwing a grenade at a civilian for no other reason than to just kill him. Steve said, “It really gives more meaning to the slogan ‘Be proud. Be a Marine.’” I reminded him that these cowards were probably Army Infantry, not Marines, and they were probably a few bad apples in the military barrel. He said, “There are no good apples in war.”

But the killing of civilians in both Afghanistan and Pakistan might soon end: The war may soon be over. We are scheduled to withdraw our troops beginning in 2011. Pakistan, in response to 23 American led missile strikes on Pakistani soil in the last few weeks, murdering many unarmed civilians; combined with the American military crossing its border killing three allied Pakistani soldiers, retaliated and closed the Khyber pass  on the Afghan border.

Afghanistan is a landlocked country and we pay Pakistan billions of dollars annually to use the pass for transporting and supplying 80 percent of nonlethal supplies to our troops in Afghanistan. I’m sure if we give them a few more billion dollars they will reconsider and open the supply route.

The infamous pass has been a channel of war for Alexander the Great, the invasion of Southern Asia by the Muslims and three lost wars by the British against Afghanistan.

Throughout history there have been 15 attempts through the pass to conquer India. Some of the battles were so fierce in the pass one British soldier said every stone in the pass was “soaked in blood.” Rudyard Kipling referred to it as a “sword cut through a mountain.”

Steve drank the last of the vodka, managed a smile and said he felt sorry for the three accused servicemen. He said, “War somehow makes you forget family, religion, morals, self-respect, the politics of democracy and what you’re actually fighting for.”

He said “Once your fired on by the enemy, you learn how to take orders, take leave of your senses and take human life; something I’ll never forget. But something I wish I could forget. Too bad it’s only taken me 40 years living and surviving in the street to find it out.”

Abruptly, the conversation ended. He slung his bedroll over his shoulder and headed for the cemetery on Stoker Avenue and West Fourth Street where he sleeps at night. The unheralded  casualty of combat, victim of politics, martyr for democracy and a veteran of war, rather than conforming to the hypocrisy of our society, still chooses to live in the streets, bathe in the river and sleep among the dead. How sad.

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