we need not worry about water any more, it is brought
in bottles by embarrassed soldiers and I hide behind
my father when they come
I still hear shots and shouts descend at night, memories of
that night, I smiled a bashful, “I know you”
he pointed his gun
if I spoke english, I might have a voice to tell you about
the lights and the noises, mother just couldn’t forget
now I can’t either
maybe then you’d get my feelings and not just read
subtitled translations—if I spoke English—but
maybe you’ll get neither.
my father still hears the taliban bombs. not me
I’m too young to remember, my mother heard shots, nights
long after they were gone
he heard them, too, the american, and if I spoke english
I’d have told him that we all hear them here
he pointed his gun
did I really see him? if I spoke english, I’d have asked him:
whether she was real, my mother, shot by a soldier
who was never enlisted
or maybe he was shellshock, and what I thought was blood,
and what I thought was mother, was illusion destroyed
by gunshots that never existed
When I see the amount of news on Robert Bales’s unfortunate mental condition, when he (allegedly) killed seventeen civilians in Afghanistan, I am called to consider the mental conditions of the families left behind there. After all the legal and psychological questions have been asked, the only certainty that will remain is loss.
The degree of mystification made possible by the investigation of psychological trauma surrounding such an event raises questions not only of culpability, as we have heard Bales’s lawyer implicate and as I discussed in my previous post comparing with the Mohammed Merah case, but also relating to the foundations of how we perceive reality. How reliable are our accounts, if not legally.
In writing these verses, which I wrote out of a hopeless wish to empathize with the families left behind, I used three vague assumptions.
First, the villages in which the killings took place were within walking distance of Robert Bales’s camp, so one can imagine that he possibly knew the people, saw them often whilst touring. Superficial but meaningful relationships may then come into being: moments of eye-contact, smiles of recognition when the children see a soldier they have seen before.
Secondly, I asked myself in particular how a child might try to make sense of such loss. Melanie Klein’s splitting theory provides a basic framework: the psychological process of integrating varying experiences with single objects and realizing, for instance, that the mother breast that gives milk is the same one that sometimes doesn’t. Put simply, experience from a subjective viewpoint seems more real than what is logically understandable; what we call facts, the accounts we all agree on, like two children knowing there is a ghost upstairs. What happens if the only adult present agrees with them?
Thirdly, I then juxtaposed this natural, innocent uncertainty with the more grave legal and psychologically complex uncertainties of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). in the wake of reports that certain events surrounding the main event of the killings officially never happened. For example: a bomb, that villagers claim exploded the day before, that the US have no record of. No doubt Bales’s defence lawyer, by applying American law standards of forensics might use this to argue that there is too much uncertainty surrounding the event.
For example, if I may mock up his attitude: Maybe my client’s confession was more related to his nightmares than to… any … any … real killings of which I believe he was … completely … unaware.
Some villagers claim that there were several soldiers involved. The lawyer might therefore argue that these people’s memories have perhaps been rendered untrustworthy by stress, by war, by hard questioning, by loyalty, by time. Who then can be rendered a viable witness? Whose account can be trusted, if all are living in constant fear and stress?
For more information on sources see the previous article and the video below in which the survivors are interviewed.