The VigilanceVoice
Thursday-- April 18, 2002—Ground Zero Plus 219

Sorrow On Independence Day
Cliff McKenzie
Editor, New York City Combat Correspondent News

        GROUND ZERO, New York City, April 18--I felt sad for Joe.  There was blood on his Independence Day.   Terrorism shrouded any joy of liberation.   Sadness oozed from his eyes.  His jaws clenched.   His Voice was strained.
        "Booby traps," he said, his Voice choking as he stabbed a finger at the picture in the New York Times of rubble and bodies strewn about his homeland of Israel.  "My God, booby traps..."   Since September 11th I had made friends with Joe, a former Israeli intelligence officer and now a U.S. citizen.   But regardless of citizenship here, he was there, in Israel, suffering the pains of his homeland.
       His Voice trailed as he repeated the words..."booby God..."  
        I stood on the patio outside Starbucks at Astor Place.  Joe was seated at a table next to group of young people from New York University.  The young people were chattering away, Voices full of life and excitement, immune to the pain my friend was suffering as he reflected on the state of affairs in the Middle East, and the threats to the security of the Israeli state.    It was Independence Day, Israel's Fourth of July, hallmarking their presence as a nation and the growth they had created over the past five decades of turning sand and marshlands into a prosperous, thriving homeland for the Jewish people.
       But it was not without a great cost.
       The price was bloodshed.
       Freedom's penalty was living in constant Terror a suicide bomber would appear and set off a deadly blast anywhere at any time.    Or, that armies of Islamic warriors would mass at the borders and engage the six million Jews who had taken possession of the land 54 years ago.  I thought about both sides, the Palestinians who were fighting to get what they thought was right, and the Israeli's battling for their beliefs.  It was a mess, one I was only an observer to.
       "I just can't believe it..." Joe grimaced, staring at the newspaper as the cackle of young Voices laughing over mundane issues clashed starkly with the sadness of  Terror both sides in the Israeli-Palestine conflict were suffering.  To the Palestinians, a "foreign invader" had taken their land over a half-century ago, and to the Israeli's, they laid claim to the land of their ancestors. 
       I couldn't say anything.  I only absorbed Joe's sadness.
       He reminded me of a wounded buddy in Vietnam whom I held in my arms as he bled to death.
       A claymore mine had exploded, killing most of the Marines around me.  I was just  very lucky.  The blast only knocked me down.  But my buddy caught a piece of shrapnel in the throat, and it severed his carotid artery.  I remember cradling him in my lap.
        He looked at me with pleading eyes of sadness as the blood from his mortal wounds oozed from his body.  I rocked him, providing the final rights of solace between two human beings, trying to bridge the gap between one who was alive and the other on the brink of death.
       But he was going too fast to appreciate the comfort of my arms..  His blood drenched my jungle utilities.  It was warm at first.  As the air swept over it, it turned an eerie cold.  I was unable to say anything, just like with Joe, for there is little one can say to another at the moment of death except to hold them, to press one's life against their impending death, to try and bond one's soul with the one about to exit the light into the darkness and whatever exists, if anything, beyond..
      I will never forget what my dying Marine buddy did in his final gasp of life.  He reached up and clutched my shoulder, his fingers digging into my flesh, grabbing onto the soiled fabric of my sweat-drenched fatigue shirt.   He pulled his face near mine,  eyes pained, dulled by the agony of knowing only a few seconds were left for him to inscribe his epithet of life upon me, something I would carry to my grave.  I saw his mouth quiver, a rivulet of crimson blood coursing down his chin.
     Our eyes locked.  I leaned closer.   Then I heard his last words.  "Why me?  Why not you?"
     I stared into his soul.  His eyes were blank pools, sedentary.  I saw the fear of nothingness in them, the eternal void that dead man's eyes radiate so that one is forced to close them and not be reminded of the dullness of death.   I felt something inside me urging me to perform a final act, a ritual between the living and dying.   As though the hand of God was pressing on the back of my neck, urging me, I leaned down and kissed his forehead.  The salty taste of his sweat and blood anointed my lips.   
      I didn't know what else to do.   Perhaps it was my way of blessing his death, or giving gratitude to him for dying for me.   I will never be sure.   Then he slumped, his head lolling back, the twisted knot of fabric he clutched on my right shoulder gave way to death;  his fingers slid slowly down my arm, limp, lifeless..
     I continued to rock him until the corpsman came.   My hands were thick with his blood, which had now congealed, forming black smears that wouldn't wipe off.  I stopped trying to rid myself of his blood, wondering if it was on my hands to remind me I would forever be his blood brother, bound to him by the kiss of life upon the face of death.   I was right.   I heard his Voice as Joe stared at the paper whispering to me: "Why me?  Why not you?"
     I saw the dead man's gaze in Joe's eyes yesterday.
     He was watching his nation bleed to death.
     Joe didn't have any blood on him.   There were no visible mortal wounds endangering his life.  But I knew inside his soul the carotid artery was severed--at least for the moment, at least in that instant when he looked up at me with dull pain of man wounded by his helplessness to resolve the ravages of war.
    On this independence day he was seeing the darkness of death, not the joy and liberation of resurrection.   His homeland was standing on one leg.   There was no end in sight to the Terror of living in a world surrounded by enemies, all opposed to the presence of a vibrant democracy in the midst of a feudal society that believed in principles so opposed to those of Israel that their children were trained to carry bombs upon their backs and kill themselves and anyone who represented the Jewish right of land-hold.
      Strangely, I understood the suicide bombers as well.  I had witnessed young children in Vietnam sacrificing their life against the Terrorism of democracy.   They ran toward us hoping we wouldn't shoot because they were children, their hand on cord that would detonate the explosives on their back.   They believed in their way, in their right of land-hold.
       I knew the Palestinians grieved as Joe grieved.  All victims of war eventually grieve, for war has no conscience, offers no moral judgment on where a bullet or bomb will land, or upon whom.   It is indiscriminate by its nature.
     The day before Joe had been angry that Secretary of State Collin Powell's visit to Israel had been unsuccessful in demanding some end to the violence.   He saw the failed visit to end the bloodshed as "a nail in Israel's coffin."
     Today, one day after  Independence day, he saw another nail--a picture in the Times of bodies strewn on the street, pictures of his brothers and sisters of Israel, victims of retaliation by those who want to assimilate, absorb or obliterate the presence of the Jews in the Middle East.
     I knew a little about the equality of sadness.  My son-in-law had gone to Israel and Palestine with the Catholic Worker, a peace-oriented movement that protests violence.   On their trip the pizza restaurant was bombed just a few hours after he and his friends on the peace mission had eaten there.   They found a young Palestinian girl who had been wounded in the head by a stray Israeli bullet and was destined to die if it wasn't removed.   It was a delicate operation.
     My son-in-law and his fellow Catholic Workers arranged for her to be flown to the United States and one of the top brain surgeons offered to remove the bullet.  The operation was a success.   I had taken my son-in-law to the bus to catch his flight to the Middle East, and had told him how proud I was of his Vigilance, his Courage, his Convictions and his Actions to stand between the swords of Terror with only his faith in humanity to protect him.   I told him he was a better warrior than I, with all my combat experience, for he was fighting for peace, and I, as a warrior, fought for victory.   I told him there was a great difference between the two.   He understood.
     The pain I felt for my Israeli friend at Starbucks was not just because he was a U.S. Citizen or a Jew, or because Israel, like America, promotes democracy in a land of opposite political and religious beliefs.   I felt the pain for any man or woman, for any Parent of Vigilance or Citizen of Vigilance who had to suffer the agony of war.
     As I walked away from Joe the other day, I thought I could hear the agonized whisper from an ancient Voice rising up from within him, one that didn't speak from his lips, but rather from his soul.
     "Why me?  Why not you?"
     I had an answer.   It was to create a world of Vigilance not Violence, to find a common denominator between all peoples that would become the key to ending strife.   I knew in my heart that if the world became Parents of Vigilance, its children would not become Citizens of Violence.

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