When the basement is full of decapitated heads
Of Ba’ath Party political opponents,
That’s when you give up.
What could be more horrific
Than wizened fleshy skulls lined up like supermarket eggs.
A dozen heads in a row.
That’s when you denounce your faith, renounce your God,
Declare to hell with it all,
And give up
Once and for all.
How can humans do that to humans?
That’s when you drown yourself in drink, despair and self-destruction.
Only you were outside the whole time, pulling security,
Looking down the barrel of your M4 carbine, staring down your lane.
Only later you heard about it, back at the FOB.
Only later you learned that all those .50 cal rounds
Were fired off the helicopter
As it crossed from Kuwait into Iraq
As a rite of inauguration.
You weren’t under fire, as they claimed.
You began to question
Whether anything you didn’t see yourself was true,
Like if those supposed lopped-off heads
Were just a messed-up motivational tool.
Joseph S. Pete was a “Hobo Bastard” in the same unit as Oliver Stone, though many, many years later, in the 1st Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment. The motto was “I’ll Try Sir,” which was pathetic and depressing. The Iraq War vet’s work has appeared in Chicago Literati, Lumpen, Defenestration Magazine, Indiana Voice Journal, Gutzine, Pulp Modern and Flash Fiction Magazine. The OIF III vet was born in a hospital and reared by people who went to the same college together, go figure.