15 March 2012

"The War Hero"

            Orson Hayes smiles twice at the readied camera as the production assistant gives the thirty seconds sign.  Silly Sally sells sea shells, ink pink blink, cognitive gymnastics.  Across the desk to one side sits a clean cut young man in an immaculate set of dress greens, a few dozen multicolored ribbons arranged over his heart.  He sits with folded hands resting on the knee of his crossed leg, the placid and quite photogenic war hero, a sort of latter-day Ollie North.  Orson can feel the glow of patriotic greatness emanating upon him; if he could but touch the hem of his Silver Star-
            Three, two, one, “And we’re back, tonight’s guest freshly returned from his triumphant tour of duty overseas, Private First Class John Bollard.”  The audience roars approval; every red-blood loves PFC Bollard.  “Proud to have you with us, John,” smilingly wresting back the spotlight, the gracious late-night host.
            “Pleasure to be here, Mister Hayes,” Bollard smirks saccharinely.  Orson doesn’t appreciate the formality, and casts a wary eye at his guest.  Perhaps he doesn’t care for the spotlight?  A touch of PTSD, maybe?
            “As many of you know, John here was the hero of last month’s harrowing Haiftatabad siege, in which over a hundred militants had his squad surrounded in an abandoned hospital.  Completely out of contact and beyond support, isn’t that right?”
            “The ruins of a hospital, but yes, you’ve got the facts correct.”  Orson doesn’t much care for Bollard’s tone, or his sarcastic smile.  If the little shit doesn’t want to be on television, why come at all?  Just play ball, dammit.
            “Surrounded and outnumbered, your fellow warriors injured and spent, you courageously volunteered to infiltrate enemy lines in order to cause a distraction that would allow your squad to escape.  Not only did they escape, but he single-handedly neutralized more than fifty insurgents, completely breaking their ranks!  How do you like that, folks?  A modern-day Audie Murphy!”  And suddenly Hayes feels old- would people even remember who Murphy was?  “A real John McCain-style maverick,” he adds, still a little out of touch.  But who else in this day and age comes close?  Team Six, maybe, but none of them have names or recognizable faces.  He looks at Bollard with an almost real feeling of admiration, “You display the true American spirit, young man.  If only the current administration could better honor heroes such as yourself and the other men and women in uniform with better support.”
            And then his guest laughs, actually has the balls to snicker during Orson’s oratory to the American people.  But he’s not laughing; John looks scathingly upon him, a frighteningly sneery expression of disdain clouding his heroic visage.  “Hero?” he scoffs.  “You keep saying hero, but really you’re only dancing around the glaring reality that I’m a mass murderer in a uniform.  Hero,” he spits.  “Honestly, how can anyone in this day and age condone the things we do, much less applaud my actions?  Standing me up to be some sort of role model, so that when I’m old and spent and working a civvie contract job you can send today’s sons and daughters-” and the private scoffs again, “sons, send people’s sons to become murderers of their own, to fight and die or grow old and land more civvie jobs to enable more young people to fight and die.  Of course,” he continues matter-of-factly, sitting back in his seat, “it’ll be mechanized by then, all drones and robots and IEDs blowing up other IEDs and whatever civilians get in the way.”
            Orson is appalled, looking to the set director for guidance.  Keep it going, she mouths back at him.  Hayes struggles to find an opening, struggles to rally his riled feelings of public betrayal and ire.  “Do- do you mean to say you don’t support the war?  That you don’t support our troops?”  A few people in the audience boo, shouting commie and coward.  But John has obviously seen worse; he simply laughs at them.
            “Support our troops?  Have you spent any time with our troops, Orson?  They’re all either poor or fools or monsters, or fools waiting to become monsters so you people can idolize them.  Sending them off to fight wars for things you don’t really understand, simply to attach yourselves to a feeling like remoras on a shark.  You’re leeches, every last one of you.”  The stage lighting is bringing out the dark shadows around the eyes, bringing out the exhaustion in Bollard’s features.  Orson shakes his head reprovingly; the boy’s obviously delusional, speaking ill of his country and his fellow warriors this way.  And the crowd is getting ugly, inflammatory.
            “People, please,” he tells them in a soothing hush, trying to be his own sort of hero now.  “Post-traumatic stress is a very serious condition, affecting tens of thousands of our-”
            “Do you know why they get that way, Mister Hayes?  Because war is an unnatural thing incompatible with modern society, especially with a functioning democracy that believes in human rights and the sanctity of life.  We get sent off to see and do terrible things, get told we’re doing good, and then have to wrap our little minds around it all for the next thirty, forty, or however many years it takes before finally dying.  And it’s painful, so eventually everybody adopts the same language of lying, heroes and neutralizing and all that sanitized garbage people like you spread around.  For your ratings and your public image.  So yes, I do support the troops.  Fire them all, or else keep them home,” John trails off, tired and by now drowned out by the awful voices raining down upon him.  “Do something.”
            Security has been dispatched to keep a few audience members back from the stage.  Orson stands, feeling a bit like Springer as he looks to camera 3.  “Well that’s all the time we have for now.  Stay tuned for our next guest as we discuss the wolf problem in the mountain states.”  The On Air sign blackens and he looks around for Bollard, but the soldier is gone.  “Coward,” Hayes mutters, and begins trying to settle the tumultuous crowd back into their seats.

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