Then it was time. Mike lifted his gun, sighted, and fired. Aaron crumpled.
And then everyone else opened up on the crumpled form of his younger brother. Nothing exploded off Aaron, no blood or gore, no bits of bone and flesh. Instead Aaron was ripped and cut like a rag doll with an infinite capacity to absorb bullets and be shot clean through. It got to be hard work, killing Private Aaron.
One night, a few months after a rocket propelled grenade killed his brother Aaron in southern Iraq, Mike Thompson returned again to the Little League ball field where he and Aaron used to play.
He scaled the outfield fence and walked through the dark to home plate where he stood in the dirt of the batter’s box, smack in the middle of where he thought they had all failed Aaron – the whole town, the whole country – though no one had forced a gun into Aaron’s hand, not directly. Instead it seemed Aaron had merely been taught, simply been encouraged to be a warrior right there in the middle of town, deep in America – in the shadow of the church and the old school, not far from the supermarket on the first base side, next to the car dealership in foul ground off right field, across the street from a bank, bordering a gas station, and a convenience store behind center field, an auto parts store on the other side, and a car wash and used car lot, across the road from the elderly housing beyond the curving creek behind left field. All these establishments located along the route their school bus had taken each school day, a block from the center of downtown – town surrounding, shaping, enabling the boys, Aaron – the student, ballplayer, young man, soldier, son – Aaron Thompson. That was what happened, as Mike saw it. All the town had raised, molded, recruited Aaron and sent him off with blessings formal and informal to legally fight an illegal, monstrous conflict.
Did Mike really believe that?
He saw no reason not to.
Did he really blame his brother’s death on the town? On baseball?
Not only. On himself as well. On everything. On everyone. On the media. And the schools. On the weapons manufacturers. The oil men. On the owners and their officials, representatives, spokespeople, hired hands, hired guns.
The town and surrounding area. It was its own place, in certain ways special to Mike, and in other ways, he knew, it was a place like many another place. It was America. It was the world. And there were plenty of city blocks not much unlike this small village block, all around the world. This town was an American town like many other American towns and cities. And a town like many other towns in many other countries, even, on every continent, all over the globe. Maybe in Antarctica there were no towns such as this.
Mike stood in the batter’s box, stared out across the dark field. He was struck by images of the killing of his brother, of all who had killed him.
Mike imagined a gun in his hands, his very own hands, military issue, automatic, a machine gun. And all the Thompson family came onto the field holding guns. And much of the town. And people from all over the country. And elected officials. And non-elected executives and owners. The bigwigs. The big owners especially pointed their guns at the people in the town.
Everyone was present, gathered along the foul lines, people from all across America, all gathered in the ball field with their guns and flares and grenades.
And Private Aaron Thompson stood off in the distance, in shallow center field, in a camouflage uniform.
They shot him again and again but he would not die.
During breaks in the firing, people wiped sweat, took breaths, looked away, stretched, refocused, glanced at the big owners in the bleachers with the guns pointing down at the people – symbolism, hell, it was reality – and then they all resumed firing as if it were the most natural thing in the world, as if their very lives depended on it.
Aaron was rolled over and flopped around by the force of the impacts. Occasionally he struggled to sit up and any time he did he was blasted down again by bullets and grenade bursts. Once, he nearly got to his feet. Then the priests and preachers fired away, the teachers, supervisors, politicians, mothers and fathers, family and friends, reporters, doctors, lawyers, carpenters, farmers, service workers, schoolchildren, executives, them most of all – bang! bang! bang!
That was how Aaron died.
Then, for added theater, some big owners, politicians, corporate executives, and so on, flew over in military planes and dropped bombs on Private Aaron. Uncle Sam leaned out of Air Force One and shouted encouragement through a bullhorn, stamped with a sleek corporate logo. The members of the Supreme Court stood by, nodding sagely. Everyone that mattered was there in official and unofficial capacity both, in all their glory.
That was how Aaron was killed.
And the TV cameras zoomed in but not too close and the media crews flooded the field with spotlights but kept the owners offscreen and anyway the images would be edited and otherwise modified until it all came out as a story of noble death, in prime time. They got it on film all right – not that it might ever be shown in public until it had been transformed into the great corporate polemic lie, masquerading as objective reality.
Meanwhile, Mike saw for real, tonight, for real. The story of his time. Life. The bullet game that could only be stopped and not won. The killing of Private Aaron Thompson.
Mike stood in the batter’s box in one of the darkest parts of the field and he stared at the body of his brother, this vision of the body of his brother, until it moved no more, and then with Aaron dead and motionless, finally, everyone shifted attention to deep center field where stood a group of Iraqis, very many of them.
It was difficult to see how many Iraqis for sure. No one really knew or much seemed to care. A few of the Iraqis were lined up in military uniform, looking ragged. The rest were civilians.
It was time. Mike and everyone else opened fire, and the group of Iraqis went down. An incredible barrage. Mike fired steadily, the crumpled image of his brother in one eye, the Iraqis fixed in the other.
A few people walked up to the foul lines and fired rocket-propelled grenades. Then bombs and missiles struck from invisible planes high overhead, far out of sight, far out of hearing even. Boom! Boom! Boom!
The Iraqis took it all like Aaron had, like rag dolls torn to shreds, cut down and killed, and killed, and killed again, until they went still at long last, not totally destroyed somehow, their images at least.
And that was how it was done.
Afterwards, everyone stacked the weapons in neat piles for use the next time.
They offered condolences to Aaron’s family for the loss.
To Mike, that was the reality of Aaron’s killing. And of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and of the economic sanctions and the bombings throughout much of the last decade and a half that have killed, by now, millions, of Iraqis.
American history. World history. There it was, in the same vein as the slaughtering of the Native Americans, and the Vietnamese, and the many others at home and abroad. What else might be expected of the US, when it currently had military bases and soldiers in one hundred fifty plus nations around the globe and a military budget larger than the military spending of every other nation combined?
Mike stood in the batter’s box in the dark and remembered a day long ago when his little brother Aaron had been struck twice in consecutive at bats, crumpling to the ground the second time, the twelve year-old pitcher who looked like both the whining commander President George Bush and the exuse-blathering funder and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi walking toward home plate complaining, “He never moved. He didn’t even try to get out of the way.”
(If only they had not ordered the fighting and fully funded it! These people are the lowest of the low. Our “leaders.”)
Years later, after Aaron had been killed in an ambush and firefight in Iraq, after his parents had been notified, the first image that came to Mike’s mind was not one of Aaron in Iraq but the one of Aaron sprawled in the dirt of the Little League batter’s box.
And soon came the image of Aaron and Iraqis being gunned down in center field – by whom – that came later.
Mike stood at home plate. “We might have saved him,” he said aloud. “Saved them all. We might have saved my brother, Aaron Thompson. And everyone.”
He told it to the night.
The next thing Mike Thompson knew, a week later, a reporter called up and came by his house – and Mike called the reporter out and he began telling it to the day.