By Tom Saal

I remember seeing you with your long, black hair as if it were yesterday.
You were standing there waiting for me the next morning.
Waiting for me to enter what was left of your village.
We had split up, paired up, my men and I, and we had made friends with your friends.
Had eaten with you the afternoon before, eaten the food you had offered.
Shared with you, laughed and joked with you.
Good times, happy times during a war where there was little or no trust.
During a war where there were no friends, only enemies.

And then at dusk, we left and prepared an ambush close by your village.
It was rumored enemy soldiers were using it as a staging area for night patrols.
And the rumor proved true.
At midnight, a patrol came through and tripped our ambush.
A firefight ensued, the enemy retreated into your village and I did as I was so well-trained to do.
I called for an artillery strike, not once, not twice, but three times,
until the shelling stopped and all was quiet again.
Just the smoke and the dust filled the air and the only sounds were those of the jungle night.

At daybreak we swept through to see the results
and there you were, there you were, staring at me, preventing me from passing.
Standing in front of me with riveting eyes which penetrated my heart to the very depths of my soul.
I pretended you weren’t there with those glaring eyes that I have seen time after time in my dreams,
Night sweats that I have had over and over, so often that I’ve lost count,
Night howls that haunt me as do murdered ghosts seeking vengeance.

How can you ever forgive me?
How could I ever ask your forgiveness?
How can my country ever ask forgiveness
for wreaking such unwanted ravage on a people during a war which never should have been?

There will come a time, I am convinced,
when those who, throughout history, have abused the power entrusted to them
and heaped injustice and destruction and death onto the world’s poor.
The moment will arrive when reasons will be required,
and a bitter toll will be extracted.
And only then might those whose lives have been decimated,
only then might they be willing to forgive.