'You Can't Wash Your Hands When They're Covered in Blood'
By Hart Viges
Saturday 24 September 2005
The Independent UK
My name is Hart Viges. September 11 happened. Next day I was in the
recruiting office. I thought that was the way I could make a
difference in the world for the better.
So I went to infantry school and jump school and I arrived with my
unit of the 82nd Airborne Division. I was deployed to Kuwait in
February 2003. We drove into Iraq because Third Infantry Division was
ahead of schedule, and so I didn't need to jump into Baghdad airport.
As we drove into Samawa to secure their supplies my mortar platoon
dropped numerous rounds on this town. I watched Kiowa attack
helicopters fire Hellfire missile after Hellfire missile. I saw a C130
Spectre gunship ... it will level a town. It had belt-fed artillery
rounds pounding with these super-Gatling guns.
I don't know how many innocents I killed with my mortar rounds. I have
my imagination to pick at for that one. But I clearly remember the
call-out over the radio saying "Green light on all taxi-cabs. The
enemy is using them for transportation".
One of our snipers called back on the radio saying "Excuse me but did
I hear that order correctly? Green light on all taxi cabs?" "Roger
that soldier. You'd better start buckling up." All of a sudden the
city just blew up. Didn't matter if there was an innocent in the
taxi-cab - we laid a mortar round on it, snipers opened up.
Next was Fallujah. We went in without a shot. But Charlie Company
decided they were going to take over a school for the area of
operations. Protesters would come saying "Please get out of our
school. Our children need this school. We need education".
They turned them down. They came back, about 40 to 50 people. Some
have the bright idea of shooting AK-47s up in the air. Well a couple
of rounds fell into the school ... They laid waste to that group of
Then we went to Baghdad. And I had days that I don't want to remember.
I try to forget. Days where we'd take contractors out to a water
treatment plant outside of Baghdad.
We'd catched word that this is a kind of a scary place but when I
arrive there's grass and palm trees, a river. It's the first beautiful
place that seemed untouched by the war in Iraq. As we leave, RPGs come
flying at us. Two men with RPGs ran up in front of us from across the
"Drop your weapons". "Irmie salahak." They're grabbing on to women and
kids so [we] don't fire. I can't take any more and swing my [gun]
over. My sight's on his chest, my finger's on the trigger. And I'm
trained to kill but this is no bogey man, this is no enemy. This is a
human being. With the same fears and doubts and worries. The same
I don't pull the trigger this time ... it throws me off. It's like
they didn't tell me about this emotional attachment to killing. They
tried to numb me, they tried to strip my humanity. They tried to tell
me that's not a human being - that's a soft target.
So now, my imagination is running ... What if he pulled his trigger?
How many American soldiers or Iraqi police, how many families
destroyed because I didn't pull my trigger. After we leave this little
village we get attack helicopters, Apaches, two Bradley fighting
vehicles, and we go back. And we start asking questions. Where are
they? Eventually they lead us to this hut where this family is living,
and myself and [another soldier] started searching for AK-47s, for
explosives, for RPGs, you know ... evidence. And all I can find is a
tiny little pistol, probably to scare off thieves
Well because of that pistol we took their two young men ... Their
mother is at my feet trying to kiss my feet like I deserve my feet to
be kissed. Screaming, pleading. I don't need to speak Arabic to know
love and concern and fear. I had my attack helicopter behind me, my
Bradley fighting vehicle, my armour, my M4 [semi-automatic] with laser
sight. I'm an 82nd Airborne killer. But I was powerless ... to ease
this woman's pain.
After I came home I applied for conscientious objector [status]. I'm a
Christian, what was I doing holding a gun to another human being? Love
thy neighbour. Pray for those who persecute you, don't shoot them.
I get my conscientious objector packet approved. I'm free. It's all
gone now, right? No! I still swerve at trash bags ... fireworks ... I
can't express anything. All my relationships are falling apart because
they can't fucking understand me. How do they know the pain I've gone
through or the sights I've seen? The innocence gone, stripped, dead? I
couldn't stand the pain. People were leaving me.
I couldn't cut my wrists. So I called the police. They come stomping
through my door. I have my knife in my hand. "Shoot me." All of a
sudden I was the man with the RPG, with all the guns pointed at him,
thinking "Yes, we can solve the world's problems by killing each
other". How insane is that? Lucky I lived through that episode. See,
you can't wash your hands when they're covered in blood. The wounds
carry on. This is what war does to your soul, to your humanity, to
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