I never wanted this. When I was recruited, they told me I would be saving the world. They told me the things I would do were going to make the world a better place. Instead, all we have done is burn, kill, and destroy. I’m standing here, atop a pile of rubble, looking out over what used to be a bustling little town. There were shops and stores when we arrived. There were children and their mothers walking these streets, there were people going to and fro, carrying on with their peaceful lives. They trusted us.
When we arrived, we were ordered to pull men and women from their homes because they posed a threat to the peace we supposedly uphold. There were no guns fired when we arrived, there was no opposition. I saw no signs of insurgence or unrest. In fact, the people seemed rather content to continue on with their lives as we came through. We were the ones who attacked.
We ripped people from their beds that night, gathering dozens in the center of town. They did not resist; they were too afraid. Even as we did it, I knew these people were not capable of the horrid crimes they were accused of. If they were guilty of anything, it was nothing more than doing whatever it took to keep their families alive. The town was busy, but it was far from a wealthy place. I wondered to myself if we were really going to kill these people for trumped up charges and vague accusations.
We lined them up in the middle of the street. We didn’t even have to bind them; they understood less about what was happening than I did. I hoped with every second that this was nothing but a show of strength, and that we would let these innocent people go. Yet the trial was just beginning. Each person was called by name and accused of some form of treason and sentenced to death. Many began to weep quietly, but no one ran and no one fought back. This was no resistance.
The firing squad lined up and prepared for the mass execution, when suddenly the wife of one of the men in line came running into the street. She fell at his feet, clutching his legs and sobbing. My commander watched her for a moment, and then ordered that she be shot as well. I objected. I asked him what crime she had committed. He responded with some ridiculous claim about inhibiting justice and harboring a rebel. When I still objected, he told me I would shoot her or be shot beside her.
I am not a brave man. In that moment, every shred of misguided trust in my allegiances was stripped away, and yet I still did not have the courage to stand up for what was right. I withdrew my sidearm and fired twice. Her body slumped over and her husband collapsed as he caught her, clutching her tightly.
I don’t know exactly what happened next, but the commander stepped away for several moments, and when he returned, he announced a change in plans. He told us that the entire town had been found guilty by the higher powers, and they had been sentenced to death. We were instructed to shoot any civilians on sight. The explosives teams and the firestorm squad were given the order to burn the town to ashes. Again, I did not resist.
The screams will haunt my dreams for the rest of my life. They could be heard over the sound of explosions and gunfire. What’s more, they could be felt; I felt as if every cry were tearing away a piece of my conscience. I will never feel right about this. I will never be able to justify this. We marched into a quiet town and killed every living thing that resided here. They even had us kill the animals. Dogs, cats, horses…there is not a being here that still draws breath who does not wear this disgraced uniform.
When the dust finally settled, there was not a stone left atop another, not a single unburned beam of wood. The lives that had called this their home had been snuffed out like so much livestock in a slaughterhouse. They trusted us. They looked to us to keep them safe, and we murdered them. We had slaughtered them without mercy for no reason other than we were told to do so.
So what does that make me? As I survey the wanton destruction I have wrought, feeling the bones of the innocent beneath my feet and tasting their blood in the air, I cannot help but wonder. I am not innocent of this. Orders or not, I am a killer. I had every opportunity to stand up against what I knew was wrong, and I remained a silent, obedient soldier. I could never have stopped them, but my conscience would have been clear in death. I would have died like the rest of them, but I would have died knowing I had done what was right. Now, I live knowing I serve an evil regime, and I will die with innocent blood on my hands.
What is the greater evil? Giving the order, or carrying it out? I fear that I already know the answer. Those who do not halt the progress of evil are doomed to serve its purposes. Those who do not resist its advances are doomed to aid its cause. Though I was deceived so long ago, tricked to believe what I fought for was right, I know the truth now. I serve an evil machine, and today, I fear that makes me an evil man. There is nothing left for me to do but leave my tortured conscience in the rubble and fall back in formation…