The Courage of Our Convictions
The skull belonged to a child, less than ten. It was baked and scorched in the bombing, picked clean by scavenger birds before we arrived. A specialist steps through the skull like its nothing, like its more earth beneath his feet. It’s his first time out of country, and I can’t say I blame him; you can see in his eyes he’s fighting back puppy-dog excitement- he smells the hunt even if he doesn’t know that’s what his body’s telling him.
For me, death lost its rush years ago. I’m an old soldier, and not just counting the aging wars put you through. The fighter that dropped the bomb was likely one of the Fantans stationed out of Nyala that the Sudanese bought from China right before the embargo. A Fantan is 1980s tech, old even by my standards, and laughable to any modern army. Of course, the Sudanese Fantans weren’t challenged in the air by any modern army; they weren’t challenged at all.
The “conflict” here started February of ’03, just a month before we were in Iraq; we had barely taken Baghdad when the rebels attacked the Al-Fashir garrison. They were faring better in the next few months than we were in Iraq, although, I suppose, the Sudanese government would have said they were us in that situation, and the rebels were the insurgency. Then the Janjaweed, who had been involved in abuses when they “quelled” a Masalit “uprising” in ’96-99, were brought into play by the Sudanese government. Militarily it was brilliant, or at least bright; they understood that the only way to stop a guerilla campaign was the utter decimation of the population the guerillas are blending into in their downtime, and the Janjaweed were happy to engage in the campaign of horror to accomplish just that.
I stop to look at the shattered remains of a woman on the ground. 23 mm gunfire doesn’t leave much that resembles a human being behind, but from the pattern of blood spattered against a wall, similar to the burnt-in shadows of Hiroshima, I can make out where she stood. There’s a round in the wall, about stomach height, with flecks of bone scattered at its foot. I assume it was her spine until I see the gaping wound in her torso, and what’s left of the infant inside. The bullet struck the child, probably in the head, and the child shattered out his mother’s belly as shrapnel. I take a picture with the HD camera, even though I know it won’t do a damn thing. I wish I could have the remains bronzed, and plunked at the feet of the UN building in New York. Because that’s what we need to remember the cost of our failures, but I get up, and move on.
And we did fail. All of us. People marched across the world, wore “Never Again” and “Remember Rwanda” t-shirts, which of course irritated Rwanda’s politicians (I imagine for the same reason modern Germans bristle when Nazism comes up in conversation- but hell, they gave Kagame immunity); some of us even donated money. Of course it didn’t do a damn bit of good. Bashir was smart enough to recognize the paralysis of the world. The UN force never emerged with enough strength to check the violence, and after the ICC tried to indict Bashir for his crimes even most of the nations who pledged to support the effort disappeared. Our president and his tame congress declared this mess a genocide, and then ignored his obligations under international law to stop it. Of course, they had already started two wars, one of which was unnecessary at best, and frankly, we had our hands in as many pies as we could handle.
Which is about the one thing I can say about this goddamn thing: this wasn’t America’s fault. Because we, for all of our fool damn mistakes these last few years, we stuck it out, and fought the fights needed fighting. And I’ll punch any Vietnam-bating bastard who tries to confuse otherwise. The world sat holding its breath for us to do something, and now we finally can we’re here- only it’s too goddamned late to be of any good to these people here. Of course, now that there’s not much of a Darfur left, even the Chinese and Russians are here on the ground; in fact, it’s the most diverse collection of “peacekeepers” in the history of mankind. The only thing in the world strong enough to have united us all was our collective culpability in what transpired here.