June 15, 2007
Posting date: 6/15/07
Returned from: Afghanistan
Milblog url: armysailor.com
I give a lot of thought to the suicide bomber who detonated himself less than 30 feet in front of my truck. I see it all over again in dreams. I imagine it instantly when I hear any loud bang. When I tell people about the incident I feel strange, because it seems so alien. People must think I am telling a tall tale. I wish I were.
I re-live the moment in my head every single day without fail. At some point, if only for a moment, I will give it some thought. And I always feel thankful that I am alive, because if he had gotten his way I would not be.
It can be hard to deal with, that this man killed himself in an attempt to kill me and my friends. I just can't wrap my head around it. What drives someone to such a deep level of hatred that they are willing to blow themselves up, just for the chance of killing another person? A person they've never met.
I can understand those who wish to engage us in battle. That's what war is all about. If you want to take a shot at me, I get it. But blowing yourself up? I can't fathom the idea.
After it happened I remember feeling very angry, and also very lucky. At the time we believed one of the trucks in front of us in the convoy had been destroyed. I hate myself sometimes because one of my initial thoughts was "Thank God it wasn't me." What an awful thing to think. Everyone tells me that it's a normal reaction, but that does not make it any less awful. In fact, it is the very sincerity of the feeling, the depth of it, that makes it so awful.
I used to get so mad at the suicide bomber who had caused me to have that awful feeling. I remember the image of his corpse when we went back to the scene. His body had been blown to bits. First we found a hand, still curled in the position it was in around the steering wheel. One finger was slightly extended, pointing in the direction where we would find most of his torso.
Then we found a chunk of flesh that was once his thigh. It still had wires attached to it, and the flesh was peeled from the bone in a most peculiar way, leaving one jagged edge of bone well exposed. There was no blood. How remarkable. The heat of the blast must have instantly cauterized the flesh; though there were some splatters of blood on the ground, there was no significant amount on any of his "parts".
His torso was a sight to behold. His face was unscathed. It was clear that this man was not an Afghan. He was an Arab, probably a Saudi. His teeth were perfectly straight and very white. His teeth were in better condition than my own. His face was stuck in a semi-smiling distant gaze, and though you could see there was no life in his eyes, you could see that there was no fear either. His one arm was still attached to his torso, his head lying on it almost as if he were napping. His chest was blown open, exposing his bloodless ribs to the dust-filled air. As you continued around the corpse, absorbing its awful position, you could see that his scalp had been peeled back by the explosion, with a large chunk missing. I remember later using a stick to remove that chunk from the passenger sideview mirror of a German vehicle that was ahead of us in the convoy. His scalp had become wedged in the mirror's hinge.
My own truck was sprayed with blood, and guts, and burning chunks of tire. The explosion was so powerful that it threw the entire engine of his vehicle clear of the scene. Again the thought occurs to me; I should be dead. A large piece of shrapnel hit the driver-side door of the soft-skinned SUV I was driving, and went through it like butter. It should have pierced my left lung, but it hit something inside the door and was deflected downward. I was saved by fate.
I was so angry. Angry because he wanted to kill me, and by all accounts should have succeeded. What had I ever done to this man? I wasn't even in his country. He had come from a distant country to carry out this heinous act of cowardice.
As time went on I sat and looked at the photos taken at the scene. I looked at them over and over. I looked at them until I had his face memorized. I looked at them until the grotesque nature of the scene no longer bothered me.
The more I looked at those pictures the less angry I felt. Not only did I begin to realize how truly lucky I was, but also how truly pathetic he was. I began to not take it personally. He wasn't trying to kill me and my comrades specifically. He was trying to kill any member of the coalition that he came across. His was an act of cowardly desperation, not only because of the nature of the act itself, but also because of how indiscriminate it was. He detonated himself in the middle of a busy intersection, one where there were many children. Children love to run along side our convoys hoping for chocolate. He showed no concern for those children, or anyone else.
The more I thought about it the more it seemed to me what a sad life this man must have lead. What a shameless follower of absolute lunacy he must have been. After all, who in their right mind would blow themselves up? There are better ways to fight for a cause. I almost began to pity him. I could not imagine living such a life.
Though this man tried to kill me, though he did cause me and several of my comrades injury, though he was an incredibly selfish coward, I committed myself to forgiving him. I forgave him because I did not want to spend the rest of my life with such hate in my heart. I saw what hatred had driven him to.
So now, almost a year after his attack, here I am. I am left with no hatred in my heart towards this man, but many frightful, grotesque images in my head. I will never forget his face. I will never forget the suddenness of the explosion. I will never forget that horrid feeling of the joy of survival. I fear that I may never forgive myself for feeling that way.
I want to move on. But I will never forget.