domingo, 15 de junio de 2014

War is business, money, don't you understand?" (A fiction)

Wyeth was opposed to the war but his bosom friend Wayne was convinced his duty was to defend his country with his very life. They often argued. They disagreed. They got angry. And then they made up. After all they were friends. But who can deny that war is a nasty thing? Hadn’t the Defense Minister asked laconically whether people agreed that “War is a dirty business?” That was the phrase that ignited Wyeth’s sentiments one gloomy Sunday afternoon in a downtown bar where he and Wayne, his best friend, treated themselves to a pair of foamy imported beers. Wyeth claimed to be a pacifist. The argument blushed his pale cheeks: “War is business, money, don’t you understand?’ he wanted to know.  “There are no just wars.  Wars are fought for territory, to impose a way of life, to get the natural resources needed to feed factories, to open up markets, to evangelize and replace one religion with another, to win and guess who writes the history books? Besides, who dies in wars? Not the rich, not the politicians, not the lawyers…”

Wayne was a gentle looking man with soft greenish eyes and coarse sandy colored hair.  He loved his wife, his children, his neighbors, he was a Sunday school teacher and well respected in his neighborhood. He didn’t seem to be a candidate for the war, but you never know.  For most of their school years Wayne and Wyeth had been bosom friends. But lately they had begun to drift apart. Things came to a breaking point when Wayne decided to enlist in the army and volunteer to join the military forces which had invaded Balkeslachistan , a country on the fringe accused of harboring insurgents fighting to defend archaic religious and social beliefs contrary to those of the invading army. Up to now Wayne had incessantly defended Wyeth, even under varied and trying circumstances. Yet now he was red with anger. His chest heaved and his voice sounded cracked with anger.

“Don’t you understand my dear friend? I love my country and I am prepared to die for it!” He shouted to emphasize his point, slamming his beer mug on the wooden table. All eyes in the dark basement bar whirled towards him and waiters stopped in their tracks. Time seemed to have come to a standstill. “How many countries have the freedom and democracy that we have? It isn’t because we want to destroy their country. But we have the God given duty to bring peace and prosperity to an oppressed nation. Our ethical obligation to God and our forefathers is to intervene for the good of humanity. What if they dare to attack us? God has given us the right to defend our way of life…and in doing so we are bring them enlightenment.” He paused for a long moment, staring straight at Wyeth. Seconds went by, or perhaps minutes. Who knows how long? At moments like these the whole concept of time seems nothing but a fantasy. Out on the street cars came and went, a dense cloud of smog blurred the sunset, people scurried here and there with worry etched on their faces, far off a police siren sounded, lovers entwined their hands seductively, a student was shot to death in his classroom by a lone assassin, and a jealous husband clouted his wife on her arrival from work, a 90 year old woman silently did her yoga exercises while her life mate played his Stradivarius violin and a twelve-year-old girl couldn’t find the words with which to end her love poem.

Wyeth stirred his coffee in pensive silence, convinced that he should not get caught up in his friend’s outburst, yet he felt caught up in the storm. His pacifist convictions, years of yoga classes, fascination with breath control and a daily routine of exercises aimed at warding off negative influences had taught him to attempt to find positive energy even in the blackest moments. Yet Wayne was his best friend and they were at loggerheads. It was Wyeth who broke the silence. He stood up abruptly, called the waiter, paid the bill and strutted out the door.

A year and a half later, the local newspaper carried a story on the fate of Wayne. He had been captured by the enemy forces in Balkeslachistan. “Sgt. Wayne Johnston, a soldier respected for his patriotism and fighting skills, was reported missing last Monday,” the paper claimed. “Military authorities have given only vague accounts concerning the disappearance of Wayne, but our war correspondent reports that some of the sergeant’s buddies alleged that he had deserted…”

Wyeth could not believe what he had just read. Tears swelled up in his eyes. He wadded the newspaper in his fist, threw it to the ground and stomped on it. “Oh God! God! God!” His best friend had gone to the war, had been captured, or perhaps surrendered to enemy forces. If history often plays tricks on its players, how often does life seem to contradict our most treasured plans? Wyeth didn’t think twice. He took the first plane to Balkeslachistan, going through all the customary frisking, questioning and ID checks travelers must endure to enter the country. After checking into the Grand Hotel, he searched the immediate area for a coffee shop and entered one with the air of a man of business. You couldn’t walk freely about town and you couldn’t go into any restaurant or coffee house without being caught in the military surveillance radar the invading forces had carefully set up in the city. But no surveillance is perfect.

“I’m sorry,” said Wyeth motioning to the waiter, “but this coffee is awfully strong.”

“You can help yourself to another cup if you go to that shelf near the kitchen door,” the waiter said pointing a finger with a long untrimmed nail towards the coffee pots. 

“Thanks so much!”

As he was pouring himself another cup of coffee, Wyeth noticed a man with a familiar figure on the other side of the sliding doors that separated the kitchen from the counter where the waiters took people’s orders. He bent over to get a better look. There was something about that man in the kitchen. He could barely see him, but there was something about him. Perhaps it was a wild shot. Perhaps not.

“Sorry,” Wyeth repeated again, calling the waiter. “What time does this place close?”

“Oh, we close in about an hour.”

Wyeth drank his black coffee and then went around to the back of the building to see if he could find the exit door for the employees. He waited there patiently. When the man appeared, dressed in colorful local attire, he pressed close and whispered into his ear.

“Backstairs, Grand hotel, 7:45pm.”

The man glanced at him. A slight smile opened up the edges of the lips momentarily.


It was Wayne. Friends have a special knack for recognizing themselves. They whispered in hushed tones for an hour on the footsteps of the hotel fire escape.

“What happened?”

“I got fed up. I can’t take it anymore. This isn’t defending our country’s values…”

“You mean you…?”

“It's not the right method. You've gotta do things the right way or not do 'em...Here, let’s exchange clothes.”

There was darkness enough to do so. Wayne put on Wyeth’s jeans and grey-black shirt and returned to room 707. The next day he took the first flight home. Wyeth stuck it out for a few days more at the restaurant, then turned himself in to the military authorities. When the commander of the Balkeslachistan mission discovered the trick the two friends had played on the invading forces he foamed and raged, very much as the reader might imagine. But there was nothing much he could do. True. Wyeth was an imposter, but that was a minor offense which was later settled in court with a light jail sentence. Wayne never returned to his home for fear of being picked up by the Army or the secret service. The two men met up two years later on a delightful sunlit beach resort in Bashfore, a small country which had been able to maintain a carefully negotiated neutrality in the war. The two men strode towards each other over the sifting sand and dropped into a long heart-felt embrace.

“I love you and what you stand for,” said Wayne. I detest those people's beliefs and traditions but worse yet is to destroy their entire culture in the name of progress and with nameless atomized weapons. 

“I love your courage and honesty,” declared Wyeth.

Wayne dug his feet into the sand. Wyeth smiled. A white seagull swooped down over the salty waves nearby. Further off you could hear the cries of children dancing on the waves. The TV featured a program on the war, with some experts saying it had to end, others that "we've got to finish what we started." Off somewhere in the distance there was a marriage ceremony.  A man said to his companion: “love is sharing all you have without asking anything in return.”


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