I was playing my guitar on the sofa of my house, when on the TV I found a strange reality.
“Because of the following CBS News special report, the program normally seen at this time will not be presented today.” A monotone voice recited as I turned on my TV.
Pictures of exhausted and preoccupied young soldiers crammed in a trench, absorbed in the hostile environment of conflict flashed on my screen.
As I was just about to leave to the kitchen for a snack, the voice of a young man emitting from the TV caught my attention. He was sitting shirtless on what appeared to be a wall structure made up of sandbags, with a hat resting on his curly hair.
“They uhh… we can´t reach those big guns and they just keep dropping in, there’s nothing you can do. It’s like being a big bullseye on top of the hill... and uhh, you just sitting there waiting. You can’t be safe, you can be lucky.”
Narrating spontaneously with a smirk, the soldier did not modulate any kind of emotion, as if the one who was talking was a being within the unknown who had taken possession of him, banishing the personality from the nineteen-year-old boy he appeared to be. The image of another guy, probably the same age as the last one, brought my attention back to the screen. He was tying down his huge combat boot, sitting down on what appeared to be a pile of dirt surrounded by debris.
“Still planting all over, bouncing off you and uhh… it’s just a scare every time… and it gets worse. Closer they get, the more they throw, the more you get scared. When you get up it’s a wonderful feeling just to be alive, be able to walk around after one of those.”
His tired eyes hiding behind a pair of glasses and the depressed tone of his voice gave me the impression of a lonely teen deprived of strength and vitality, who was resigned to his fate.
The video of the adolescent slowly faded into the face of an individual who appeared to be older than the last two kids I had previously seen. Troops of soldiers kept on walking behind him as he tried to speak to the interviewer. Even though he looked mature and with more experience, the drops of sweat running down his forehead and his frowning expression projected a fatigue emotion emitting deep inside him, as if he had just come from an exhausting battle.
“If I live one-hundred years I´ll just never… ever be able to… uhh… to… to tell the… the story uhh… the way it really happened, these young kids who… who just run up to them and uhh... when we’re all boxed in, they’re all around and they’re all over our perimeter and with drawn grenades and I got pretty close and uhh… just run up to one of these kids and say uhh… “marine we’re going to get out of here aren’t we?” and uhh… the kid look up to you and say “you’re damn right we are skipper.”
Not even giving me the chance to process what I had just witnessed on my TV screen, the flat voice coming from the news reporter interrupted my thoughts.
“Those marines are talking about a place named Con Thien, an obscure American outpost in Vietnam, as Tarawa, Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal were once obscure. Con Thien is a bitterly exposed target just two miles below the DMZ. American marines have been under fire there since last May. In just the last four weeks they have suffered over 70 dead, 1000 wounded. In the next half hour, we shall examine the ordeal of Con Thien.”
I watched as herds of poor and innocent young men were rushed for some type of medical help in the middle of what looked to be nowhere. These kids were being exposed to an absurd situation for reasons I didn’t even understand.
The muddy hills of the deserted place where making it difficult for four guys who were desperately trying to carry an injured man in a stretcher towards an awaiting helicopter, the struggle was apparent in their faces.
A really cool war tank began moving towards the camera. It looked like the toys I had a few years ago and with which I played with my friends. Tanks, planes, pistols and rifles with which I spent jolly moments playing war. Now I’m realizing that this is part of our reality. It is as if we were a culture that prepares children for war and numbs them. I’m watching these frightful scenes with boys who are legless, dismembered, with horrible wounds all over their body and dead bodies being carried by other boys on stretchers and even on their backs urgently, as helicopters go down machine gunning around because enemies harass them. Blood, flames and trees on the ground. I think this is what hell really looks like.
The television network announced the title of the segment:
“This is a CBS News special report: The Ordeal of Con Thien. This broadcast is brought to you by West. Here is CBS News correspondent, Mike Wallace.” The bland voice of the same guy at the beginning of the report narrated.
Sitting down behind a desk in a TV studio, with a suit and perfectly combed back hair, Mike Wallace started pointing at different weird named locations with an indicator on the map that rested on the background.
“Con Thien is here.” Wallace indicated with his pointer at the United States Marine Corps combat base in the map.
“Two miles south of the demilitarized zone of the narrow top of South Vietnam, twelve miles inland from the South China Sea. It is a desolated hilltop collection of guns and bunkers looking north across the DMZ into North Vietnam. It’s crucial importance lies in the fact that It’s on a main infiltration route into the south. The loss of Con Thien could help open the way for the estimated 35,000 communist troops now massed in the DMZ area. It’s loss would block the constru-”
After watching these scenes, I was suddenly transported to a war camp. I began to feel the threat of death in a way I had never felt such a real event, and above all, I was impressed that this circumstance did not depend on my decision, but on an abstract idea that was called homeland and another even stranger that it was politics and government. I wondered then what kind of government sends us to death, still having our childhood illusions and without even knowing what planet I inhabit. For them I am simply a machine, they do not care what I think. Despite my childhood fears, they send me to face an enemy that is not mine, with other young people whom I do not hate and whose governments have also condemned them to death just for being young. What kind of society is the one that sends us to death before giving us the chance to know life? What serious problem can there be so that there is no other solution? From one moment to another the world is an absurdity, and childhood, games, and the happiness of feeling part of a family, a neighborhood, a school and a group of friends are only illusions that are not as important as war and violence. Then it occurs to me that I can take my guitar and instead of shooting I play and sing a song by Bob Dylan and when I'm on the battlefield, I put a flower to the barrel of my rifle. The enemy would do the same and instead of killing us we can end the war. We will not follow the game of politicians or governments. We will only follow music and poems.