Friday 23 March 2012

At the Unicorn Races

It was, as Grandmother said, a nice sunny day for the unicorn races.

“You’ve got to be on your best behaviour,” Grandmother had warned. “I’m not going to put up with any mischief.”

She was a formidable old lady, ramrod-straight and with a face so stern that Jack and Jill were terrified of her. It was perhaps, as Mother had said, remarkably kind of her to take them to the unicorn races, but Jack and Jill had had the feeling that it would be more trouble than fun for them, especially since they had been washed and brushed and made to put on their very best clothes, which they both hated intensely.

All the way to the racetrack, Grandmother lectured the twins on correct deportment and behaviour, and their spirits sank lower and lower. They even wished they’d contracted the ‘flu going round among the other children in their class, so they’d have got out of this.

Their depression lifted, though, when they saw the racetrack. It was a riot of colours, with women in funny hats who talked animatedly among themselves, and men in flat caps and coats with leather patches on their elbows who made hand signals to each other.

“Stay close to my side,” Grandmother said. “I’ll get a list of the runners for the next race and...”

Jack and Jill forgot to listen to what she was saying next, because they were so busy watching the unicorns walk out on the track before being taken to the starting gates. They were gorgeous, each with its long horn covered in a blunt-tipped sheath in the animal’s owner’s colours, green and golden, silver and blue, red and burgundy. The prepubescent jockeys, looking tiny even next to their small mounts, were as flamboyantly clad, and waved their riding crops in salute to the crowd.

“It’s a race for two-year-old mares,” Grandmother said, reading from the list. “Now let’s see which one has the best odds...”

“Look at that one,” Jack said, pointing at a high-stepping black unicorn with a purple and yellow striped sheath on her horn. “She’s gorgeous.”

“Ooh, yes,” Jill agreed. “I’m sure she’ll win. Grandma? Do you think that one there will win?”

Frowning, Grandmother looked up from the paper and peered down at the track. The unicorn wore the number 19 on her saddlecloth, and Grandmother’s long finger hovered over the list, looking for the name against her number. Going up on tiptoe, Jill looked over her shoulder, and pointed.

There she is, Grandma. Horny Lady, that’s her name. Isn’t it a lovely name?”

For some reason, Grandmother went red and her mouth set in a grim line. “Certainly not,” she huffed. “It’s a very improper name. You mustn’t ever repeat names like that. Besides, number nineteen’s got the worst odds in the field. The animal hasn’t a chance.”

“Oh, but, Grandma,” Jack protested. “Just look at that lovely long horn she’s got.” But Grandmother had turned away, her back stiff with disapproval.

“You wait here,” she said, as the unicorns vanished behind the doors of the starting gates. “I’ll go put a bet on...let’s see...Lucky Lucky Lee, here. She’s far and away the favourite.”

“She’s silly,” Jack muttered, as soon as Grandmother was safely out of earshot. “I’m sure Horny Lady will win.”

“What’s that, young man?” someone asked. It was one of the men with flat caps and leather patches on the elbows of their coats. He smiled at Jack and bowed slightly at Jill. “You want to put a bet on Horny Lady?”

“Uh,” said Jack uncertainly. “I’m not sure what...”

“We do,” Jill said, stepping in decisively. “What do we have to do to put a bet?”

“Nothing simpler, young lady,” the man said, grinning. His teeth were stained brown, just the way Jack and Jill had been warned their teeth would get if they didn’t brush properly. “How much money do you want to bet?”

Now it was Jill’s turn to look unsure. “I don’t know,” she said. “How much do you think we should bet?”

“Well,” said the man, “how much do you have?” He watched as the twins searched their pockets and took out all the money they had. “That will do,” he said. “At a hundred to one odds, which is what Horny Lady has, you stand to win a hundred times that amount if she wins.”

“A hundred times.” Jack and Jill looked at each other, grinning with astonishment. “Just imagine!”

“Yes, young sir,” the flat-capped man said. “All she has to do is win. Is it a bet, then?”

“Of course,” said Jack. “It’s a bet.”

“Good,” the man said, taking the money. “Now I’m standing right here, and we’ll watch the race, won’t we?”

If Jack and Jill had wanted to say something, they fell silent quickly, because Grandmother was making her way back to them from the betting counters. She looked grimly at the flat-capped man and took her seat beside the twins, holding her race sheet rolled up like a baton.

“Now then,” she ordered, “when the race starts, cheer for Lucky Lucky Lee as loudly as you can.” An instant later, far off down the track, the traps sprung open and the unicorns dashed out.

Neither Jack nor Jill could make out which animal was which, because except for one or two trailing far off at the back, they were all bunched up together. As they came round the near bend, they were a smear of colour and movement, flashing hooves and jockeys bent low over their necks. “There’s Horny Lady,” Jack yelled in Jill’s ear, pointing at a black unicorn in the middle of the pack. But, actually, it was impossible to tell.

By the time the unicorns had come round the second time, the field had spread out a lot. Of the eight unicorns, only three were now in the first bunch, and Jack and Jill managed to see clearly that number nineteen was one of them.

“Lucky Lucky Lee!” Grandmother was screaming, waving her baton around, all reserve forgotten, pointing at the white unicorn with the silver and red sheath. “Come on, Lucky Lucky Lee!”

Again the unicorns were coming round the far bend, and this time there was no doubt – Lucky Lucky Lee and Horny Lady were running together out in front of the rest of the field, the black unicorn running like the wind but still only just managing to keep up with her red-and-silver clad competitor. The finish line was just in front of the twins’ and Grandmother’s seats, and as the two unicorns flashed past in a storm of hooves and waving tails, there was a great cheer from the spectators. Lucky Lucky Lee had won!

“Too bad,” the flat-capped man said, grinning with his stained teeth. “If only your Horny Lady had been a bit faster, you’d have earned such a lot. As it happens, unfortunately...”

“What’s that?” Grandmother, who’d been in the act of getting up from her seat, turned, staring. “Have you two been placing bets with this bookie?”

The twins were too shattered at their loss to do more than nod miserably.

“How much?” Grandmother asked. “How much did you bet?”

Jill told her.

“You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” Grandmother began to the flat-capped man, in a low voice that sounded almost pleasant to those who didn’t know her. “A grown man like you, taking advantage of two innocent children. You should give back their money at once. Do you hear?”

“But, ma’am,” the man said, still grinning, “they made the bet fair and square, and lost. That’s the rule, isn’t it? Besides, you won on Lucky Lucky Lee, didn’t you? Would you have given up your winnings in my place?”

Grandmother looked stricken, suddenly. “I’d better go collect my winnings,” she began, when there was an announcement on the loudspeaker. There had been an objection, and a review of the film of the race. Number Nineteen had got the tip of her horn over the finish line before the other unicorn. Horny Lady had won!

“Ah, well,” said the flat-capped man pleasantly, edging away. “I’ll be off then.”

“No, you won’t.” The light of battle was in Grandmother’s eyes, and she advanced like a battleship, the rolled paper thrust out like a cannon. “You’re going to pay what you owe them, and you’re going to pay now.”

It was no contest. The flat-capped man had never encountered someone like Grandmother before. The grin was more like a rictus frozen on his face as he counted out the money.

“We’d better be going home now,” Grandmother told the twins. “No telling what mischief you’ll be up to if we stay for the next race.”

In the taxi on the way back home, Grandmother was silent a long time. Then, suddenly, she smiled.

“That unicorn did have a long horn, didn’t she?”

Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

The Heroic Soldier Story and the Massacre at Kandahar

Statutory Disclaimer: This article is a statement of my beliefs and the result of my research and writing. The sources I have drawn from are indicated at the conclusion of this article and are available on the internet for independent consultation. I am not in any way responsible for any fights, disagreements, quarrels or fallings-out arising as a result of discussions of this article on any media on which it, or reference to it, may appear. Thank you.

This soldier,” Vern Kimmit from Orlando, Florida, wrote, “probably prevented dozens if not hundreds of future terrorist attacks, singlehandedly and on his own initiative. Nice shooting son, I just popped open an icy cold Sam Adams in your honor (sic)!”

This comment was made in the response columns of an article [1] about the celebrated massacre near Kandahar, where sixteen Afghan civilians (including nine children and three women) were murdered in their beds by American occupation forces (whether in the form of a single soldier or a group of them). It was also far from the only comment of this sort – that article, and others on the same topic, are virtually crawling with them. With one more exception, from the same article, I don’t intend to post a selection; the reader can, if interested, check them out for himself or herself. I’d recommend a strong stomach.

Before we go any further, let me declare the names of these dead and injured Afghans, since otherwise, as we shall discuss, nobody will ever get to know of them. They are [2]:

The dead:
Mohamed Dawood son of  Abdullah
Khudaydad son of Mohamed Juma
Nazar Mohamed
Shatarina daughter of Sultan Mohamed
Zahra daughter of Abdul Hamid
Nazia daughter of Dost Mohamed
Masooma daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Farida daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Palwasha daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Nabia daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Esmatullah daughter of Mohamed Wazir
Faizullah son of Mohamed Wazir
Essa Mohamed son of Mohamed Hussain
Akhtar Mohamed son of Murrad Ali

The wounded:
Haji Mohamed Naim son of Haji Sakhawat
Mohamed Sediq son of Mohamed Naim

These nameless, faceless, Afghan civilians had names, and faces, and lives, and deserve to have those names, faces and lives recorded. But, to an amazing extent, those names, faces and lives have not been recorded. I could barely find another mention of these people anywhere.

And that is what’s so significant. Why is it that those Afghans remain nameless and faceless?

In the course of this article, I shall mention the actual massacre only as a means of discussing this larger question: the reason why the “reactions” focus almost exclusively on the perpetrator/s, not the dead and injured. Since this is far from the first massacre of Afghan civilians by occupation forces, and is likely to be far from the last, the massacre itself is less interesting than the reaction.

Of course, in order to understand the reaction, we need to talk a little bit about the massacre itself.

Since most readers of this article will already be in cognisance of the “facts” (insofar as such a constantly shifting tale [3] can be termed to contain any facts whatsoever) I’ll just go over them quickly: that at or about 0200 on the 11th of March 2012, one or more American soldiers from a base near Kandahar went to two separate villages, where they murdered sixteen Afghan civilians in their homes (including eleven from a single family), and burned their bodies with some kind of inflammable liquid. A few days later, it turned out that the alleged “lone gunman” who had perpetrated the massacre had “turned himself in” on his return to base and was quickly removed from the country, being sent to Kuwait, and when that nation was unhappy with this, to the US itself.

From the beginning, the “lone shooter” theory did not stand up to even casual, let alone serious, analysis. The survivors of the massacre, and other villagers, were unanimous in claiming that there had been “several” soldiers involved, and that one person could not possibly have done all that the killer had been accused of doing [4]. Even though the story had so many holes that nobody in any other circumstances would have taken it seriously, there was an incredible and concerted effort, apparently, in the mainstream media to believe it – to the extent that it’s standard now to read of “an American serviceman” who had “carried out the shootings”. And it’s only natural to wonder why.

As the first days went past, the identity of this “serviceman” was kept secret, to the extent that some of the aforementioned respondents began wondering aloud what the reason for this might be. As one Pookie Sue from Davenport, Iowa said [1]

If the shooter was a white Christian, we would know his name, see his picture, and hear all about him. Who is the shooter? Why is it being kept quiet?... Evidently he is black or a Muslim.

Unfortunately for such people, the identity of the “sole gunman” was later revealed to be a Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, a white Christian who immediately became a subject of overt or implied sympathy. He was on his fourth deployment in a war zone, he’d had part of a foot amputated, he’d suffered possible brain damage in a car crash, he’d been suffering marital problems, he’d seen a friend have a leg blown off by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED; a fancy term for a homemade landmine) only a day or two before, and as his friends said, he was a “nice guy”, a husband and father. Not someone who was really to blame – if there was any blame, it lay elsewhere. Where, nobody seemed to be clear; on the (black, Muslim, Kenyan) President, on the (evil, raghead) Taliban, on “society” – but elsewhere.

Then, things became murkier, as Bales’ personal history came seeping out. He was, it appeared, less of an angel than at first appeared. He had defrauded an investor of over a million dollars, had been involved in an assault on a former girlfriend, and had taken part in at least one massacre in Najaf, Iraq – meaning he was likely a war criminal as well [5]

Now, can you think of a better candidate for a “fall guy” to take the blame? He is either a stressed-out victim of circumstances, not really in control of his own actions; or he’s an intrinsically evil person, who should have been locked up long ago and the key thrown away. Either way, he is the perfect scapegoat – leaving the rest of his colleagues blameless and still eminently worthy of worship.

Worship, did I say? Isn’t that too strong a word?

Not at all; and it’s in the extent to which soldier-worship has become a part of modern Western discourse that the key to the puzzle lies.

Rewind a moment, to the war in Vietnam. Back in those long-ago days, when the smell of napalm hung in the air over the rice paddies, US soldiers had fought and died in another war against a faceless, invisible enemy. There had been massacres there, too, and crazed soldiers running amok, and “free fire zones” where any Vietnamese was fair game. But there were differences – important differences.

In Vietnam, a large majority of the American soldiers in that war were conscripts. These young men, who had been forced into uniform because they could not get student deferments and whose only other options were jail or hiding in Canada, had been sent off into a never-ending war they didn’t understand in a nation they couldn’t find on a map. And when they returned, they came back to find themselves reviled as “baby killers” and worse, by those (as they saw it) with the money and connections to escape the draft that had swallowed them. And, of course, most importantly, the US ended on the losing side in Vietnam.

Today, a different narrative has been quite deliberately created – the narrative of the Heroic Soldier, protecting the Homeland from the Freedom-hating Evildoer. In Afghanistan, Iraq, and everywhere on the planet Earth that the American Soldier treads, he’s now no longer a baby-killer; he’s a torch-bearer of freedom, fighting for what used to be called Truth, Justice and the American Way but now goes by the name of Freedom and Democracy. It’s fed by everything from bumper stickers to yellow ribbons, and the myth is as assiduously cultivated as the military-industrial-political multiplex (MIP) is protected and encouraged. Of course, this Heroic Soldier is not, on the surface of it at least, an embittered draftee who couldn’t get out of serving his time; he’s a volunteer who put his life on the line for freedom. The fact that the average military volunteer worldwide has – after the Great War, at all events – been a victim of the poverty draft, joining the military because he has no other option, is neither here nor there in that narrative. Whereas the murderous Vietnam War American soldier was One of Them, the heroic American soldier of today is emphatically One of Us.

Obviously, the Heroic Soldier cannot be allowed to lose - he has to be supported through thick and thin, at the cost of everything else. The blood he spills is sacred; the sacrifices he makes cannot be allowed to go in vain.

And this is exactly why the media

... was quick to follow the lead of "U.S. military officials" who "stressed that the shooting was carried out by a lone, rogue soldier, differentiating it from past instances in which civilians were killed accidentally during military operations." [6]

Even if one ignores the canard that civilians were killed “accidentally” – the recent history of Afghanistan and Iraq is rife with instances [7] in which civilians were not just killed deliberately but with malice aforethought, as sport – the “officials”, one ought to note, “stressed” that the shooting was carried out by a lone, rogue soldier; meaning, a soldier not under control, and whose actions were not therefore the responsibility of the army which employed, armed, and deployed him.

This, therefore, kills two birds with one stone. For the civilian at home, who has no direct stake in the conflict on the other side of the planet, but whose finances may be suffering from the diversion of money to the Endless War, it provides reassurance; a monstrous act may have been committed, but it was the fault of a lone, out-of-control trooper. It’s possible he was too PTSD’d out to know what he was doing, in which case he needs counselling, not jail. Possibly this provides a bit of cognitive dissonance, because the particular civilian may also be one of those who rail against “liberals” who “mollycoddle” criminals and ignore their victims. But then, he or she can slip easily into the second thread of the narrative; the killer was a vile man, someone who could strip an elderly person of a million and a half dollars and then run for safety into the army. Either way, the suffering the individual civilian, or his family or friends, is enduring isn’t in vain, because it’s a lone bad apple and not the military as a whole.

And for the military, it gives another kind of comfort – it’s not another massacre by an out-of-control group, like the one at Haditha, or the Kill Team, or, earlier, at the unforgettable incident at Mai Lai. Since it’s a single soldier, and “such things happen”, there’s no particular need to do anything about it; the military’s carefully constructed mythology of the Heroic Soldier is not at stake, nor does there have to be any actual action taken on the ground to prevent anything of the like from happening in future. And, as a corollary, the Afghan “government’s” demands to withdraw these troops from villages is not justified, and cannot be agreed to.

In both these cases, it should be noticed, the essential narrative needs to suppress the individuality of the victims. Dead Afghans with names, faces, hopes and lives need to be mourned, and their deaths cry out for justice. Dead Afghans without names or faces are just numbers; nobody really cares about them, even when they say they do. And that slots in with the idea that uncivilised Afghans don’t really mind dying; it isn’t that much to them, since “human life is cheap” there. [8]

A legitimate question can be asked at this point – what about the likes of Mr Vern Kimmit of Orlando, Florida, with whose quote I began this article? Where, with their frantic bloodthirstiness, do they fit in this framework? Aren’t they outside this scenario I have put together?

Answer: no, they aren’t. They are a part of it, all right.

The likes of Mr Kimmit are a subgroup of the people who need constant reassurance that everything that’s going on in the world is someone else’s fault. Like the KONY2012 bandwagon, which provides the believer with an easily hateable figure on whom to blame everything that’s gone wrong with a part of the world, these people have invested a lot of emotion into hating the Other – the Evildoing Muslim Terrorist. They need to keep polishing and buffing up that hate, in order to hold it up so that the reflected light of it can shine in their eyes and keep them from seeing the ugly truth. That’s why those of them who do finally admit the fact that one or more American soldiers can have murdered multiple civilians need to justify that in terms of that hate. Maybe like Mr Kimmit, they claim those children and women were future terrorists and therefore better off dead. Maybe, like others, they seek refuge in claiming that Muslims had killed Americans (in their version of events, no Muslim can be a true American), so this is nothing but turn and turn about. But it’s just twisting and turning on the hook – a way of turning their faces away from the hard light of facts.

And what are those facts? The Afghans, from the start, have not believed the narrative of the single soldier who ran amok, but then, it can be argued, they have equally compelling reasons not to. But they do add to the holes [3] in the official story. For example, they point out [9] that days before the massacre, residents of one of the villages targeted were lined up by American soldiers from the base and threatened with a massacre in retaliation for the bombing in which Sgt Bales’ friend “lost his leg”. They note that the massacre continued for three hours, and that the base in question had complete surveillance over the area and yet utterly failed to stop the so-called “lone gunman” [10]. They point out to all the eyewitness accounts of multiple killers – up to twenty of them, as the chief of staff of the Afghan Army himself declared [11]. In other words, they tell what seems to be a far more believable version of the truth. And to them, flying out the accused killer is all the proof they need that a cover-up is in the works; he’s been taken where he can’t be confronted by witnesses or be subject to a court which isn’t predisposed to believe in the official narrative. Also, going by the fact that earlier cases where American troops were accused (and convicted) of murder and yet got off virtually scot free [12], they have no reason to believe that justice will be done in this case either. 

But, of course, the official narrative isn’t meant to convince the Afghans, like the man who lost eleven members of his family and has only one son left alive [13]. As I believe I’ve made clear in the course of this article, it’s meant for domestic consumption only, to reassure the people at home that the Heroic Soldier is still a hero, and that the war is still worth fighting, at a time when an increasing majority of the people feel it is not [14]. The Afghans are much more likely to react by joining the insurgency in larger numbers, but they were doing that anyway.

Supposing, therefore, that the massacre was carried out by a group of soldiers, what might their motivation have been? As far as I can see, it comes down to one of two likely possibilities, with a third as a remote chance:

First, and most likely, that the massacre was carried out by a group of soldiers (with or without the knowledge of the rest of the base, but the lack of any effort to stop the massacre indicates that it happened with the knowledge and approval of someone in a position to give orders) in order to "teach the Afghans a lesson". The burning of the corpses - obviously the shooter/s carried inflammable liquid with malice aforethought - can only be interpreted as a clumsy attempt to cover up the evidence, and supports this idea.

Second, and a little less probably, that it was a "night raid" that went wrong [15]. These "night raids" are, after drones, the lynchpin of the Occupation's anti-insurgent strategy, and consists of attacking the houses of anyone who is even suspected of being sympathetic to the resistance. Said thought crime is punished by summary execution without trial, and is extremely deeply resented by the Afghans - so much so that even the puppet "President" of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, has demanded that they be stopped. It's certainly not impossible that a group of soldiers sent on a mission to murder suspected Taliban sympathisers ran amok and killed civilians. However, the obviously premeditated attempts to burn the corpses go against this theory. The Occupation normally makes no attempt to cover its tracks where night raids are concerned, because as a terror tactic it makes sense not to cover it up to achieve the maximum impact.

The third and least likely hypothesis is that this was a deliberate action, authorised at the highest levels of the occupation, to try and provoke an Afghan reaction so intense as to provide an excuse to stop the withdrawal of forces as "promised" (if you can believe that) by 2014. However, while the US military commander in Afghanistan, John Allen, has demanded [16] that the "withdrawal" be halted, the NATO vassals are getting out as fast as they can [17] and the Afghan "government" has summoned up the temerity to ask for more control over what happens after 2014 [18] . So, if at all this was a deliberate action, it would seem to have been counterproductive.


If I were an Afghan, and if I were to take the "single person shooter" theory of the massacre seriously, then I'd have to conclude I was safer under the Taliban. Could a PTSD'd/deranged/inebriated/brain-damaged (take your pick) foreign soldier wander through villages for hours, entering houses, murder people in their beds and burn their bodies, if the Taliban were around?

I do not think so.




Copyright B Purkayastha 2012

Wednesday 21 March 2012

The Alleys Of Iraq

Recently, while looking over my stored computer files, I came across some older writing. Among these was a poem I wrote way back in 2004, called The Alleys of Iraq. Inspired by a Vietnam War-era protest song, The Fields of Vietnam, it took not very much effort to write except for one particular stanza which I kept revising over and over, until it suddenly sprang to my mind, full-blown as it were, during my morning jog. (I’ll leave it to the reader to guess which stanza that was.) I’d posted it online but since my readership at the time could be counted in single digits, it sank pretty much without a trace.

Anyway, coming across that poem, I wanted to see how it had fared with the passage of the years, now that the imperialist aggression part of the Iraq war is pretty much over and the civil war has restarted. It does have more than a touch of naiveté – back then, I still believed that the victory of the Iraqi resistance against the occupation would mark a return to at least a stable and socialist Iraq, something I’m not dumb enough to believe of any nation now. Today, if you ask me, I’d say that once the Empire has “throw(n) a crappy little nation against the wall just to show everyone it means business” (the Ledeen Doctrine) nothing can ever put that nation together again as it was, no matter who wins. You can’t unbreak an egg. But I was younger back then, and more idealistic.

Still, I was completely correct in one thing. Back in 2004, the nascent Iraqi resistance was still finding its feet, but even then I had predicted that it would be these “insurgents” who would finally drive out the Empire. And – looking back from today’s viewpoint – can anyone who thinks of it seriously deny that it was the anonymous Iraqi resistance fighter (whether a Ba’athist “dead-ender”, Mahdi Army member, or one of the troops of the various different resistance outfits) who have stopped the Empire in its tracks? If it were not for the bloodletting it suffered in the towns and deserts of Iraq, wouldn’t the Empire long since have invaded Iran and Syria at the least, and more likely than not Pakistan as well? But for the Iraqi resistance, would one be hearing at least some calls for restraint instead of all-out cheerleading for war on Iran and Syria? Of course not.

The Iraqi resistance halted the march of Empire. The Afghan resistance will force its retreat and eventual collapse. Whatever their other sins, those things can't be taken away from them, and the world owes them gratitude for that.

So, here’s my eight-year-old tribute to the Iraqi resistance, exactly as I wrote it then. 


Oh brothers, though we’re strangers and your land and mine are far apart
And though the differences between us are numerous and stark
As the needle’s drawn towards the pole, I’m drawn both heart and soul
To write of your brave struggle in the streets and alleys of Iraq.

You paid dearly for the mistake your leader was drawn to make
When for eight long years you fought the armies of Iran
Those it helped now crush you down, their flag flutters over town
Desert and river, but not the hearts of the land of Iraq.

They pushed you their war to suffer and to fight
To die for their cause, for them to bleed and to burn
Brother against brother pitted they, and while the sun shone they made hay
Watered with the blood of the peoples of Iraq and Iran.

Scarce two years gone, came again the plague
Of war to ravage your great and ancient land
When peace came it didn’t last, this piece of your colonized past
Called Kuwait painted with blood the soil and water of Iraq.

They chain you now and talk of morality, freedom and of democracy
And claim the world is safer that they hold you down
But then they had said they didn’t care, Kuwait was none of their affair
Until their bombs rained on the houses and schools of Iraq.

For over a decade they starved you, bombed you and murdered you
In the name of weapons they said you had not disarmed.
When your children died for lack of food, they said ‘twas for their own good
That they wept and died, they said, these ‘liberators’ of Iraq.

Then came they once more, they said to ‘free’
With bombs, tanks and missiles, your people from Ba’athist harm
WMDs throughout the country, a terrorist under every tree
They claimed, and came to ravage the ancient land of Iraq.

A strange liberation these invaders brought, an odd democracy
Of death and fire and prison to the people they said they charmed
While the Zionist entity cheered, they shot and raped and spurned and speared
Old men, young women, and the children of Iraq.

“We’ll kill you if you raise your head,” these foreign ‘liberators’ said
“We’ll raise a firestorm if you dare strike a spark.
The smoke that’s carried on the breeze from the Tigris to the Euphrates
Will signal the final destruction of the cities of Iraq.”

They thought it would be easy, their flag would fly
Over the land and sea, the rivers and the sand
(They thought they had broken your back, stretched you out on the rack)
Over city and village, orchard and oilfield of Iraq.

They thought you would knuckle under, accept your fate and kowtow low
While your oil paid for your slavery, and their boots pressed you down
Oh what a shock they must have got, when you stood your ground and fought
And washed with their blood the streets and alleys of Iraq.

In Ramadi and Najaf, from Fallujah to Baghdad
From hiding they bomb you and shoot innocents down
But the more they torture and they kill, the sharper your avenging steel
That slashes and chops them in the alleys of Iraq.

Oh brothers though we’re strangers born and grown far apart
And though your name sits awkwardly and strange upon my tongue
Your war is ours too, this I must make clear to you
We’re with you in your battle in the streets and alleys of Iraq.

Brothers, where did you find the strength? I ask you this
Half in envy and half in tears at your sacrifice and resolve
Someday will end this violent night, victory will crown your glorious fight
And freedom’s flag fly proud over the streets and alleys of Iraq.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2004/2012

Tuesday 20 March 2012

Doggone It

My grandson snuffled up to me as I lay curled up by the fire, and sniffed tentatively at my ear. “Grandpa?” he asked. “Are you awake?”

“Even if I weren’t,” I replied, “I am now that you’ve been poking at me. Can’t you youngsters let me sleep?”

“Grandpa,” the little scamp said, tucking his tail down mournfully, “If I’d known you were sleeping, I wouldn’t have disturbed you. But now that you’re awake, you might as well...” He paused, glancing over his shoulder expectantly.

“Story!” his siblings cheered, all nine of them. “Tell us a story!”

“Story?” I growled, outraged. “At this time of night, you want a story? Get back to sleep at once.”

“Oh, but, grandpa,” the first grandson said, “we can’t sleep. Mom can’t sleep either, can you, Mom?”

I glanced across the fire to where my daughter was lying, watching us with an amused eye. “You know where it’s going to end, Dad,” she said. “Since you’re as eager to tell them a story as they are to listen, why not just do it and get it over with?”

“You have no soul,” I grumbled. “You don’t appreciate these things. They set the tone for the story, don’t you see?” Shaking my head at this lack of respect for tradition, I turned to the kids. They were all gathered in a semicircle of little red tongues, panting with eagerness, and cold wet noses. “OK,” I capitulated, and waited until the chorus of excited yelps had subsided. “What kind of story do you want?”

“Tell us how you got to be with the Man, Grandpa,” one of my granddaughters said before anyone else could shout a suggestion. “You said a few stories back that you’d tell us, but didn’t.”

“All right,” I said, and raised an admonitory paw at the chorus of protests. “None of you can agree on what you want, anyway, so since she spoke before anybody else did, she wins.”

“It’s not fair,” the grandson who had sniffed at me whined. “She always gets in first. It’s not fair!”

“Do you want a story or don’t you?” I asked. My daughter, on the other side of the fire, scratched at a flea, grinning happily as her kids swarmed around me. She does enjoy palming them off on me whenever she can.

“Listen to Grandpa,” she said. “If you want a story from him, sit quietly and listen.”

So, when they had finally quietened down, I sat up, looked them over sternly, and began.


I first met the Man when I was still a very young puppy, just opened my eyes and far from weaned. My mother wasn’t as privileged as you; she lived on the street and gave birth on the pavement. And we had to huddle next to her for warmth, without a fire like this one. You don’t know how privileged you are, you don’t.

So, one day when I was suckling at my mother’s breast, a shadow suddenly fell over me, and a voice squealed, “Oh, just look at them!”

Of course, back then I didn’t understand any Human, and in fact I’d never been so close to a human before, so I squeaked in terror and almost let go of my mom’s teat. But I had enough of a memory to be able to understand, in retrospect, what they were talking about.

“They’re so cute,” this voice went on, its owner looming over us. “Let’s take one, please?”

“Don’t get so close,” someone else said warningly. “The mother will get anxious and might bite.” Which showed how little they knew of my mother, who had never bitten even a flea.

“But, dad,” the first voice took on a whining quality, which I was to grow so used to in later months, “I want one. Please.”

“Look, son. If you must have a dog, we’ll get you a pedigree puppy, a Labrador or something. Not a common mongrel like this.”

“I don’t want a pedigree Labrador. I want one of these.” And, before I could even whine a protest, this young villain had snatched me up, literally from my mother’s breast, and put me inside his smelly jacket. Even now, remembering the smells inside it, I feel like throwing up.

What do you mean, didn’t I try to get away? Of course I did. I whined and wriggled and kicked, but all it did was make him clutch me tighter, until I was afraid that he’d crush me to death. So I stayed quiet until he took me out and almost dropped me on a hard floor, slippery and cold. Someone gave me a saucer of milk, which I lapped at because I was so tired and thirsty, and then I fell asleep.

I don’t recall the next few days too well. I do remember a lot of shouting at the mess I was making, and at how I was whining all the time. Well, of course I was whining – I was missing Mom, wasn’t I? But who even cared about that?

Not the young twerp who’d picked me up, I can assure you. He just whined that I was his, and he wanted to play with me. Since his idea of “play” was to tie a string round my neck and pull me along, this wasn’t exactly something that made me happy, and when I protested by digging my paws in, he only pulled me along harder. I have no idea why he’d even picked me up in the first place, unless I was just another toy to him. He had a lot of toys, which he usually got tired of in short order.

No, of course he wasn’t the Man. You know the Man well; do you think he could ever have been like that young idiot?

As I grew old enough to start taking solid food, I was no longer allowed in the house much – the kid’s mom didn’t like dogs – so I was tied up in the yard a lot, in all kinds of weather, with only a sack to lie on. They didn’t even give me a kennel, not even a packing crate, so for all intents and purposes I’d have been better off on the street. And the kid began coming out less and less to “play” with me.

You understand what was happening? I was a toy, and he was getting tired of me.

I’d begun to understand Human pretty well by then, and I could hear them arguing over me, the dad and mom, when their son was at school or out playing with friends.

“You’d best get rid of that ugly brute,” the mom would say. “I can’t stand the sight of the dirty beast.”

“How do you suggest I get rid of him?” the dad would answer. “I can’t give him away, can I? Nobody wants a mongrel like that. Just look at him.”

“I don’t care – just take him where you found him and leave him there. He’s from the gutter, he’ll go back to the gutter.”

“But you know dogs. The cur probably thinks of our house as his home. He’ll find his way back and be here in a day or two.”

“Well, then? Take him to the vet and get him put to sleep.”

Now, at that time I had no idea what a ‘vet’ was, but I didn’t at all like the suggestion that I be taken to one, and I had a strong suspicion that ‘sleep’ wasn’t what it sounded like. I was relieved to hear the dad demur.

“No, I don’t really like the idea of killing the animal – it’s not really his fault – and besides the vet’s expensive. Let me think about it.”

What he thought of, I can only surmise, because two days later he told me to get into his car. This was something that had only happened a time or two before, and which I considered rather a treat, so I jumped into the car, quite happy to be out of that tiny yard. We drove for quite a while, until the city had vanished and there were trees all around. Then the dad stopped the car and opened the door.

“There, boy,” he said, “go have a run around.”

I didn’t need a second invitation. I was out of the car and trotting along the road, smelling at all the wonderful scent tracks I’d never come across before, things I couldn’t even identify. Some of those scents I can’t even name to this day, old as I am; I have no idea what they might be.

I ran and trotted until I was tired, and then I turned round and came back to the car, because I didn’t like the idea of leaving the dad so long without me, even though I was enjoying myself so much.

You know what I found, don’t you? There was no car there.

It’s strange to think of it now, but at the moment it never struck me that he’d gone and left me alone. For a fairly long time I ran up and down that road, looking for the car, imagining that perhaps I’d been mistaken about where it was. But no, I could track my own scent trail all the way to the mix of rubber, oil, and the dad himself that marked the place where the car had been. At last I had to admit it – the car had gone.

Being so young yourselves, even younger than I was then, you have no idea of how terrible it feels to be alone – really and completely alone. I had always been with a pack; my mother and siblings and then the dad and mom and the boy. Well, they were better than no pack at all – but now I was completely alone.

Well, children, you should understand that even a young dog isn’t completely helpless in this situation. After I had shaken off my initial panic, I began to think of what to do. Now, I’d never seen a car go anywhere but on the roads. Cars did not cross fields and forests. Since the car had not passed me, obviously it had gone the other way, down the road. Therefore, I should follow it down the road, and it would take me back to the dad, and mom and the boy.

Maybe you’re surprised that I should want to be back with them? You aren’t old enough to know the call of the pack. Even though they’d abandoned me, and treated me so badly, they were still the pack, and my place was with them. Don’t laugh – you aren’t old enough to know what I’m talking about.

Anyway, I began on my way down that road. It was a long, weary walk, and I was getting hungry and tired. I was still very young, and less than half-grown, and I’d never walked so far before. A couple of times I stopped to slake my thirst from roadside puddles, but the water smelt and tasted foul.

By the time evening came, I was utterly exhausted and still trudging down the road, and nowhere had I seen a house. And then I came to a place where several roads intersected.

You understand my problem, don’t you? I hadn’t the faintest idea which way to go. Smelling the road didn’t do any good, because it was covered with tracks of rubber and oil, any of which might be the car.

I was still trying to decide which way to go when there was a terrible noise and something struck me hard and sent me flying through the air. I didn’t even begin to feel pain before I lost consciousness.

When I woke, I hurt all over, with a sort of pain I’d never known. I was lying on a soft surface and a man in a white coat was leaning over me.

“He’s awake,” he said, as I whined. “That’s something, anyway.”

There was something in his tone I’d never heard before, but which I know now to be sympathy and kindness. Nobody in the boy’s family had shown me any such thing. But I didn’t know what it was, and in any case I was still whining with the pain.

No, he wasn’t the Man. But he was the first human ever to be anything resembling nice to me.

“Looks like he was struck by a car,” he said, passing his hands over my body. “It doesn’t really look like he has much of a chance.”

“Does he have a chance at all?” someone else said from behind me. The voice was harsh, as if the speaker’s throat had been rubbed with sandpaper, so unlike the smooth tones of the boy’s family that I had difficulty understanding what he’d said. “Any hope he can be saved?”

“There’s always a hope,” said the man in the white coat. “He’s badly injured, but he’s still very young, so there’s a chance of healing. But it’s not going to be so easy.”

“I’ll be glad to pay,” said the person with the rough voice. “I’m not rich, but I’ll pay whatever it takes.”

The man in the white coat looked across me curiously. “May I ask why you’re doing this?” he enquired. “He’s not your dog. You said that you found him on the highway, didn’t you?”

“Yes, that’s right. He’s not my dog. As to why – let’s just say I have my own reasons; things I don’t want to talk about.” He paused. “Will you do it?”

The man in the white coat raised his eyebrows. “Of course I will. That is if he can be saved. And don’t worry about the money.” He turned away for a moment and returned with something glittering in his hands. I felt a pressure on my leg, and a sharp pricking pain. “He’ll have to stay here while he recovers, though...if he does.”

“I understand.” The rough voice sounded fainter, blurred. The room began to spin and turn hazy.

“Are you going to wait, or come back later?” the man in the white coat asked. “It’s going to take a while before I can tell you anything.”

As from a great distance I heard the rough voice. “I’ll wait.”

That was the start of a very uncomfortable time for me. When I woke again, I could scarcely move my right foreleg because there was a heavy, hard and white cast that extended from my paw to nearly up to my shoulder. I also had a strange feeling in my thigh and belly, as though my skin had been pulled together tightly, and it smelt strange. But I couldn’t lick it because I had a heavy collar on, with a projection which limited how far I could turn my head. It was maddening, I tell you. Worse than having a flea in a spot you just can’t scratch, day after day.

Every day the rough-voiced person would come and talk to the man in the white coat, and I heard that I was getting steadily better. I got to know that the man in white was a “vet” like the one to whom the boy’s mom had wanted me to be sent, to be “put to sleep” – but whatever that meant, obviously it hadn’t happened to me.

I still remember the day that heavy hard object was cut off my arm and shoulder. I felt immediately as if I was one of those birds you stupid puppies chase around in the mornings – I felt so light and free. And the day after that, the rough-voiced man came and picked me up, holding me up to his face so I could lick it.

You’ll have realised by now who he was; it was the Man, of course. Back then he looked almost the same as he does now, except that he was maybe a shade scruffier and smellier, but those smells were as rich and interesting as they are now. You’ve all smelt him, so you don’t need me to describe them to you.

“Well, well,” he said to me, and rubbed his nose on mine. “So you decided not to die on us, huh? Well, come along, then.”

At that time he lived in a sort of cabin, a single-roomed little house out in the woods, and there he took me and shared his meals with me. I wasn’t completely healed yet, but as I ran along beside him each day I could feel myself getting stronger.

“You just get yourself fully healed,” the Man would tell me at least once a day, “and we’ll see about finding your real owner.”

I surmised that by “owner” he meant the boy and his family, and of course I had no longer any desire to go to them. Nor did I really think the Man himself had any real wish to send me off to someone whom he had never seen; it was obvious that he kept telling me that because he felt himself yearning to keep me, but at the same time feeling he shouldn’t. He’s honest as the day is long, for a human.

But I got to know that he had problems, too. Humans, you know, don’t live quite as we do; they work at “jobs” to earn something called “money”, but the Man had no job any longer and almost none of this money, and he had to move elsewhere until he could find a job. No, don’t ask me to explain – old as I am, I still haven’t quite understood it all. And he was afraid he couldn’t take care of me.

“I can’t even pay for your shots and licence, boy,” he told me once, fondling my ears, while I chewed his shoelaces. “It wouldn’t be fair to you, don’t you know.”

But I was too busy getting better to think much on that, and it was with great surprise that one day I saw the Man putting a new collar and a leather leash on the table.

“Can’t put it off any longer, boy,” he sighed. “Tomorrow, I’m taking you into town. We’ll check with the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals people if anyone’s posted you missing. If not, I’ll have to see if anyone will adopt you.” And, hugging me to him so tightly that I wriggled, he buried his face in my fur and began to cry.

That night it rained heavily, with thunder rumbling loudly overhead, so loudly that it made the cabin’s walls tremble. I wasn’t sleeping too well, in any case, because of the knowledge that it was my last night with the Man, and I knew he wasn’t sleeping well, either, because he muttered and moved in his bed.

Suddenly, between the claps of thunder, I heard another noise. It was a clicking sound, like metal on glass, and a scraping, followed by a small tinkle. It woke me up completely at once. The room was completely dark, but I could make out the noise was coming from near the window. And, as I listened, it came again, followed by a creaking noise, as though someone was forcing the window slowly open.

I was about to bark as loud as I could at this disturbance, but something told me that I’d do better to be cautious. I can’t really say what made me crawl to the Man and poke urgently at his hand with my nose – whether it was the stealthy, quiet noise at the window, or the strange and rank smell that invaded my nostrils. Whatever the reason, I nuzzled the Man’s hand with increasing urgency, and – when he showed no sign of reacting – took his palm between my teeth, and nipped him hard.

With a yell so loud that it startled me into scooting under the bed, the Man jumped up and turned on the light – and then he shouted even louder. And from near the window, someone shouted as well.

From under the bedspread, I poked my nose out enough to see what was happening. The window was open, and, standing beside it, soaking wet, was a young man in black clothes with a wild look in his eyes and a large knife in his hand. He began stepping slowly towards the Man.

“Look here,” the Man said, and I could smell caution on him, but no fear. “What do you want?”

“Nothing,” the wet young man said, in a high giggling voice. “Just a little bit of fun.” I could smell the fear on him, all right; fear and something else I couldn’t identify, a mixture of odours I’d call the stink of craziness. He raised the knife. “Do you like fun,” he asked. “Huh?”

The next moment I’d thrown myself out from under the bed and leaped for the knife. I think that if I’d thought about it, I would have stayed where I was, tucking my tail under my belly in abject terror, but I didn’t think about it – not then. I leaped for the knife, and the wet young man began turning towards me, but too slow; and an instant later my teeth were sinking into his wrist, and the knife was on the floor.

You know the Man is big and strong, but I don’t think you quite realise how strong. He picked up the screaming wet young man with one hand and slammed him against the wall over and over until he stopped screaming. Then he opened the door and threw him out into the night.

“We’ll go and talk to the police tomorrow morning,” he told me, as he shut the window and pushed his cupboard across it. “If that junkie tries to get treated for that bite, he’s toast.”

Then he came to me and picked me up and held me to him, and I licked his face frantically as he kissed me again and again.


And that’s the way it was,” I said. “We couldn’t find any trace of the wet young man in the morning. The rain had continued all night and washed away the smell. Even the blood had been washed off the ground.

“The Man and I went to the police and he reported what had happened. The policeman asked whose dog I was, and after the briefest pause the Man said I was his. And then I knew it would be all right.”

“So you were the hero?” the grandson who’d nuzzled me asked sleepily. He wasn’t the only one who seemed to be getting drowsy. “Did he give you a medal, Grandpa?”

“Worse,” I said. “He gave me his love and a home, which means, in the fullness of time, he gave me you lot. Now go to sleep.”

My daughter had already fallen asleep on the other side of the fire, as I’d expected. She’s a sweet bitch, but she never could manage to sit through most of my stories.

Besides, she’s heard this one many times before.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2012