Early morning, April 4th A shot rings out in the Memphis sky Free at last, they took your life They could not take your pride –U2
A toast, to one of the best of us.
“You are not fucking scouts,” Decimus Tullius shouts into the bruised face of Lucius Pontius on the day they report to him for duty. “You are surveyors. You look at trees, not soldiers. If you do see the enemy, you are not to attempt to approach him or gather information. You are to haul your asses back to me as fast as you can so that I can have actual scouts sent out instead.”
“If I may ask, sir?” Seneca says from next to Pontius. Tullius looks at him as though he’s suddenly shat out a large green pig. Seneca blanches, but he continues. Longinus flicks his eyes over at Pontius, and rolls them.
“Why are we not allowed to spy on Arminius’s army, sir? I mean, if we’re weeks ahead of the legions, wouldn’t that give us the greater time advantage? Sir,” he adds, nervously.
Tullius — a squat man with a scarred, cropped scalp and squinting eyes — stares at Seneca for a moment, expressionless.
“Your name is Seneca,” he says, not a question. Seneca nods. “Yes, sir.”
“Your father is Seneca the lawyer?”
Seneca blinks, unsure where this is going. “Y-yes, sir.”
“I expect your father has taught you to think critically, Seneca. To ask questions. To understand things.”
“He has, sir.”
“That’s because YOUR FATHER WASN’T EVER IN THE FUCKING ARMY, YOU FAT, STUPID CUNT,” Tullius shouts, his face suddenly a hair’s breadth away from Seneca’s, who recoils as if a snake has spit at him.
“Your father was too busy prancing around, playing grab-ass with the rest of the homos in the forum, while men like me were picking our fucking guts up out of the mud in Greece and Carthage fighting that sonofawhore Scipio,” hisses Tullius. “In fact, your daddy is too much of a fucking sissy to even put his fat fucking son in the actual legions; he thinks you’re going to have a niiice, cushy position as an immune for a few years, until he can get you an apartment in the City and you can find yourself a nice Greek ladyboy to turn your asshole inside out twice of a fucking evening.”
“Shut the fuck up, Seneca. Do not speak. Do not fucking ever speak in my presence again, or I’ll pull that tub of guts open and use them as a hammock the next time I fuck your mother.”
Tullius steps away from Seneca, who coughs and looks as though he’s about to vomit. On either side of him, Pontius and Longinus try to stifle laughter. They have a private wager going: the actual date when Seneca finally learns to keep his goddamned mouth shut.
“The reason you’re not allowed to reconnoiter the enemy,” says Tullius loudly to all of them, “is because you are fucking idiots. There is zero chance that you would accomplish anything save getting yourself caught, captured and tortured for information. The idea of that bothers me not even in the fucking slightest — I know you have no information of any kind in your skulls, and your prolonged and horrible deaths would probably even be a relief to the ugly bitches who spawned you.
“But I would be extremely unhappy were you to give our presence and position away to Arminius,” Tullius continues. “I would have to go to the Pi– to the General,” he says, catching himself in time, “and explain to him why a pack of retarded surveyors managed to fuck up the simple task given to them and put his army into the shit even an instant before he decides to put it there. Were that to happen, I would dig a hole down to Hell, find your souls, and set them on fire with my fury.
“Do you understand what I am saying to you, maggots?”
“Yes, sir,” they say in unison.
“Good. That’s very good. Now, I think we’re all familiar with the particulars of your assignment to me. No one expects you to be good at your job.” Tullius shakes his head. “Personally, I doubt you’ll survive a single week out in those goddamned woods.
“But maybe you will. If you do, come back and tell me what you’ve found.”
He regards them for a moment, gravely.
“Now get the fuck out of my sight.”
A friend wrote me an email tonight, raising some thoughtful and valid questions about the ethics of what I’m doing.
So to clarify: I’m not working for Halliburton, CACI, or any of the other monolithic contractors over there. Nor would I. The company I work for is relatively small, and their sole purpose in this is to provide medical services.
Am I conflicted by all of this? Of course I am. I’ve never made a secret of my opposition to the Iraqi War; quite the opposite, in fact. I spent the better part of the last decade denouncing the war in print and online. My position hasn’t changed; I think the war was a horrible mistake in almost every possible way: ethical, moral, logistical, and in terms of what it has actually accomplished. I think that it was architected by bad people for cynical reasons, and I think that any good which has come out of it was incidental to the actual purposes of the war.
However, my opposition somehow didn’t actually stop the war from happening. It has happened, is happening right now; and I find myself in a position to make things better, maybe, in a very tiny way. Maybe I can be part of a system which helps save a few lives.
That doesn’t mean that money isn’t a major motivation here. Sorry, but it’s true. In an economy that’s spiralling downward, the chance to make decent money would be hard to pass up under any circumstances. Making decent money doing something I find exciting and challenging and useful for the world is something I couldn’t pass up.
I get the feeling, even on short acquaintance, that the people I’m working with are sincere in their desire to use their skills to build technology that will benefit the people who have been victims of this war. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here. Money is good, but I still have to sleep at night, you know?
I’ve thought long and hard about this, and I think I’m making the right decision. Time will tell.