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Night at the Fort

11.02.2020 - From a document of a soldier of the Austro-Hungarian army:

“Mamma mia what is this hell?
I ask myself every moment. Every time an enemy artillery bullet explodes instinctively I bend over and bring my hand to my head, as if it were all to fall on me.
I am protected by a meter of reinforced concrete and steel plates but the terror corrodes my nerves.

I am going crazy. In the rare moments of quiet I lay in a corner with the photos of my family that run through my fingers: the only comfort in this hell.

The idea of having them far awayis terrible and even more atrocious is the uncertainty of seeing them again. I was born and raised with the idea of living a humble but serene life. I would have continued to cultivate the land, making enough out of whatever life would have donated me. And instead I’m here to fight a war that will destroy my life and that of tens of thousands of other men’s and, with them, their families.
If only I had known all of this, I would have preferred not to be born at all. I am ordered to shoot, to kill, to destroy.

But what? The same life that the Creation has given us? I hide the tears from our comrades and superiors, and they will do the same because in the end we are all similar.

They instill an unconscious hatred to make us battle like animals, to make us war machines. If I refuse to fight, they will kill me like a dog. But the only hope for me to see my family, perhaps one day, is if I obey orders, of to kill, to fight, to destroy. In any case it will be a pain.

And what will I tell you when I get home? How will I raise my son? Saying perhaps that I killed so many soldiers, men like me, fathers of families, that they forced us to call enemies?

How can I teach him life by giving death? Will there be a time when all this will remain behind me? Will there be a day when I will be able to erase all this? Or am I also drawing a piece of history of which I am a part?

When I’m exhausted it seems that I don’t care about anything at all. In this moment I might even die ... and it would be almost pleasant. But then a new explosion startles me; fear and dismay bring me back to reality.

Howitzers spit fire at enemy positions, and us here, like crazy ants we try to run to find cover. I hear screams, yelling orders, they ask for stretchers. The complaints of fellow soldiers, perhaps boys never seen before united only by this unspeakable suffering. A tear falls, rolling silently on the photo of Birgit, my 8 year old daughter. “I’ll come back baby, I’ll come back, and everything will be just like it was before.”

I look up at the sky hoping that she’s doing the same, so that we could share something different from the atrocity of my being or the anxiety of the missing father.

The sky is black, with no moon, clear and glacial. The firmament is watching us from above. Perhaps someone else, far away, is looking back at a neighboring sky of which we are a part. I wonder if he is fighting a war, who knows if he thinks of someone who lives in other planets. The sky above us is the same for everyone, in peace or in war, in suffering and in joy.

And from there I would like to start again to clear the atrocities of the world in which I was born.
Another terrifying explosion. Then silence. Living was an obligation.

Don’t forget, for us today, a duty.
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