Comments for “the President”? Go to: The Soldier Said to the President…
The entire continuing Deadline Iraq series: here.
The Shape of Tomorrow:
“Oh great, here comes the Liar in Chief,” said Soldier One to Soldier Two at a desert-embalmed seemingly remote military base actually not far from Baghdad.
“How you two fellas doing?” said the President of the United States, strolling over with an entourage that billowed around him, a cloud of cavalry made up of administrative, military, and media personnel. The President dressed in desert-wear Army camouflage thought it all a great photo op.
“Just fine, Sir.” Soldier One extended her peg arm to the President. Her hand and forearm had been blown apart by a roadside bomb. She was off duty now wearing a wooden peg because she was still spooked by the metal claws that made for her new active duty fingers and by the synthetic flesh of her modeled prosthetic hand.
So the President shook her peg. “Good, good, that’s good to hear.” He turned to Soldier Two who took a half step forward on his wooden peg, hidden in his boot, to more firmly grasp the hand of the President.
“We’re ‘living the dream’, Sir.” He stared the president in the eye, his look lively, unsmiling.
“Well, that’s good to hear,” said the President. “Is there anything you need? Anything at all? Any splendors of life the military denies?” He chuckled in what he imagined was fraternal bonding. The President was often criticized for not appearing with the wounded, so when he saw the wounded soldier on active duty, he jumped at the chance, almost leaving his handlers in the desert dust.
Soldier One rammed her peg into the President’s gut.
No, I’m sorry, of course she didn’t, that’s just this crazy story getting away from its author.
“No, Sir. We get about everything we ask for out here, and then some, we get everything we got coming, we don’t ask for much, would be a fool to ask for too much. We got all we need. No complaints,” said Soldier One.
“Sometimes my foot itches,” said Soldier Two. “You can’t see it but I’ve got a foot blowed off in my right boot. I’m walking on wood as we speak. But who am I to complain? I’m a soldier in the US Army. So I reach down and scratch the wood a bit. Sometimes I mark it with a knife. Sometimes I just leave the knife sticking straight in.”
Soldier Two had yet to grow fond of the titanium and plastic foot so vital for duty but figured he might in time. For now when off duty he preferred the old-fashioned peg. Peg leg. Leg of a peg. He had whittled the wood, contrived the padding and strap himself, with the help of Soldier One who showed him how after fashioning her peg hand and arm.
Soldier Two grabbed the President by the head and wrestled him to the ground.
No, of course he didn’t.
“Glad everything is good as can be here,” said the President of the United States with a firm nod. “Gotta go.”
But the President did not go. Soldier One reach out her peg arm and caught the President at the elbow. Soldier One, lately, had been suffering nightmares about being shot at and blown up for doing nothing, for rebelling, for breathing, and in her nightmares she was always petrified but never killed, as if she could not be, because each bullet struck wood, each screaming hot torching slicing tearing piece of shrapnel plunked wooden body parts that had been flesh only moments earlier. Occasionally the missiles blew Soldier One apart entirely, but someone always came along to pick up the pieces and cobble her back together, splinter by splinter, by timber by chunk. Soldier One – a wooden soldier. She could not be killed. So she hooked the President by the arm.
“Sir, there is something I must tell you.”
You’re a war criminal?
At that moment, Soldier Two foot-swept the President with his peg leg, dropping him to the dust. He put his peg upon the President’s neck.
No of course he did not.
A sudden dust storm kicked up, biting and blinding.
“I have these dreams, Sir, nightmares really, where I am constantly attacked, shot to pieces, blown to bits, and always, Sir, I survive.”
“Excellent work, Soldier.” The President attempted to move on but Soldier One slid her wood peg up to the President’s armpit and held him as if hugging but not quite. He knew it. She knew he knew it. He tolerated it for the moment.
“I always survive,” repeated Soldier One. “My fellow soldiers come along and piece me back together, wooden splinter by wooden splinter, by beam, by peg, by post. I always survive, Sir. Do you understand what I’m saying, Your Excellency, Sir Presidency?”
His head is made of wood? His heart?
“You feel invincible?” said the President, as his cavalry pressed in close upon him. The dust storm swirled and jumped and chewed and bit but most of all – blasted. The media interfered with the guards, the guards interfered with the staff, the staff interfered with each other. Nobody could see much or hear well.
“Not exactly, Sir. There is always laughter all around. Laughter upon laughter everywhere and it rolls off the lips of the Iraqis, echoes out of their bellies. And they are all around. And they are laughing. Not even waiting for us to turn our backs or pass on like they used to. Some are even unarmed but even the ones with guns are not firing, have not fired at me. Do you see now?”
“Did you shoot yourself, Soldier?”
No, Sir. Real people are trying to kill her every day, Sir. You ordered her to invade a country, Sir, where, just by chance, Sir, people don’t like to be invaded, Sir. They want her dead, Sir. Every day. Sir.
“I was shot by friendly forces, Mr. President. In my dreams, my nightmares I am always shot by friendly forces. At first it was Iraqis but now only the friendlies. They are killing me, Sire, I mean, Sir. They are killing me.”
“It’s only a dream,” consoled the President.
“I know, Sir, I know, but now I want to kill them.”
“Not the – “
“All of them. Everyone. All people, Sir.”
“Soldier, our enemies wish us harm. Can’t you see them? Don’t you hear them? Can’t you smell them? Can’t you smell their fear?”
“Actually, what I smell – “
I’ll leave it to your imagination. And don’t I always, ultimately? Isn’t that the way it should be?
“The enemy, the enemy,” chanted the President. “The enemy wish us harm.”
“Arm?” Soldier One pressed her peg tight against him.
They wish we would leave them to their oil. And their land. And their lives.
“I know, Sir.”
“They wish us death.”
But they would settle for seeing us just get the hell out.
“The enemy! All together now!” The President draped one arm around Soldier One, folding her peg arm into him, and he swept his other arm to his entourage, beckoning them to chant with him through the storm, “The enemy! The enemy! We must all kill the enemy! The enemy! The enemy! We must all kill the enemy!”
At that moment the President had a heart attack and died.
Finally the President cut off the chorus he was pretending to direct with both a military grunt “Hoo-ah!” and an orchestral sweep of his arm.
Okay, so I’m exaggerating a bit here.
“Do you understand now, Soldier?”
“Oh, Yes, Sir. I understand Your Presidency Sir. Kill.”
“Good girl. That’s the spirit. Sock it to them. Now let’s win one for the old Red, White, and Blue.”
Whereby Soldier One vomited uncontrollably upon the President, direct hitting him in the chest, splashing his neck and face, digestive juices soaking his desert-wear military camo. Curses and ejaculations all about.
No, I’m sorry, none of that happened, in fact.
“Sock it to them, Soldier.”
“Yes, Sire, I believe we will, Sire. Give them the old sock, the old Red, White, and Blue. I bled red until I turned white and felt rather blue, Sir.”
Okay, so this soldier woman is not a poet, natural born. Works for me, though.
“That’s the true patriotic spirit, Soldier. Outstanding.”
“Yes, Sire. By the way, you may call me, Peg.”
“As in Peggy? Or, The Pegger!”
“Yes, Sir, Private Pegger Jackson would be just fine, Sir. I’m Pegger and this here is my good friend Private Peg Leg Jones.” She indicated the other soldier, Soldier Two.
“Let’s hear one for the Pegger! And Peg Leg too! Come on boys and girls, all together now – You’re more than pegs in a machine. We couldn’t kill Iraqis without you. Excellent work now. Good job, Peg and Peg Leg too. The great Peggers. How we love you all! Carry on.”
And when the body armor and humvee armor don’t reach you in time or at all, we admire you even more! And when the pictures and stories of you soldiers torturing and murdering come out, we try to suppress them. Of course we never mention that we created the conditions for all that to happen in the first place. People might think we were most responsible! You could thank us too for hiding your flag-draped coffins from the media when they return to the US.
Some might say it’s the absolute utter least the officials could do.
But it gets worse. Sorry. These are simply the facts on the ground. No fancy. If I were being fancy, I would say the President and the others going along with him are radioactive cesspools of officials, executives using their many fine qualities to mass murder and mass wound and mass brutalize people, but I scarcely get fancy like that, do I? Do Soldier One and Soldier Two? Do they ever say the retail terrorists send a car bomb or two at a time, while the state terrorists send a quarter million soldiers and vast sea and air fleets of million dollar missiles? Do soldiers ever talk that way? Do they ever see it that way? Do they ever say, We have no business patroling and bombing there, and there, and there, and…. Do they? Ask them.
Peg fainted. She sighed and slipped out of the President’s grasp. She thudded to the ground.
“Peg’s down,” said the President.
Peg leg and all, Soldier Two reached Soldier One before anyone else. As it happened – at that moment the base was bombed by incoming mortar fire.
Dirt, dust, sand, stones, shrapnel, deafening noise all poured down on the little congregation standing out in the open, exposed to all elements, raining death on the Presidential Parade. Boom.
Blasting them from all sides.
Two security agents knocked the President off his feet but they themselves had been knocked off their own feet by the blast.
“What the hell is going on here!” screamed the President of the United States. “Don’t they know I’m the President of the United States? Don’t they know we’ll nuke them for this! Don’t – “
“Incoming!” someone screamed, and all was a blur.
So there it is. You’ve read all the media reports about this many times probably, but now you’re going to get the inside story, the rest of the story, the real deal for real.
The President woke up in an unfamiliar tent hours later. He had been stretched flat on a cot, a light cotton sheet thrown over him. He lifted his head off the pillow and sat up. A man who might have been an Iraqi pointed a machine gun at him. “Don’t worry, Your Excellency, you are not dead.”
“I feel so relieved,” said the President, staring the length of the barrel of the gun. “And you would be?” The man looked familiar to the President, somehow.
“Not unless you take the long view, and you don’t, my family is of no acquaintance with your family, Your Excellency. Not directly. Indirectly, yes. We’ve had dealings. Rather extensive.” The gunman smiled. “We both love oil.”
“Are you Iraqi? Al-Qaeda? Iranian? The Taliban.”
“That is neither here nor there,” said the man with the gun. “I am your guard, your guide, your provider of all things good.”
The President was suddenly struck by the stillness, the silence outside the opaque walls of the tent. “Am I dead? Is this – “
“That will be for you to determine,” said the guard. He put down his gun on a wooden chair and turned his back and walked to the other end of the tent.
The President attempted to stand and grab the gun but was knocked flat on the cot as if by an invisible hand.
Not a hand he had much use for at the moment. Striking how the “invisible hand” benefits the strong at the expense of the weak.
“Know this, and call me what you like: to you, I am God,” said the man. “We are going places.” He opened a flap in the tent. A bright light spilled in. He turned briefly back to the President of the United States. “We are going places, you and I. We are going to see the world, the two of us. Give it a quick once over. And not necessarily for your edification, for you are unteachable. But we must. God must have his day.” He walked out, closing the flap behind him. All at once, the President of the United States recognized the man as the former Dictator of Iraq, the ghost of the executed dictator, Saddam Hussein. And then the President of the United States woke up.
He was face down in the Iraq desert on a US military base with a big gulp of Iraqi desert sand in his mouth. The mortars boomed, the earth trembled. Suddenly he was grabbed, dragged to a pile of sandbags and heaved behind. Explosions everywhere. Then just as he was about to breathe he was grabbed again and this time bent in half and half run half carried in the grip of strong arms to a reinforced building where he was rushed downstairs to an underground bunker. He never saw more than a few feet in front of his face in the swirling blackness outside, was never allowed to straighten up even once inside the building. He had taken some shrapnel in the back and couldn’t comfortably straighten up. Only saw boots. Wounded, bleeding, the President was shoved into a secure room where he passed out.
He was lucky to be alive.
He had no business being in Iraq in the first place, of course. The US military had no business being in Iraq in the first place. But there it was. There they all were. Any one of them would be lucky to get out alive. This time, even the Big Shots.
Right about now I can hear dominant media book and film critics blather about how boring and artless is partisan fiction. Poor hired hands – or is it hired guns? – they don’t even realize the pitiful the polemics they write, these establishment pros, tin of ear and gross as they mistake and mistype.
Almost everyone in the President’s entourage had been shot or killed by the initial blasts, as much of the base went up in flames. Five US Army helicopters piloted by Iraqi resistance forces had been able to land but failed to locate the President before he was secured. Several of the Iraqi-piloted helicopters did manage to take a few wounded members of the media and the President’s staff hostage, most of them unconscious or mortally wounded, left behind by their colleagues in the initial scramble.
Soldier Two was shot in both legs but superficially. His peg was splintered not shattered, and he was about the only one standing after the initial burst who could much help. He grabbed the President with one arm and Soldier One with the other – her peg had been blown off, and they threw themselves behind nearby sandbags. Smoke everywhere though Soldier Two could see the helicopters landing and not in any defensive formation. He guessed immediately what was happening. The helicopters lay down a covering fire. The three Americans were close enough to the main building and the smoke was heavy enough they could move to it unseen though they would have to move fast.
Soldier Two headlocked the limping President and hooked the arm of Soldier One and rushed them through the tar air that blackened their clothes and skin and no doubt lungs and lurched into the incredible chaos of the building entrance and interior. Soldier Two stopped for nothing, half dragging his choking and hobbled charges down a couple flights of stairs. He knew the location of the deepest most reinforced bunker but changed direction at the last moment on impulse and used a set of keys to open a vast supply room. He rushed Soldier One and the President to the back of it and used a special key to open a hidden room. He helped Soldier One and the President inside then retraced their steps, cleaning up the blood trail they had left in the empty hall and fully stocked supply room.
The supply room locked, and then the door to the secret back room locked and hidden, Soldier Two turned to the President who was being tended by Soldier One. She had stopped his bleeding and her own. The President mumbled incoherently, shocked, though it seemed he would come through. The soldiers inspected and attended further to each others’ wounds. They had everything they needed and more. The supply room contained gear, food, medicine, weapons, electronics of all sorts. No ammunition. Their hidden room included a bathroom within the ten-foot thick sound-proofing encasing the room, a special torture room. Or, call it, interrogation. It was so special, however, it had been forgotten, apparently, during one of the many personnel rotations these past rapidly accumulating years. Possibly the officers formerly stationed there had gained the good conscience necessary to forget away its existence altogether. Or possibly the room had been forgotten immediately upon construction. Soldier One and Soldier Two had no way of knowing for sure.
Everything on a need to know basis in the Army. Well, he needed to know now and did not but could not stop for not knowing. And so far, could not be stopped.
Just this past month he and Soldier One hoped to use the back of the supply room for intimacy. In the process of making space, they discovered the hidden room, perfect for their special assignations.
So the room known only to them, apparently, was probably not to be found even on any blueprints or in surviving memos. They had no way of knowing, but had not much cared. The room was theirs.
Soldier Two took the stump end of Soldier One’s right arm in his hand. “I’m so glad you’re okay.”
“You saved his life,” she said. “And mine.”
“We saved our own. Look, here’s my sense of what just happened. Hit and run. Iraqis’ hijacking Army helicopters. Smash and grab. Do you believe it? They wanted him alive. They weren’t out to kill him. You don’t land to do that. You land to kidnap. They tried to take the President alive.” Soldier Two nodded at the recumbent form. “But they must be beaten back by now, the base secure. It was a total surprise job. No way do they have overwhelming force. But we have to see.”
“The Invader-in-Chief.” Soldier One shook her head at the semi-unconscious figure of the President lying on the white sheets of their mattress. “Why didn’t we just give him up, leave him?”
“Training. Maybe,” said Soldier Two. “But why did I drag him in here? Why cover up from friendly forces? Totally against training.”
About time, no?
“We should have given him up,” Soldier One repeated. “Maybe we still can.” She laughed. “Give up the whole damn war.”
Damned, indeed, in fact, intent. They knew that now. Who didn’t? The President? The media and the rest of financial and official America? For real?
Soldier Two wasn’t laughing. He was looking directly at Soldier One. “Give up the whole damn war,” he repeated her words. Soldier One met his gaze, leaned back, went silent. Soldier Two glanced rapidly around the room.
There was much to do.
They stripped the President, balled his clothes, stuck in his wallet, everything. “Make sure this gets totally incinerated,” Soldier Two said to Soldier One not meaning to order her but ordering her nevertheless.
Why not: Will you make sure this gets totally incinerated?
The President bore shrapnel marks across his back – nothing terrible – and something had caught him across the head, enough to knock him out.
Soldier Two took out his knife and ran the blunt edge of the blade and his fingertips over every inch of the President’s body until he found a chip, implanted beneath the skin on the President’s back, below his right scapula. He sliced the President’s skin at a right angle and dug out a GPS chip, a global positioning satellite marker. By the chip, the Pentagon could track the President anywhere on earth, if not beyond.
Soldier Two put the chip on a heavy wood table in the corner of the room. He took off his boot. He unstrapped his peg leg. And with one mighty blow of the peg, he crushed the chip to dust, indenting the tabletop. He wiped up the dust and spilled it into a fold of the President’s ball of clothes. “Now go,” said Soldier Two to Soldier One.
Let’s call Soldier Two, Private Jones, and Soldier One, Private Jackson. Nice and easy. He is Jones, she is Jackson.
Jones used his belt to tie the President, and left him lying on the mattress.
Then he flipped on what he and Jackson had figured out during their tryst visits was an electrically operated vent, exchanging fresh air for stale covertly from somewhere they had not been able to determine. Jones followed Jackson into the supply room through three padded doors swinging open and closing in alternatingly opposite directions. Immediately upon opening the door into the supply room (that looked like no door but rather a continguous edging structure of the wall hidden behind both permanent and moveable shelving) Jones first felt, then heard the explosions rocking the base that they could get no inkling of in the silent room.
Jackson soon lost herself in the confusion of the building and base, and raced into the back of the chow hall while the front half was on fire. Everyone was busy elsewhere, the whole thing was about to go up. She threw the President’s items toward the flames and got out. If anyone saw her and asked, she could claim she had tried to retrieve a treasured bracelet she had forgotten inside – and she could hold up her amputated arm – and that would likely be the end of any questions.
For sensitivity’s sake, not least.
Safely beyond the flaming and then exploding building, Jackson took a moment to reflect that the President’s identity had gone up in smoke. She looked at her missing hand.
An awful lot going up in smoke these days.
Not long ago Private Jackson learned that the invasion had been based on lies, trumped up claims, phony evidence, utter deceit.
She didn’t learn it from the Army. Or the corporate media. Or even in school, and not church. Not any too early. Or do you, smart reader, know that – who knew what when and why? Private Jackson damn well wished some smart people had been smart enough to let her know earlier. She’d had to dig, scratch, and claw to find out. With one hand.
Yes, it had cost her hand. It had cost her lover’s foot. It had cost many lives from many countries – mainly Iraqi lives. It was like a mission to burn as much money and blood and bones as possible. Well – Private Jackson thought looking around at the base in Iraq gone up in flames – Mission Accomplished.
Thank God, she felt just about done with it all now. Goodbye to all that, baby. Sure this personal business with the President could claim her own life at any moment. So what – she might be blown up any day out on patrol. Had already been blown up once. How many lives did she have? She had felt dread before but now thinking of the President as hostage, she would swear to any available God that she had never felt more alive than she did in this moment with the illicit President himself at her very command.
Goddamn, thought Jackson. Goddamn, I am! Goddamned.
Onward. There was much to do. She had to find her unit, her officer. She would have to get back later to Jones and the President and the silent room. She could be their link to the world. Their uplink, she figured. Get a wireless computer into the silent room. The wireless network of the base would go easily through the foam padding. And who could know? Goddamn! She would uplink the President and Jackson to the world. One way or another. Covertly. If it could be done. As hostage. The President hostage, now, for peace. And Private Jackson with Private Jones moving on in a big way by way of little steps, now, on the move.
The US base had not seriously been threatened. Dozens of people had been killed, many bombs had gone off, but it was all intended as diversion to kidnapping the President. While the diversion failed in its original intent, Private Jones and Jackson spontaneously, impulsively succeeded.
Now what? They wondered but not for long, as there was obviously much to do.
Two of the hijacked helicopters escaped with five US hostages from the President’s Parade. Three soon died of wounds suffered in the initial attack The other two drifted in and out of consciousness, before being treated by the resistance. Within days, films of the hostages identifying themselves before cameras found their way to the internet and media everywhere.
No word on the President. No one but two had a clue in the world. As near as anyone could figure, he had been taken out on one of the helicopters. It was widely assumed he was being tortured for all possible information. Some people expected to see his body soon hanging from a pole.
Establishment America launched into its predictable and typical hysterics.
Our King has been stolen! Kidnapped! Soon to be ransomed! If he is even still alive! Our King! Our King! Our King!
Boo. Hoo. Grow up. Get real.
That’s what Private Jackson and Private Jones thought. The Invader in Chief was an invader no more. Nor was he Chief.
In fact, he was in the dungeon of his own making.
Finally the President came into clear consciousness on the mattress in the silent room, and the first thing Private Jones said to him: “You made your own bed. Now you lie in it.”
Jones nodded. He decided to extract some truth in the days, if not weeks and months, in the silent room to come.