"Oh, beautiful." The car slowed and he looked up from what he was reading. Traffic had stopped up ahead, and people were in the street. Protesters, from the look of it. "Just what we need," continued the major, who was driving. They both looked behind them, to see if they could get back to the last side street, but cars had blocked them in. They were going to have to wait it out.
It didn't look like an organized street demonstration; probably a protest at the civic center had spilled out onto the main thoroughfare. He noticed the usual signs: "No Blood For Oil!"; "No War In Iraq!" That one seemed a little out of date. There was war in Iraq. It was mostly over now, actually—he'd just come from there. And while "no blood for oil" was catchy, oil meant money, and because it was such a limited and necessary resource, oil meant power. And people had always traded blood for money and power. Other signs focused on the occupation forces moving into Iraq. One had "Liberate Iraq" in big block letters, then below it said, "from US!" Which could be read "U.S." or "us." Clever. A similar one demanded, "Get US Out Now!" In a way, he agreed. He'd be happy to see all our troops come home. But it wouldn't be right to leave that country in the mess it was in, and the U.S. certainly wasn't going to just pull out now. It was a terrible mess over there. He was glad to be out of it, though he wished the circumstances were different.
"Here they come, Captain." But he already saw what the major saw. Now that they had stopped traffic, the protesters were getting bolder and had started spreading out among the cars. They were moving this way. And there they sat, two army officers in their dress greens. This wasn't going to be pleasant.
Someone noticed them and shouted, "Hey! Some Army guys!" That drew the attention of others, and he felt their stares. But he didn't stare back and the protesters kept moving and chanting. A few seemed to pause and direct their chants directly at his window, but no one touched the car and they didn't appear to be violent or even very angry. Until the hippie. She looked like she was about fifty, with lots of gray in her ponytail. He wouldn't have been surprised if she had been protesting nonstop since Vietnam. Now she was right up at the window, so close she was probably steaming up the glass. "Look what we got here! Some brass! When you gonna bring our boys home?" He didn't look at her, though that only seemed to provoke her more. "You got blood on your hands, y'know. Lots of it. Women and babies are dying over there. Do you know how many Iraqi babies you've killed—Captain?" Now he turned and looked at her. She stopped shouting and he stared straight into her angry face. He held up three fingers.
The firefight hadn't been an especially bad one. None of his guys had been killed or even wounded. And the Iraqis had fallen back and disengaged pretty quickly. But someone reported a small explosion on that street the next morning, and soon afterwards an Iraqi had brought a child to one of his men on patrol. Apparently some kids had found a grenade and it had gone off. Two of the children were killed instantly; the third was in the man's arms. Medics were called, but they asked a lot of questions since they weren't supposed to treat Iraqi injuries that weren't inflicted by U.S. troops, unless the injuries were life threatening. When they did arrive, after almost an hour, it was too late. The soldier who told him about the incident was almost crying before the end of the story. It was the helplessness. He felt it too. All this power, but it kept destroying the ones they were trying to save. He suspected it was a U.S. grenade the kids had found. Thrown in an engagement he had ordered. Now his "collateral damage" included three children.
The hippie woman looked confused. He saw "three" on her lips, but couldn't hear it. But others had seen his response and were shouting now. That's when the traffic slowly started moving. There were more angry shouts, but the woman didn't try to stay with them, and as her face disappeared from view he looked ahead to where the police were clearing the street. Then something slammed against the back of the car. Both men jumped, and the major hit the brakes. "Dammit!" They looked back. It was a sign. Someone had thrown a sign. It was still laying against the rear window: "Only COWARDS Need Guns," with 'cowards' in huge block letters. Obviously that protester hadn't been to Iraq.
They got moving again and he looked back at what he was reading. He was trying to find one particular part. Here... "You have heard that it was said to the men of old, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable...." Wait, that's not it.
The major interrupted him. "I wanted to stop and let you get something to eat, Captain, but I don't think we have time now. Sorry about that. I hear the food's not so great in there, and it's probably going to be a long ordeal processing you in." "That's OK, I'm not hungry," he replied. "But thanks." "I've never done an escort like this before," said the major, "I guess they don't want the MPs dealing with officers. We only have a few minutes before we get there... you want to tell me what you did?" He thought for a moment. Then looked over at the senior officer. "I stopped giving orders."
Then it was quiet and they slowed as they approached the main gate. A young MP came to attention and saluted the car, and the major returned the salute as they moved through the tall fences. He noticed the razor wire coiling along the top. Nasty stuff.
He looked down again. Here it is: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..."
When they got to the brig, he was surprised at how small and ordinary it looked. They got out of the car.
(Download this story as RTF file)