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Casualties of War

Casualties of War

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Published by James Uscroft

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Published by: James Uscroft on Aug 29, 2012
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08/29/2012

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Casualties Of War
It had been 10 years since the civil war had ended. 10 years since the nation and its peoplehad been completely torn apart.While the rest of the world had stood by and watched or supplied weapons and support tothe armies and the militias, the Government forces and the rebels had both committedatrocities so vast and heinous that they beggared the imagination. Entire villages had beenexterminated and burned to the ground. Children who had survived the massacres had been taken as slaves and used as child soldiers, and the rape of women and children of allages had been a recognised form of terror.Even after 10 years, the scars were still fresh. The mass graves were still being unearthedand the levelled towns rebuilt, while some villages which had been completely destroyedwere left untouched as memorials of that war.The road signs that had once directed people to those villages now marked the boundary between the past and the present; between the living and the dead. Because although thenames of those villages were etched into the collective memory of the entire nation, no oneever mentioned them or even used the roads that now lead to those ruins and mass graves.Indeed, having travelled to the country to write an article commemorating the 10
th
anniversary of the peace treaty which had finally ended the war, one journalist made an oldwoman burst into tears when he asked her the way to a village which had been destroyed.
 Lorna
!” She wept bitterly again and again as she rocked back and forth, franticallyclutching at the locket around her neck. And needless to say, the poor journalist wasabsolutely stricken with guilt. So when the old woman’s daughter came to try and comforther a little, her son-in-law took the naïve visitor to one side and quietly made him an offer.“I’ll take you as far as the road sign.” He whispered, making certain that no one could hear him. “I’ll even wait for you to return and drive you back here if you want, but only on thecondition that you don’t say anything to anyone. As far as the rest of this town isconcerned, you don’t exist. Clear?”The journalist nodded but said nothing, because at this point, mere words seemed soinadequate.From the ambivalent expression on the haunted man’s face, the journalist was certain thathe’d been waiting for someone like him to arrive for the last 10 years. Someone whowould see the ruins and tell the truth to the entire world. But on the other hand, he was also just as traumatised as his wife’s mother. And leading the visitor to his car, the 20 minute
 
 journey seemed to last for an eternity as he drove in sullen silence with his mindcompletely focused on the past.With every mile that went by, the man grew increasingly anxious as, without realising it, heeased his foot off the accelerator and allowed the car to slow down.From 50mph… to 48… to 45… He was certainly in no hurry to get there.Although he did his best not to look at him directly, in the rear view mirror, the journalistcould see the sheen of sweat that now covered the traumatised man’s face. And as the roadsign which now marked the boundary finally came into view, the car slowed to 20mph…then 10 and finally stopped as the driver began shaking visibly and the last of the blooddrained from his face.For a full minute before finally getting out of the car, the journalist continued to watch insilence as the man gazed up at the road sign and the tears streamed down his cheeks.As he began walking the rest of the way towards the ruins, the visitor knew for certain thathe would never see the man again. Because although he had promised to wait for the journalist and to drive him back to town, he completely understood that being on this roadwas far too terrible for him to bear. And in the end, having packed plenty of water andsandwiches, he was prepared to walk back on his own.In the meantime though, when he finally reached the ruins, the journalist began tounderstand a tiny fraction of what the survivors now endured. Because the first thing henoticed when he reached the destroyed village was the set of gallows which still stood proudly in the main square, and the dozen nooses that had been used to execute everyone inthe village, still hanging down from the sturdy wooden beam.Towards the end of the civil war as both sides began running low on ammunition, theexecution squads had used hanging as an alternative when exterminating ‘Enemy’ villages.And as he drew closer, he saw the clothed, decomposing skeletons which had dropped ontothe wooden platform below.As a warning to others, the last twelve people that the soldiers executed in each villagewere always left hanging from the gallows while the rest were ploughed into the massgraves like trash bags into a land fill. After 10 years of decomposition and being pecked at by the crows, their skulls had finally come away from their spinal columns, causing themto crash down. And although he did his best to photograph one decomposing skeletonwhich, judging by its size, tattered clothes and the few strands of long hair which the birdshadn’t taken for their nests, was that of a young girl, the journalist literally broke down andthrew up.As much as they must have longed to bury these remains with dignity, no one in the towncould go near the village without suffering 100 times what he was going through at thatmoment. On top of that, these remains were also vital evidence for the war crimes
 
tribunals which were still underway in The Hague. So under strict orders to leaveeverything untouched, although he knew that the UN teams would bury these remains assoon as they’d finished cataloguing and burying the remains in the major towns and citys,the journalist took little comfort in this fact he continued to weep and to shake.Of course, these twelve skeletons were not the only unburied remains. More than 50 other  people had been locked in one of the buildings before it was burned to the ground.Scattered around the burnt out buildings were the skeletons of those who had been shotdead as they tried to escape. And next to one skeleton that was wearing a tattered dress laythe shattered skeleton of a baby who had been kicked and beaten to death.A mother had tried to save her baby, and this was the result. So as he walked away fromthe village, the journalist knew that he would never sleep well again.However, the entire point of the article which he was planning to write was to show thetiny seeds of hope that were struggling to blossom in the bloody aftermath of that war. Sohaving walked to another town quite far away from the village, the journalist searched for the legendary ‘Family Of Love.’ After all, for several years after the war had finallyended, this touching story had been a symbol of the whole nation’s continuing struggle toheal.Having watched all seven of their children being murdered at the hands of the Governmentforces, one couple had adopted a child soldier who had watched his entire family beingmassacred before being compelled to fight for the Government, giving him a loving homeand putting aside the grief and the hate. But although the people in this town were nowherenear as traumatised and were able to speak to the journalist without breaking downcompletely, the moment that he mentioned ‘The Family Of Love,’ a black cloud descendedover the minds of anyone who heard the name.“Here they are.” Indicated the woman who’d led him to the graveyard, pointing to the threegravestones that were positioned side by side and bowing her head as the memory of thetragedy now shattered what was left her heart. “They all committed suicide about 3 yearsago. If only we’d seen it coming.”In their desperate need for hope, everyone in the town and across the entire world had praised and exulted the ‘Family Of Love,’ refusing to notice the black and terrible truthwhich had been there for anyone to see.After being adopted, the boy always had bruises. Late at night, people would hear himscreaming, but assume that he was having nightmares about the war and everything thathe’d endured.When they spoke about their adopted son, the couple delighted in telling everyone howsorry he was for the crimes and atrocities which the Government forces had committed.How he hated himself for being a part of those war crimes and how he wished he had never 

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