Going for the Kill (# 7)

SWAPO_and_SA_operations_1978-1980,_Angola_civil_warComrade Vasily sits down heavily next to José in the shade of the large thorn tree.

“They’ve made Chung a general, José. A general!” Vasily sighs. “I have fought bravely, commanded the troops to the best of my ability. And now this…”

José nods. Yes, he understands. Chung is now Vasily’s superior officer, which puts him in command not only of the camp, but of the whole surrounding region. Vasily is much admired for his military skills, but also loved for the way he manages  the problems of the soldiers under his command. Chung, in contrast, can only be described as a bastard. He simply doesn’t care for the individual – he doesn’t care about casualties at all. For him the soldiers are ways to a means.

“I’m sorry,” José says lamely.

***

“I shall select sixteen men, Vasily, ” Chung says smugly, “to carry out the most decisive operation of this war. We’ll target a relatively small area to determine the efficiency of Sarin-S. I’ve chosen a remote area, where the South Africans will have very little chance of finding out what we’re doing. It’ll be dangerous, nevertheless, especially if they have to cart the chemicals there and distribute it in the water supplies of the area. It’ll take nine men to carry the Sarin-S. Six men will act as reserve carriers and protect the convoy.”

Chung leans forward, smiling ominously. “And…your little protege, Doctor José, will accompany the group as a medic. Now, my dear Vasily, I assume you concur?”

Comrade Vasily closes his eyes. Nods absently. Feels his heart shrinking.

***

General Groesbeek looks up as Brigadier Pieterse opens the door after knocking softly. It’s one of those hot and humid days in Pretoria. It’ll rain soon…

“Come in, Pieterse. As you’ve guessed, it is about this report from this man in Angola…this …er…”

“You mean Lucas, sir? The report about Sarin-S?”

opuwa“Yes. That’s it! This Lucas says the Commies are going to poison the dams and streams in the vicinity of Opuwo. They plan to enter South West at Swartbooisdrift, and then target Okangwati, Okaanga, Opuwo and Orumana.” Groesbeek stabs a finger at the map in front of him, pointing out the places.

“What worries me, Pieterse, is that they’re sending a doctor along. Doctors aren’t exactly common in Angola. Lucas also states that the doctor and the Sarin arrived at their camp within days of each other. Now, I have two questions for you: is this Lucas reliable? And what, in heaven’s name, do you make of this doctor story?”

Pieterse describes the value of Lucas in glowing terms. His reports have been regular, reliable and accurate.”But I’m not sure about the doctor? Why would they send somebody as qualified as that along? Unless….he’s a chemical expert, of course.”

HG0000501“I agree. That thought haunts me.” Groesbeek lights a Gunston, inhaling deeply. “Well, it is imperative they be stopped. The Himbas has always been rather tolerant of our presence, and we can’t afford to lose their support. Moreover, if the Commies succeed in poisoning that area, they’ll wipe out all forms of animal and human life. Can you imagine the catastrophe? What’s even worse: Lucas says this is just the first phase! A test! If they succeed, they’ll implement this strategy over the entire border. The Kunene. Kwando. Okavango rivers. All poisoned and all life exterminated! It’s diabolical, man!”

“We won’t take that lying down, sir. If they go to those extremes, we’ll ….” Pieterse hesitates, afraid to finish the sentence.

“Indeed we will!” Groesbeek feels his cheeks flush. “If they target entire civilian population groups as well as game and farm animals as their primary targets, we’ll make them feel extremely sorry that they did. Every fish, every antelope, every carnivore…” He screws his eyes tight, breathes out hard. “We’ll bomb Luanda. Dammit, man, we’ll destroy their bloody capitol city, bomb it to ashes, wipe it off the face of the earth!”

Pieterse holds up a hand, trying to calm the general down. “Lets try another approach, General. “

Pieterse leaves the general’s office with specific orders. They’ll take out the doctor as soon as possible, and ambush the patrol when they set foot on South West African soil, and capture the Sarin-S.  The general will be responsible to set up the ambush. Pieterse, via his position in Military Intelligence, has to arrange the elimination of Angola’s chemical warfare specialist, a man only known as Doctor José, before the patrol can do any harm.

Outside, the thunder crashes as the first huge hail stones start pelting the leaves off the Jacaranda trees. The two military men are not aware of the destruction. They’re planning a catastrophe of their own.

***

mirage_iii_ez_831_01A few kilometres north of the Kunene, the patrol dives for cover as the modified Mirages scream overhead.

Seconds later – to the south – they hear the stutter of several explosions…and then silence reclaims the bush. Its as if the birds and the insects are desperately trying to ignore the stupidity of humans and their their most basic instinct: the destruction of opposition.

An hour later they reach the site of the attack. What used to be a village, is now a smouldering, bare patch between the trees, pock-marked by the impacts of the missiles and explosions.

One of the troops bursts out crying, sobbing that this had been his village, and that he had hoped to see his family before crossing the border. Yes, he knew SWAPO used it as a temporary base sometimes, but he never – ever – considered the possibility of…this!

Ground attacks by supersonic jets are arguably the worst of all military offences on ground level targets – second only to long-range artillery. The attackers are completely undetected and the first thing that happens, are the unexpected explosions. Blasts of destruction, out of the blue, seconds before the sound of the turbines reach those that are already dead and dying.  Having said that, one must not discount the fear the ‘whu-ump’ of an unseen mortar or the click of a landmine under the foot. Maybe – even – it is stupid to award the prize to fast jets, but the point is made: these attacks cause panic.

And panic costs lives. People run from the last explosion, forgetting the old axiom that no two bombs ever land in the same place. The safest place to be – if one can keep a cool head and stand the heat – is the newest bomb crater. The villagers obviously didn’t know that. Running from the blasts, they ended up in new ones. The village is in ruins. The men and women are dead. It’s been – in military terms – a complete success. In humanitarian terms, it’s a tragedy.

They’ve all been killed – except the little boy with Down Syndrome, sitting forlornly, staring at the destruction with uncomprehending eyes.

Doctor José acts on instinct when he bends down and swings the child onto his shoulders. He has absolutely no idea that this act saves his life… As he does this, he is suddenly so aware of everything he experienced in Luanda – there, around the kitchen table, while Maria da Silva prayed for peace.

Author’s Note: In this week’s Writing Challenge, writers are asked to look at the world through other people’s eyes. To walk a mile in their shoes. To try to understand why ‘they’ do things differently. This is exactly the message of Going for the Kill. As a conscripted soldier back in the 70’s, I saw the enemy as just that – the enemy. Now I know that everybody who took part in that war, was just another human being. In this series, I’m trying to understand how it must have been on both sides, what people felt…and why they felt it was important enough to risk life and limb fighting for an ideology as foreign to the continent as an elephant in Hyde Park.

12 thoughts on “Going for the Kill (# 7)

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  3. lidiatheron

    Wonderful and with the music so familiar to me.
    Doesn’t the ability to see the point of the ‘other side’ also come wit getting older and hopefully wiser?
    I am deeply touched by this specific part of the story

    Reply
  4. Bridge Builder

    Agree with you, Lidia. Little children see only their immediate need. As we mature, we understand where our parents are coming from, what the hidden agendas of politics are, and that everybody else is also a searching pilgrim on this earth. So many questions arise when you can see yourself in somebody else’s shoes … In my native East Germany it was very common place for Christians to refuse to join the army, lest they’d be forced to shoot at somebody. Even in West Germany it was normal for Christians to refuse service at the gun, Christians where raised pacifist. But then again, who would be defending the nation? Not all questions have easy answers…

    Reply
      1. Bridge Builder

        When I was a little child I wrote a letter to the kings asking them to compete in a tournament of chess against each other, winner takes it all.

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