понедельник, 1 сентября 1997 г.

And so we were killing each other

Статья, опубликована в Foreign Area Officer Association Journal (USA, Springfield, VA) в сентябре 1997 года.

ATT00003In August of 1985, I was with a group of a hundred newly recruited internationalist soldiers just arrived from the Soviet Union. I was sweating at the Kabul Distribution Point expecting for my fate to be decided. By day we were killing time in card games or dozing on dirty mattresses. At night, when the heat subsided, the camp came alive. Most people gathered where movies were being shown. A couple of times they ran old Soviet films “Chapayev” and “Battleship Potemkin.” But one day they brought in a movie about the Vietnam War. Obviously, the propaganda officer in charge of our camp wanted this movie to arouse our hatred toward the so-called American imperialism and its Afghan puppets, whom we had been sent to fight by the Soviet nation. But it was perceived by the viewers differently. When an American helicopter appeared on the screen generously showering fire on the “Ho Chi Minh Motel,” the Soviet Internationalist Soldiers started cheering as one, “bash the Mujahedins, wipe them out!”

During the whole movie, they were like soccer fans, booing at the actions of their Vietnamese brethren, and worrying about the fate of the American GI’s. As a matter of fact, there was nothing surprising about it. True, in 1985, we were still like the rabbits in [the modern Russian writer] Fazil Iskander’s novel, who do not even dare to move their ears when boa constrictors are swallowing them. However, one had to be very stupid not to understand that the Vietnam and the Afghan wars were horses of the same color. The only difference consisting in that behind the back of the Viet Cong there loomed the silhouette of the Kremlin, and behind the Mujahedins there stood Uncle Sam.

Therefore, we naturally associated ourselves with the American Rangers from the nameless movie about the Vietnam War. All of us were destined to drink grief from the bottle opened by the GI’s in Vietnam; we received that bottle as a legacy in Kabul. However, the understanding of a common soldiers’ lot did not influence our attitude toward the Americans, the Germans, and the French whom we met in Afghanistan. On the warpath, all soldiers have the same mentality and preach the same gospel: “I am fighting to stay alive. If I want to survive, I have to kill.” And so we were killing each other. At a Byelorussian cemetery near Minsk, there lies buried a soldier who died in a clash with American military specialists who were helping Mujahedins fight us. In November 1985, on a wall in a village near Kabul, which was fired upon at close range by Soviet artillery, I found graffiti in German: “We are from Dortmund. Damn You, Russian Swines.” The ground floor was covered with empty cartridges and blood stained rags. I do not know whether the Germans managed to escape alive from this slaughterhouse. I hope they did.

The French journalist Jacques Abouchard was taken prisoner by Soviet special forces troops. The American Charles Thornton perished when he found himself in an ambush. Senior Lieutenant Sergeyenko became disabled as a result of the following operation. American “soldiers of fortune” who flew to Afghanistan in order to share their battle experience with field commanders, forced Sergeyenko’s column of fuel service men into a gorge, and burned them alive. Sr. Lt. Sergeyenko and his comrades in arms played the role of visual aids.

Oh Lord, the number of skulls we have driven into the pocket of graves. How many are missing or died in captivity? When our fathers and grandfathers met on the Elbe, they hoped that World War II was the last war. Alas, not even in a nightmare could my MIA grandfather, Private Yegor Dorenskiy, have imagined that in 1985 his grandson would be fighting Germans in ... Afghanistan. It’s terrible! Wait a minute, is it true that it’s all over now. Can we be sure that at least from now on we will never fire at each other? A feminist writer once said that war is men’s favorite game, which they will hardly ever give up. As for me, I am irritated even when I hear a toy Kalashnikov submachine gun bark.

For me, it is much more fun to have a Coke with American Majors in a Byelarus Hotel room than to take aim at them with a real Kalashinkov gun. Indeed, what sort of enemies for me are James Bishop and Ron Maynard, who have come to Minsk to look for perished and MIA GI’s. Instead, I must be their ready assistant because my grandfather is buried in the globe, god knows where, unidentified in a mass grave. And me, too, I have savored war. This may be the reason why my interviewing of James and Ron was transformed into a friendly chat. Instead of asking the planned questions, I was racking my brain for information of interest to them.

When I was a military correspondent, I met on numerous occasions with officers who had fought in Vietnam, Korea, Angola, and the Sinai Peninsula. I remember a professor of the Minsk Higher Engineering Anti-Aircraft Missile school recalling Vietnam. He told me of the gentleman like behavior of American pilots. He said they used to throw down leaflets in Russian, warning Soviet anti-aircraft defense experts about an upcoming bombardment of a facility, and suggesting them to abandon a doomed area. “Once,” recalled the same professor, “We were a group of a dozen or so military advisers bathing in a bay. Suddenly, American airplanes appeared in the sky. They were flying in at a very low altitude and the pilots could clearly see us, as well as our weapons and uniforms lying on the white sand of a warlittered beach. They could have easily shot us down, or dropped a bomb on us, but instead, they waved their wings in salutation and flew on along the coast and destroyed the facility, that was protected by our anti-aircraft missiles.”

By the way, among former professors of the Minsk school, Mr. Bishop and Mr. Maynard did find someone who knew something of what interested the two Americans. They obtained a photocopy of the ID card of a U.S. pilot downed in Vietnam. Also, a person from the Diatlovsky District, Grodenskaya Province has told them of a burial site of American WWII pilots in Germany. This person was a concentration camp prisoner. At the end of the war, the town closest to the camp was often bombed by the Americans. Once, a plane was shot down near a lake. The prisoner participated in a search for the pilot’s remains, and then his burial. He had written a letter to Major Bishop and offered to show the place where the U.S. pilot died.

Regrettably, my memory only contained information about the death of the Arizona Republic reporter Charles Thornton. He had been trapped in an ambush set by a reconnaissance group of the third specialmission detachment in the Kandagar province. But, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Byelarus, I wandered around the Minsk military cemetery and discovered the grave of an American citizen, Ms. Ruth S. Waller, who was born August 19, 1921, in California and died (it is unknown how and why) in August of 1946 in Minsk. I hurried to tell James and Ron. Major Bishop suggested taking a taxi and going right away to the military cemetery. But not a single cab was in sight by the Byelarus hotel. I suggested taking a tram. The Americans did not object. So, through the backyard of the fashionable Byelarus hotel, we went to the tram stop. When we were getting on tram # 3, my brain hit me: “Oh my, is it right to take them somewhere in a tram? What if it’s prohibited?” I swear, this thought did cross my mind. In the next instant, I was aware that it is not 1937 [the year generally considered as the peak of Stalinist repression.-- Translator’s note.] and not even 1985 [when Gorbachev’s reforms started]. Who cares? It’s not a big deal that two American Majors ride tram # 3 looking through a dirty window at a dilapidated wall of a brewery and a gloomy stone wall of a hospital. Just to think how they have intimidated us by the all-seeing eye of the [Communist] Party, striking terror into our hearts. To this day we look around suspicious of being watched.

In short, the tram took us to the place. The military cemetery was quiet and sad as usual. We found the grave of Ruth Waller, member of UNRRA mission [as the tombstone read]. Ron explained that UNRRA is an organization assisting countries which have suffered in a war or a disaster in rebuilding their economies. Thus,there were Americans among those who assisted in rebuilding Minsk after the war. Who remembers about it today? Who knows the name of Ruth Waller, an unknown American woman who died (or perished?) reviving Minsk? The cold war has struck the good deeds of UNRRA mission members out of our memory. And the capital of Byelarus risen from the ruin, gave home to Lee Harvey Oswald. Regrettably, so it was.

We walked along the paths of the cemetery reading tombstone inscriptions and looking at the pictures of the deceased framed by cold granite. We stopped for some time at the resting place of the Byelorussian bards Yanka Kupala and Yakub Kolas, then entered the temple and placed candles for the repose of the souls of all the dead in wars. We stood in silence at the foot of a crucifix before returning to bustling worldly life. On the other side of the cemetery fence, trams were thundering; people were waiting in a crowded line to buy vodka. We were walking along the hot, July, streets of Minsk, yesterday’s enemies and today’s friends. Now believing strongly that no force in the world will ever make us look at each other through weapon sights, or sweat at a Saigon, or a Kabul. We are not rabbits any more; life has taught us to move our ears.

Источник здесь.

1 Comment:

Renessaince said...

Рут Ўолер ведаюць і памятаюць. Чытайце Вікіпэдыю: http://be-x-old.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%A0%D1%83%D1%82_%D0%8E%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%B5%D1%80

 

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