Soldier School

The cold of the gun cannon digs into my cheek and my helmet is fastened too tight so I can hardly open my mouth, but these are details of the individual and no longer matter. I cannot be me right now, not for this dance. There is here no I.

Ecole de séction commence. And with a sharp inhale and a large step back with left foot, we are one. We are one when we sprint to gather in rows of four, when as a single body we march in whichever direction we are told.

Soft morning rain sparkles silver in the lamplight. Washing over us, marching across the field of pavement.

In the beginning it was an I who focused on the foot of he in front of me to make sure I was in step, but now it is just we. It is we who imagine we are soldiers in a movie and get carried away in our foot-stomping. Quiet, we must be, like a cat. The silent, rythmic beating of a heart.

Halt.

Not a fumble this time as we come to a sharp stop, as we stand to attention, are put at ease, swivelling heads to look at him, the brain to whom we are body. He who holds us in his palm, who decides how we must button our coats and what we must carry in our pockets. 

And when he-the-brain says march, we march.

When he-the-brain says fire, we fire.

We will all fold our bedspreads the same way, but he-the-brain is merely a fragment of what we are. He isn’t the brain at all, it turns out, just a hand, being controlled by an arm by a shoulder by a neck by a head by a brain by a mother by a father by a God. That is how it has been made, all of it. So that when we are told to become a first, we will curl, and told to swing, we will swing and whatever is in our path we will hurt or be hurt by.

That is just the way it is.

And we cannot blame the hand when we break. The hand was merely doing as it was told. When our bones shatter, our veins spill out, when we grow calloused and our callouses crack, we can do nothing but bleed and hope we recover in time for the next punch.

Here in the silver moonlight we will not hurt a soul. 

Gun-to-cheek in the mud we merely practice what we’ve been told to do.

The target looks like a giant battery but this shape simulates someone else’s body. Some enemy we are aiming to shoot, but not to kill. If we kill, no one will come out to help them. The goal, we are told, is to maim so we can shoot the saviours, too. The goal isn’t to take out a thumb, but the whole hand of the other. Finger by finger.

This is what we are being made for, and it all begins with marching in time around and around the calling place where we must be silent. 

At noon, in the weak sunlight that follows heavy rain, we crunch cold apples and read on the news how we have enemies now. 

There are others like ourselves that we may have to hurt. 

Just like ourselves. So very much so, we wonder if they are not us, in fact. If we recoil and lash out at them, will it not be our own body that we hit? 

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