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From 'The Short-Timers'

June 28, 1987

"And then out of nowhere a man appeared, a tiny, ancient farmer who was at the same time ridiculous and dignified. The ancient farmer had a hoe on his shoulder and was wearing the obligatory conical white hat. His chest was bony and he looked so old. His sturdy legs were scarred. The ancient farmer didn't speak to us. He just stood there beside the trail with rice shoots in his hand, calm, his mind rehearsing the hard work he had to to do that day.

The ancient farmer smiled. He saw the frantic children with their fat burden of death and he felt sorry for us. So he smiled to show that he understood what we were going through. Then my M-16 was vibrating and invisible metal missiles were snapping through the ancient farmer's body as though he were a bag of dry sticks.

The ancient farmer looked at me. As he fell forward into the dark water his face was tranquil and I could see that he understood.

After my first confirmed kill I began to understand that it was not necessary to understand. What you do, you become. The insights of one moment are blotted out by the events of the next. And no amount of insight could ever alter the cold, black fact of what I had done. I was caught up in a constricting web of darkness, and, like the ancient farmer, I was suddenly very calm, just as I had been calm when the mine was detonated, because there was nothing I could do. I was defining myself with bullets; blood had blemished my Yankee Doodle dream that everything would have a happy ending, and that I, when the war was over, would return to hometown America in a white silk uniform, a rainbow of campaign ribbons across my chest, brave beyond belief, the military Jesus."

From "The Short-Timers," by Gustav Hasford. Copyright 1979 by Gustav Hasford, reprinted by permission of Bantam Books Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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