By May 24, 2012 0 Comments

Beirut 1975 – Angels and Demons

Many years ago I started writing a fictional novel based on a scenario in Lebanon during the Lebanese civil war of 1975 – I aptly titled it “Beirut 1975”

The first few months were a treat, the characters came to life and the novel flowed.   Sometimes, I found myself typing away late into the night and even waking up at ungodly hours from a deep sleep, inspired by new events that I had to express in writing.

Then one day, I decided that I had to interview actual fighters from the war to ‘link’ with them and feel what they felt at the time.  I was fortunate because my father was an active member of the Lebanese Parliament it was easy for me to interview some of the officially assigned security officers who were with him at the time.

I observed two types of characters: those who freely recounted their experiences almost to a level where they appeared to be ‘boasting’ about it causing me to doubt their credibility.  While others, shied away from the subject and preferred not to discuss it.  Naturally, it was the latter group that were my choice because I felt that their experiences must have been genuine.

It was a real challenge to gain their trust.  All of them were wary of my intentions and worried that I may ‘expose’ them somehow.  I had to assure them and promise them that everything they told me would be treated in confidence and that I would never reveal their identities.

The process to get them to share their stories was very slow.  They only started talking to me when they chose to and when they did, they revealed incredible stories about the war.

Most of them shared similar experiences; they were all painful, sad memories.  They all involved the deaths of enemy combatants, injuries and the uncertainty of life and death.  Some were humorous but the majority were dark; the lack of communication, daily sustenance and the suffering endured.

The story that touched me the most was from one Christian fighter who I shall name ‘Roy’.  Roy was a captain in the Lebanese Forces, in the commando division.  One day as he was leading a platoon towards The Jabal in stealth (a mountainous area of Lebanon that is inhabited mainly by the Druze – precise area omitted).

Battles were taking place at various fronts; it was a fiery day, in fact he seemed to think that it was one of the worst days of the civil war.  He received a radio communication from base to inform him that a Christian village had been attacked and there were many civilian casualties, all murdered in cold blood.  They were ordered to go into the first Druze village and teach them a lesson they would never forget.

“We want their blood to trickle all the way to Beirut!” screamed the commander at the base over the radio.

They reached the small village and immediately set about rounding up the helpless and shocked civilians.   There were hardly any defence forces in that village; the majority of fighters were engaged at the fronts. The women wailed and screamed, the men begged for mercy.

Roy recounted how he personally along with his platoon, executed every male member of that village by lining them up against the wall and shooting them at close range.  Not a male soul was spared in the gruesome horror that ensued. The details are far worse than I would recount here with many of my friends being of a young age.

I felt Roy’s remorse.  He was disgusted and resented what he had done.  He was bitter with life for having put him in that situation.  We parted on good terms and I assured him that I would never judge him – I am not God.  I never recounted his story to a living soul either and soon after, I found myself detached from my novel and I abandoned ‘Beirut 1975’ altogether.

A couple of years ago my wife Claudine had some official paperwork to deal with in Lebanon.  She was consulting with her family lawyer a Mrs. X (name to remain anonymous) in Beirut.  Claudine told me that her father enjoyed an old relationship with Mrs. X’s family from when they lived in Accra – Ghana.  Mrs. X, a Durzi lady, was very fond of my father in law, who during the war had risked his very own life by driving to her village to check upon the welfare of her family.   He sadly discovered that the family were massacred and he secured their belongings and important family documents from their abandoned home, which he then forwarded on to Mrs X – She in turn felt indebted for life for his noble act.

During the process of formalizing her paperwork, my father asked Roy to escort my wife to Mrs X’s office.  When my wife returned from her first visit, I saw that Roy was not quite himself and was very ‘anxious’.  He eventually told me that he got to meet the lawyer Mrs. X and when he asked her which part of Lebanon she was from, she told him the name of the village and added that it is a remote small village and she did not expect him to know it.  He did in fact know the village and only too well.  It was the very village that Roy and his men had previously raided and where they lined up all the men and boys and shot them to death.

Roy asked me in private to be substituted by someone else to escort my wife on future visits.  He was deeply disturbed, shaken and embarrassed.  The ghosts of his past had come back to haunt him and his expression was that of defeat.

I could not believe the coincidence but I am inclined to think that maybe it wasn’t coincidence after all.

I decided to write this experience to demonstrate that there are no winners in any war – everyone loses a part of themselves, physical or non physical.

‘Good’ people do not often win wars.

Wars are usually won by those who are capable of brutality and ruthlessness, by those who can turn to beasts and demons and show no remorse or compassion to their enemy.  Even In winning, they eventually lose for they become devoid of humanity.

In their ‘victory’ over others, they lose far more than they bargained for; humanity when lost is never redeemed, not at any cost.

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