'You can't wash your hands when they're covered in blood'
By Hart Viges
09/24/05 "The Independent" -- -- My name is Hart Viges. September 11 happened. Next day I was in the recruiting office. I thought that was the way I could make a difference in the world for the better.
So I went to infantry school and jump school and I arrived with my unit of the 82nd Airborne Division. I was deployed to Kuwait in February 2003. We drove into Iraq because Third Infantry Division was ahead of schedule, and so I didn't need to jump into Baghdad airport.
As we drove into Samawa to secure their supplies my mortar platoon dropped numerous rounds on this town. I watched Kiowa attack helicopters fire Hellfire missile after Hellfire missile. I saw a C130 Spectre gunship ... it will level a town. It had belt-fed artillery rounds pounding with these super-Gatling guns.
I don't know how many innocents I killed with my mortar rounds. I have my imagination to pick at for that one. But I clearly remember the call-out over the radio saying "Green light on all taxi-cabs. The enemy is using them for transportation".
One of our snipers called back on the radio saying "Excuse me but did I hear that order correctly? Green light on all taxi cabs?" "Roger that soldier. You'd better start buckling up." All of a sudden the city just blew up. Didn't matter if there was an innocent in the taxi-cab - we laid a mortar round on it, snipers opened up.
Next was Fallujah. We went in without a shot. But Charlie Company decided they were going to take over a school for the area of operations. Protesters would come saying "Please get out of our school. Our children need this school. We need education".
They turned them down. They came back, about 40 to 50 people. Some have the bright idea of shooting AK-47s up in the air. Well a couple of rounds fell into the school ... They laid waste to that group of people.
Then we went to Baghdad. And I had days that I don't want to remember. I try to forget. Days where we'd take contractors out to a water treatment plant outside of Baghdad.
We'd catched word that this is a kind of a scary place but when I arrive there's grass and palm trees, a river. It's the first beautiful place that seemed untouched by the war in Iraq. As we leave, RPGs come flying at us. Two men with RPGs ran up in front of us from across the road.
"Drop your weapons". "Irmie salahak." They're grabbing on to women and kids so [we] don't fire. I can't take any more and swing my [gun] over. My sight's on his chest, my finger's on the trigger. And I'm trained to kill but this is no bogey man, this is no enemy. This is a human being. With the same fears and doubts and worries. The same messed-up situation.
I don't pull the trigger this time ... it throws me off. It's like they didn't tell me about this emotional attachment to killing. They tried to numb me, they tried to strip my humanity. They tried to tell me that's not a human being - that's a soft target.
So now, my imagination is running ... What if he pulled his trigger? How many American soldiers or Iraqi police, how many families destroyed because I didn't pull my trigger. After we leave this little village we get attack helicopters, Apaches, two Bradley fighting vehicles, and we go back. And we start asking questions. Where are they? Eventually they lead us to this hut where this family is living, and myself and [another soldier] started searching for AK-47s, for explosives, for RPGs, you know ... evidence. And all I can find is a tiny little pistol, probably to scare off thieves
Well because of that pistol we took their two young men ... Their mother is at my feet trying to kiss my feet like I deserve my feet to be kissed. Screaming, pleading. I don't need to speak Arabic to know love and concern and fear. I had my attack helicopter behind me, my Bradley fighting vehicle, my armour, my M4 [semi-automatic] with laser sight. I'm an 82nd Airborne killer. But I was powerless ... to ease this woman's pain.
After I came home I applied for conscientious objector [status]. I'm a Christian, what was I doing holding a gun to another human being? Love thy neighbour. Pray for those who persecute you, don't shoot them.
I get my conscientious objector packet approved. I'm free. It's all gone now, right? No! I still swerve at trash bags ... fireworks ... I can't express anything. All my relationships are falling apart because they can't fucking understand me. How do they know the pain I've gone through or the sights I've seen? The innocence gone, stripped, dead? I couldn't stand the pain. People were leaving me.
I couldn't cut my wrists. So I called the police. They come stomping through my door. I have my knife in my hand. "Shoot me." All of a sudden I was the man with the RPG, with all the guns pointed at him, thinking "Yes, we can solve the world's problems by killing each other". How insane is that? Lucky I lived through that episode. See, you can't wash your hands when they're covered in blood. The wounds carry on. This is what war does to your soul, to your humanity, to your family.
My name is Hart Viges. September 11 happened. Next day I was in the recruiting office. I thought that was the way I could make a difference in the world for the better.