The Last True War Story I’ll Ever Tell
What one veteran remembers on Memorial Day
A true war story is never moral… If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever.
— Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried
“Would you do it? I mean, kiss Brad Pitt’s dick on national television for a hundred grand?”
I stare at a small figure a ways off as he bends to dig in the sand. Where the sky meets the horizon is nothing more than an endless sea of bleached earth; an old pumping station is all that haunts the landscape. It’s the only building we’ve seen for miles. The interior appears to have been looted several years ago, and old drapes snag on broken window shards. Someone finds a dusty lawn chair and kicks a hole through it, turning the building into a community “shitter.”
The man on the horizon continues to dig in the sand until something startles him. He stumbles backward, yelling a string of frantic curse words. I assume he unearthed a scorpion or some other insect that can kill you — just like anything can — when you’re living in Iraq. It’s not the worst way to go given the alternatives, an IED or suicide bomber.
The soldier in the distance composes himself, but it’s clear that whatever he’s uncovered has him spooked. Reaching into the hole, he hoists up his prize and chants “TWO MEN ENTER, ONE MAN LEAVES!”
“So would you do it, Sergeant? On national… what the hell is he yelling?”
A few weeks earlier, my team spent an evening powering through all the Mad Max movies, laughing at the absurdity of Tina Turner in a post-apocalyptic Fight Club. Thunderdome is where all the matches take place, and Iraq bears an eerie resemblance to the movies’ desert landscapes.
“It’s from Thunderdome. The Mad Max movie with Tina Turner in it,” I tell the young solider who’s seemingly obsessed with whether I’d…