To the memory of the soldiers who fell before my eyes in the first Persian Gulf War. From my Iran-Iraq war memoirs that has been published in a book titled "A Path To Nowhere" >>> Part 1 -- Part 2 -- Part 3 -- Part 4 -- Part 5 -- Part 6 -- Part 7 -- Part 8 -- Part 9 -- Part 10 -- Part 11 -- Part 12 -- Part 13 -- Part 14 -- Part 15 --
Nights of Horror
In the morning of an early December day of 1987 I reached the base on the day that my vacation was over. Three sergeants: Ghaderee, Ardasheeree: a new conscript sergeant, and staff Sergeant Ali; were expecting me. Having a sergeant like Ali with his inexhaustible reserve of jokes, wisecracking, and drug smoking, meant enjoying lots of amusement. As I understood he was one of many banished personnel to the base. At least, there was another staff sergeant known to me that a few times had deserted the army in order to be expelled from the forces however unsuccessfully. I was more inclined to believe that Ali was smoking drugs in order to be expelled from the army and thus far he had failed, too. According to him he had been chemically wounded in the leg in the Majnoon Islands years before he joined me. That kind of injury was at odds with what I had read and heard about chemical injuries, but I believed his story to be true. It was the first time and the last time that I had so many sergeants in my platoon. The main reason for that was the increased number of soldiers and the fact that battalion had learned more information about the importance and vulnerability of the Hellish Base. In my absence a volleyball-net had been erected in the middle of the base. That much safety was a rare occurrence and I showed surprise at the net and Ali used his wisecracking right away. He said “the Wolf” had collected money from volunteers to purchase the net and a ball. I was puzzled. There was nobody to be called “Wolf” or to be titled “Wolf”. Ali smiled cunningly and pointed at Ghaderee.
"You don't know yet, Sir,” he went on, “This little sergeant is a real wolf. I've titled him wolf because he is as brisk as a wolf."
I looked at Ghaderee and repeated his title and all of us laughed.
"The title merits you, doesn't it Ghaderee?" I asked.
He grinned and nodded.
"Military service must be spent with fun, Sir;" Ghaderee responded.
"Have you read Jack London's The Call Of The Wild?" I asked.
"No, I haven't even heard of it," he responded, “Who cares about books here.”
"If you read it, you'll make a good wolf,” I added, “Probably, you already are a good wolf and don't need instructions. Let's play volleyball then."
We played for a couple of hours and returned to the bunker howling and laughing; though the happy day introduced a night that led to a series of horrible nights.
At night Shaaban was chief of the guards. At Zeerakee’s order I had dismissed him as communications operator a month before I went on vacations. It was believed he was of leaning toward a political organization and so he was not the best choice for that sensitive position. I never asked Shaaban about the truth of what they had told me, though I was inclined to take him as a Mojahedin Khalgh sympathizer. Nasser Saffee and Seyyed had taken over the communications works and they were staying in my bunker. Those days Nasser was on leave and Seyyed was staying with Ali, Ghaderee, and myself. Ardasheeree was staying with soldiers, as we did not have enough space in our bunker.
At one o'clock in the morning Shaaban called me out.
"Let's see the illuminations in the air, Sir;” he cried out, “Iraqis are invading north of Fakkeh."
I rushed out. There were eight illuminations brightly burning in the air. Moments later a heavy artillery fire commenced and continued for about twenty minutes. Then, the firing came to an abrupt halt and a lull fell over the area. I took the whole scenario an ordinary barrage that frequently took place between the two sides. The number of illuminations was larger than an ordinary barrage though.
After breakfast we were ordered to an important meeting with Haghee. At eight we were at the rendezvous somewhere in the defense area of Mahdi’s company to the north of the base in the middle of the battalion line of defense. Shortly after, Haghee arrived in his commanding jeep and at my order we saluted him. As at his order we sat on the ground, he started to speak in the name of “Allah the Compassionate, the Merciful”.
"Up to this moment we were confronting only one enemy: the Iraqi army,” he continued, “They speak Arabic. They know our positions and we know theirs. We have been fighting each other for several years and we are familiar with each other's ways of doing things. But now; Gentlemen; we are facing a new enemy whom we suffer grave disadvantages in confronting them. They speak Persian like ourselves and know our positions, whereas we don't know where they are or when and how they will attack. What they have shown of themselves is little but very important. Until this moment their way has been sneaking behind our defense lines, carrying out their missions, and then hiding behind the known enemy's fortifications. This new, but very dangerous, enemy is the People's Mojahedin: our traitor brothers.
Last night in Bayat region they crept behind the army front line, destroyed a company, and took ninety-two soldiers prisoner. While withdrawing they lost their way. The illuminations and artillery fire that you saw were launched to show them their way and put out our artillery barrage. As usual, they successfully accomplished their mission and successfully withdrew.
Be aware that Mojahedin have successfully invaded almost every army so far. We are the only army not attacked yet. This time it will be our turn. The uncertain are the exact date and the axis of their attack. For the same reason you are meeting here to receive my latest orders. Now, it is your turn to try your best and quell their aggression.
Gentlemen; from tonight on one responsible person, officer or sergeant, must be awake throughout the night with boots on, helmet and gun at hand and waiting by his telephone set. He has to answer each and all calls himself, and report all suspicious cases to the battalion right away. You must visit guarding posts more often and more regularly than before, and send the subsequent reports to the battalion. You must instruct your soldiers that Mojahedin are excellent fighters, loyal to their goals, speak Persian, wear long white sleeves on their uniforms to recognize one other in the scene of operations, and may come at any moment and under any circumstances. Also, you must teach your soldiers the best way to make a last stance against them. These days it is cool in the south and favorable for military enterprises. Don't forget that I am giving you my last warnings. Have in mind that when disaster strikes nobody can help you. You have to rely on your own preparations only."
With this, at last, the army was officially conceding that the NLA was a real threat; however I was still doubtful about its real strength. I did not believe NLA was powerful enough to attack the so-called strongest infantry army in the country. Nevertheless I should have examined my personal stance in this combat. First of all, I did not believe the NLA was the real enemy. While in university, I knew many of my own friends were members or supporters of the Mojahedin. Some of them had been executed; some had been jailed; many had gone under ground. What I knew was that despite my personal disagreement with them they were honest and had campaigned against dictatorship in the most difficult times of the Shah and Khomeini. Many of the heroes of the fight for freedom in1979 were supporters of the Mojahedin. Strong enough to fight us or not, they were enemies of dictators and the war and not enemies of people. In this respect I was totally in one stance with them; however I had not had a strong enough conviction to take up arms with them and consequently was a disgruntled soldier serving a war that was disgraceful for me. Now the Mojahedin had started to fight against the war and at any moment they might have confronted me. What was to be done? Should I have fought them as a faithful tool for the continuation of the war? How could I preserve others’ lives alongside my own?
I needed clear answers for these questions; otherwise I would have to go through the torment of being torn between conflicting forces that were relentlessly pulling my within in different directions. In all clear-cut answers one neglects or sacrifices many things that are not at the heart of the matter. After a long reflection I came to the point that in the case of NLA’s attack many soldiers and myself might not live to see the pleasant moment of peace. Our lives would have been the price our nation had to pay for the cause of peace; nonetheless the peace was so dear that I should not have thought of my own presence or absence to see it. The NLA was a means to peace; and if I could be of no use for peace, I should not have continued fighting as a tool of war. I concluded that if the NLA attacked, I would offer no resistance and would not order my men to fight. The formality of Haghee’s order should have been maintained; however it was not known if the likely forces that would attack us necessarily would have been the Mojahedin.
As it had been ordered, Ali and I divided the night in two parts. From seven p.m. until one o’clock in the morning Ali stayed up and from one to six in the morning it was my turn to keep vigil. We meticulously followed the plan and answered all the phone calls ourselves as everything in the battalion and the regiment hinted at the seriousness of the new circumstances. Frequency of alert orders and visits rose sharply. Day visitors visited the base on a regular basis. Night visits were added to the schedule as well. Jalalee whom I had never seen at night took the risk of night visiting and came to the base three times in two weeks and one night he slept in my own bunker for five hours before visiting other units. In one of his visits he brought me a large caliber pistol with warning illuminations of different colors for emergency situation, ordinary situation, and attack. If we lost our telephone communications due to barrage or sabotage, I was to report our situation by shooting one of the illuminations according to the circumstances.
As later I understood the Mojahedin arrival to the scene was crucially important for the government only because they had posed tangible political threat to the integrity and the very existence of the Islamic Republic and because of the same reason the whole military system at the command of the highest ranking political leaders had been deployed to her preservation. All movements and alert orders and strange visits of so many people who never troubled themselves to visit the troops in the first line of defense could be explained by that factor only. Later incidents made it clearer that the government was not as much concerned about Iraqi military threat as it was concerned about Mojahedin’s threat; and hence the political motives behind the continuation of the war and its atrocities can be read.
Regiment and the army nightly visitors were added to the visitors of the battalion. One foggy night a sergeant who wore eyeglasses came from the Politico-Ideology Organization of the regiment and in his presence we practiced an alert order. Soldiers immediately ran to their trenches and the sergeant visited some trenches with me. Another night two majors from the regiment came to ask if everything were all right. We were ready to take them to the trenches; but they did not consent to see our war preparations. In another instance a colonel from the army came and asked if we were prepared enough to set back enemy attack. We replied we were on the alert. He shook his head and left the base. There were other instances of nightly visits, however none of them visited our trenches any more. I concluded that those visits did not go beyond military formalities. Neither our weaknesses were exposed to the visitors, nor our points of strength.
Since the base was regarded the most vulnerable axis of the battalion, Jalalee was trying his best to strengthen it as soon as possible. At the only commanders meeting that I was allowed to attend he ordered commanders of his companies to give me twelve soldiers altogether. These soldiers could be a source of great help if they were healthy and obedient; but what I received had serious health problems and they were of no combat use in their own units. Some were chaotic and out of control only adding to my troubles. I immediately returned some of them to their units of origin; others I returned when I received new soldiers. With the coming of the new soldiers the number of my men climbed above sixty personnel present in the base, still not the size of Babak’s unit.
The base was equipped with new weapons and a large amount of ammunitions were sent to us. An eighty-two millimeter mortar and three servicemen were added to my arsenal and personnel. The battalion gave me as much ammunitions as I was asking for without questioning about the way I used them; and I abundantly used them for shooting practices and similar trainings. In the situations that all units were seriously suffering from lack of telephone wire, Jalalee told me:
"Avaznia, you just keep the base I will provide you with everything you need".
Taking the opportunity, I asked him to bring me some telephone wire. He said that there was no telephone wire in the battalion or the regiment.
"But for this base I will find some through the influence that I have with a friend in the army headquarters," he promised.
Within just one day he personally returned with a role of new telephone wire.
"It is for this base only. Don’t give it to anyone else," he insisted.
The same day he let me know that he had asked the regiment to plant some warning illuminations in front of the base. The illuminations were to go off in case the enemy forces tried to approach the base; and a few days later the regiment combat engineering unit did the job that Jalalee had mentioned.
Meanwhile my soldiers were trained for a last stand. With an alert order from the commander, they were to run into the foxholes they had already dug all over the base. Three minutes later they were to shoot anybody who moved in the area. As long as combat continued they were not to obey any withdrawal command and they were to shoot the commanders who gave such an order. I frequently ordered my soldiers to run to their firing trenches and shower the area before the base with every weapon they had to show their firepower and to discover the blind spots and the places that could not be covered by direct gun fire in order to be covered with 60mm mortar shells. In one of these maneuvers in Sharafzadeh’s presence two consecutive gunshots whizzed over our head instead of being directed at the imaginary enemy in front of the base. Either the shooter had missed us, or we had escaped death just by luck. Why and who had shot at us; neither I discovered; nor I pursued the matter. All in all, thanks to the NLA panic the Hellish Base was strongly fortified, but it seemed the morale was too eroded to offer an effective resistance. The unfavorable winter climate contributed to the morale erosion.
That winter was colder than normal. In Khuzestan we received more rain than we received previous year. Every week we had two or three days of rain and mist hanging over us, creating problems chiefly with our telephone communications. Since the wires had been damaged in many places by shrapnel, sometimes we had no communication with commanders for a whole day. There was no new wire to replace the old ones. Even if we replaced them with new wire, soon bombs and shrapnel would damage them. So, the breaks were wrapped with pieces of plastic. This repair did not provide good communications as moisture reached the copper conductor core and shorted the circuit and the job had to be done over and over at night or during the day. I could see Abbasspour walking all along the company days and nights repairing and replacing segments of the wires.
Our weapons, helmets, and ammunitions rusted. There was no waterproof material to cover them and everyday cleaning and oiling was the only option we had been left with to keep them in working conditions. Another trouble was our bunkers. Some bunkers were ruined and most of them leaked. For twelve guarding posts we had just three ponchos. The soldiers’ protection things in the rest of the trenches were only their military overcoats and blankets. Whenever it rained, the blankets were soaked and soldiers shivered until their shift ended. So badly we needed waterproof materials that Zeerakee promised a reward of forty-eight hours of extra leave to the soldiers who bought a roll of plastic for the company. Some plastic was brought, but it never met our needs. The chief sergeant and Zeerakee took most of it and only a few meters of plastic was given to each platoon to cover their ammunitions. In short, the corrupt way of extracting things from soldiers was of no use for soldiers themselves.
Nevertheless we were luckier than soldiers who fought in the mountainous areas of the west and northwest. In those areas soldiers had to endure the freezing weather and mountain winds with little preparations. I heard of some soldiers freezing to death in their guarding trenches.
No matter how difficult our circumstances were, we had to be awake at night. Most of those nights Ali smoked hashish. When he finished his supply he went to other units and replenished the drug by borrowing or buying from friends. He would carefully prepare his drug, and then he would light the contents and would inhale the smoke deep into his lungs and become intoxicated right away. Then, he would stare at a spot on the wall and shrill with laughter.
Intoxicated, Ali grew bold and outspoken about everything. Sometimes he spoke like a philosopher. He would tell me the names of those, mostly staff sergeants, who smoked hashish. According to him, most staff sergeants smoked the drug to forget the war and its terrible memories. As he said, hashish would make them numb to the realities they had faced in the past several years.
“Otherwise, everyone will go crazy,” he would continue.
Again, according to him the remedy of hashish was the very important source of grave problems. Too much hashish smoking, he would say, had caused many staff to lose their memories.
"Hashish has damaging effects on the memory,” Ali would tell me as Seyyed would tune in and show his normal grin. “Cigarette smoke has the same affects, too, but in marginal degrees. Listen Seyyed. Stop laughing “Jad be Kamar: may your great grandfather (the Prophet) break your back”."
Seyyed would nod and would laugh again.
“All right, Chief Sergeant!” Seyyed would add.
Where Ali brought this information; I did not know. Even I was not concerned about knowing his sources; or if there was a grain of truth in what he said. What irked me was his loud laughter after each and every smoking. As he was telling me where he had procured his supply he would release a loud laughter. Then he would show a melancholic smile and would resume staring at the same spot on the wall, dull and numb for a short time.
"They have made a profitable business by smuggling drugs to the war field,” he would go on. “They execute drug-smugglers in the cities while Islamic Warriors benefit from drug-smuggling at the fronts," Ali would continue sarcastically and would release a laughter.
I would attentively listen to find out what he was about to say.
"I'm listening, Chief Sergeant," I would say, somehow feeling sorry for the young man in his mid-twenties who came from Mashhad.
He would laugh again and change the course of his talk.
"There is a girl in my neighborhood in Mashhad,” he would resume shortly with a Mashhadi accent, “She has a master’s degree in political science, but she is careless about veiling and things like that. You know in our society this sort of carelessness is regarded sin or moral wickedness. So, no man wants to marry her. You are a nice man. You can understand her. It is good for both of you to marry. I will introduce you to one another. You come to Mashhad to my place and I take care of everything. "
I would appreciate his favor; but concoct excuses of military service and financial problems to avoid any commitment; and he would repeat his friendly proposal. I would find no way to escape his persistence and would agree, saying that I would decide after military service. And thus the story would continue on a nightly basis normally after ten o’clock at night while Seyyed was listening to every bit of the conversation and the laughter and enjoying them all; and sometime would sing for us.
One night Ali asked me to share his hashish. Reluctantly, I succumbed to his offer. He made the drug in his normal way and I smoked with him as long as it lasted. As we finished, I felt the bunker was spinning around my head. Nausea and dizziness overtook me. Our small heater seemed to have made the bunker so unbearably hot that I could not breathe easily. I knew that until a short while earlier I was shivering of cold. Getting to my feet, I took a step toward the door; but I staggered. The fear of falling down, breaking my ribs, and making a fool of myself before Ali and Seyyed began haunting me. Out of that concern, I hesitantly stepped out of the bunker to stay far from their eyes.
It was cold. The base was filled with a fascinating silvery moonlight. A chill ran through me; but I did not dare to go back to the bunker. It was too warm in the bunker. When Ali let his devilish laugher; I was so frightened that my hair stood up. I wanted to yell at him to stop laughing; but I did not want him to know my yelling was out of fear. A challenge between "do yell at him" and "do not show your fear" started within me. Another laughter followed the first one and scared me to the verge of madness. To get rid of Ali’s laughter and my internal strife, I started to walk barefooted, without hat or gun, toward two sentries on guard near the entrance of the base.
Every small depression became an impassably wide ditch before my eyes; but with my amazement I stepped over all of them. As I was passing I was thinking I had become a giant with lots of abilities. The proof of my abilities was what I was doing. I enjoyed walking in that way and with those feelings. Would the sentries open fire on me? I asked myself. I did not know why I was thinking my soldiers would shoot at me. A fear stained my joy. I thought of calling out to the sentries letting them know I was going towards them; but the same unwillingness to show fear obstructed me. No shooting happened; and a faint voice ordered me to stop. I froze in my place while introducing myself through my chattering teeth. The voice said I could get closer.
The sentries were Gorjee and Alibag from Sardasht of Khuzestan. They were sitting on the ground in a corner that I could not see them properly. I thought they would wonder about my unnecessary visit and inappropriate appearance. To show that I had a reason, I said I was worried about them and told them to stand up while guarding. As they stood on their feet, I walked back, still believing I would become a target of a volley. If they did not shoot me in the chest, they would shoot me in the back. They did not shoot; and I entered the bunker, as I could not find any excuse for staying out; and it was chilly outside.
In the bunker Ali had fixed his eyes to the wall. I told him I had visited the guards barefooted as I was touching my cold feet.
"Poor soldiers who have to obey an intoxicated officer like you and a mad sergeant like me," he said and laughed again and again and again.
To prepare for my vigil, I put my gun beneath my pillow and wrapped myself in a blanket to sleep. Eyes were closed; but sleep was out of the question. Memories forgotten long ago started to vividly march in my mind. Events of my student days, beautiful girls that I had known, aspirations, and disappointments were mounting like waves attacking my consciousness competing for a place there. They became real and clear, but frightening. A powerful desire came to me to throw them out of my mind; but I was unable. In the midst of this desperate combat I vowed not to smoke hashish again. Minutes later I had fallen asleep. I do not recall how long I had spent in that state; but when I was violently shaken it was around one o’clock in the morning and beginning of my shift.
"We are surrounded, Sir!" Ali said, agitated.
I was frozen by his words. All our efforts and preparations were turning to nothing. To hell with the Hellish Base, my soldiers’ lives were being lost for our pure negligence. Ali grabbed two guns and rushed out of the bunker in sneakers. Jumping to my feet, I grabbed my rifle sheepishly following him. In a moment Ali reached the top of the mount behind our bunker and started shooting at an unknown target. Without seeing anything in the moonlight, I started to shoot as well. Within a minute a conscript corporal who was guards chief that night came and shot with us. At the conclusion we scrutinized the area. I walked to the eastern side of the mound looking everywhere. Fear of being surrounded had so overwhelmed me that I did not care about what might happen to me. Nothing was visible except few short bushes. If we were surrounded, why the situations looked normal? Why the chief guard had arrived to the scene without any problem? Where were the enemy soldiers then? Had we escaped death by pure chance like those who had been save by chance only? I asked Ali what was going on.
"A few moments ago Seyyed went to the washroom,” he returned, “He called out that three men were crouching down the mound toward our bunker and I woke you up."
Seyyed confirmed the story. My mind was colored with the stories that I had heard about besiege and slaughter. After giving the alert order, I reported the incident to Sharafzadeh who, in his own turn, ordered a high alert and reported the matter to the battalion. Minutes later Haghee called me asking about the report. Half an hour later a major from the regiment called saying he would visit us the next day to examine the area himself.
"Don't let any of your personnel walk in the nearby area," the major added.
We were on alert all night long. At my command, soldiers were to shoot at anyone who approached the base. I reported the matter to the company and asked them not to dispatch anyone to the base before daybreak when I called all my personnel and carefully counted them.
As we went to class, the major arrived in a commanding jeep asking which of my men had seen the enemy; and I introduced Seyyed and he asked him where he had seen the three men.
"Are you sure you were not sleepy or dreaming at that moment, My Son?" the major asked.
Seyyed insisted he had not been either sleepy or dreaming. The major asked if I trusted my soldiers and I firmly replied that I thoroughly trusted all of them. Then, he asked Seyyed to show him the place. Seyyed showed the place and we found some footprints resembling sports shoes, bigger than ordinary Iranian footprints. The major encircled and measured them one by one and at the end talked to the soldiers, commending Seyyed who by his vigilance had saved the base. He asked soldiers to report suspicious cases to their commander right away.
"Discovery of the enemy's way of doing things basically depends on the information that you as combatants pass to your commander and he delivers them to us," he concluded his speech to indicate the importance of their reports.
Days later while visiting our observation post the forward observer showed me another enemy.
"Look behind the base, Sir;” the observer said, “Yesterday I saw a man standing behind that dune watching us. And today he is standing there again."
This story was even stranger. I borrowed his binoculars and looked at the direction of the enemy. With the binoculars I saw a man's black head on the mount attentively looking at the direction of the base.
"It must be one of the fellows who had surrounded us that night," I thought.
Perhaps we had grown so reckless that enemy forces were watching us from a close distance during the day. I strode back to the base with the binoculars asking Ali to watch the man. He carefully looked.
"He is a man," he said with squinted eyes.
While we were watching Sharafzadeh arrived in his jeep. He also avowed it was a man’s head.
"He should be very foolish to stand behind the dune during the day with his head visible above it," I said, "I want to catch him."
I chose three soldiers; Khodadad Zand-e Lashanee who was a highly skilled shooter among them; and Sharafzadeh took us in his jeep several kilometers behind the place we had seen the man’s head and let us walk forward. Loading our rifles, we began to walk up and down hundreds of dune mounds. In the first half an hour of walking we saw many birds of prey: falcons and the like, taking refuge in that remote place from winter cold. Before that moment I had not seen that many birds of prey there. In summer the plain was hot and void of birds of prey. These birds perched on bushes and on top of sand dunes. When we got close to them they flew deep into the sky and disappeared. With the first few birds’ flying before we reached them, I began to revise the nature of our enemy. Nonetheless we could not ignore the importance of the enemy’s presence behind our lines even if we scarcely suspected it.
After two hours of cautiously walking and searching, a dune with a big black bird on top appeared. I swore at the bird; but it just moved one of its feet and some sand slipped down the dune mound. At our getting closer, the bird flew into the sky like others. Had Seyyed's three men, also, been birds? The only birds that I knew flew at night were bats; and we had never heard of any big bird to walk at night, not even in moony nights.
For the following week I put tough security measures into practice and doubled my visits to the guarding trenches while Ali had left for leave. Ghaderee sometimes complained he had spent more than six months at the front line without enjoying the commotion of a military operation. Those days and nights were dreadful and exhausting. The base was the weakest spot in the battalion and we had to keep it.
On a visit to the base, Sharafzadeh told me he suspected the truthfulness of the siege story.
"Talk to Seyyed again," he would go on, "I have heard it was entirely baseless."
"But the footprints differed from military boots," I said, puzzled.
I could not conceive there had been a game played on us. Taghee’s story was planned and staged by high-ranking commanders; this one could in no way be connected to them.
"There are all kinds of shoes and boots in the region,” said Sharafzadeh, “The footprints alone do not prove the enemy was in the field. By the way, you have a volleyball net in the middle of your base and soldiers wear sport shoes."
I got up to call Seyyed, but Sharafzadeh stopped me.
"Just try to find the truth in a friendly way after I leave the base," he said, “Truth is the most important thing I want to know.”
"Tell the truth,” I asked Seyyed hours after Sharafzadeh had left the base, “Did you see anybody that night?"
Giving a wide grin, Seyyed said he had seen nobody and admitted he had lied. He said he had no idea about the footprints either, adding they had saved him from the major. Trying to find a motive, I asked why he had betrayed our friendship as I regarded myself to be his friend.
"I didn't want to,” Seyyed responded embarrassedly, “That night after you went to bed Ali and I smoked more hashish. When both of us were high he told me he had a whim to create a “Texas Bazaar: Texas Market” (Ali used to call shooting commotions Texas Market alluding to those Western movies where most shooting scenes took place in market places) and told me to claim I had seen three men stealthily coming down the mound. Everything had been arranged beforehand. He woke you up and the shooting took place. That was the Texas Market he wanted."
I recounted Seyyed’s story to Sharafzadeh and asked him not to be punished Seyyed. In my view he was an innocent man and had obeyed an order from above. The military system did not allow a subordinate to disobey orders of a superior, whatever its nature. Sharafzadeh did not punish him and promised not to report his lie to the superior officers.
That discovery temporarily abated my panic and put the responsibility of the false tale on Ali. When Ali returned from leave I did not ask him why he had ordered Seyyed to make a false claim. I was aware it was not a simple whim for shooting and I knew it was not orchestrated against me. I understood it as an objection to the staff officers who were keeping him in the same position with the same rank after four consecutive years of fighting at the front lines. Somehow Ali’s case resembled the case of the sergeant whom we had met in the headquarters of the army many months earlier.
This incident and some other incidents made me skeptical of anything I heard, saving me from a wide range of rumors and, probably true, stories of siege by enemy forces in proximate units. One night we were on the alert because the platoon of mortar reported enemy soldiers had tried to capture one of its men. In another instance I heard the 155mm artillery position that was located tens of kilometers behind the front line had been attacked by a heavy machine gun being hauled on a truck. Another report contended gunmen had attacked a military police checkpoint and disappeared in the night. In our own base a soldier claimed he had seen two enemy forces near his post. This was proven to be another lie.
All reports had one thing in common. In these attacks no one was reported wounded or killed. I believed in none of them; however, logically I could not repudiate what I was hearing. There was a potential danger threatening everybody and providing ripe circumstances for the spread of rumors. Yet, nobody was certain where, when, and who the menace or menaces were.
One may think if there had ever been any enemy present in the area, he should have been of the army personnel. Or, the enemy should have had some elements in the army to collaborate with them. It seemed that one man or a small group of men could penetrate the front line, but a truck with a heavy machine gun was big and noisy enough to catch soldiers’ attention. Another possible source of rumors was the high-ranking commanders, or the war propaganda machine. Perhaps, they were circulating rumors to keep the personnel vigilant. Of course, releasing frequent baseless rumors could give rise to the danger of making soldiers apathetic to the real menace >>> Part 15
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زیر و زبر
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