Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Tamerlane*

The sight of our nation's flags lining the streets around the courthouse still hits me with a momentary fear that we are at war again--that is until I remember that today happens to be a day of national remembrance, of mourning or celebration. This visceral mistake of fear comes from my first experience of my nation at war, a brief and relatively bloodless affair that nonetheless manifested itself on the home front as this very display of banners sponsored by the town's merchants and philanthropists. That war was not long ago in my old memory but happened while I was still impressionable so that I was schooled to take neurotic fright in such innocent activities as strolling to the local coffee shop.

Who wouldn't laugh at me among those busy young people lounging outside the café this morning with their laptops and lattés, their new vehicles parked nearby with their tell-tale golden fish on their bumpers? They would chuckle and kindly pat me on the back and remind me that life may indeed be tough, but the world is ours to celebrate. And I would nod. And I would wholeheartedly agree. And their eyes would once again fix upon the colorful screens of their computers.

Yet with all the abundance of their lives, their very existences of frantic transfer of ephemeral communication, who of a certain reflective mien would not fear for them and their naiveté? What do they know of our nation's history, its origins in legend, the overthrow of its monarchy by zealots, the civil wars that established a wealthy democracy, its subsequent depressions and flirtations with the institution of slavery and the glory of its upper classes that his created this fine day full of promise that they, these innocent coffee drinkers, only acknowledge through a kind of rote optimism? But who could blame them and their necessarily short, click-bait-trained memories?

And yet they all remember Tamerlane.

The videos of his atrocities originated after the nativity of these enfants and many of their cohort who donned uniforms and took up the bulky rifle in order to track down Tamerlane and his murderous coterie. Bandwidth filled, weighed with videos the new soldiers sent back of their humanitarian efforts, such as hospitals and schools built in his native province as well as the pyramids of skulls Tamerlane erected on mountain roadways as warnings to the infidel. They remember the images of Tamerlane's face, its creases carved by a fanatical dedication to our annihilation, his eyes focused in the single-pointed desire for our defeat and the defeat of all we stand for.

Yet I still despair that none of these events made much of an impression upon these young people apart from their memories, that they all became a part not of their physically-tried knowledge but instead became more images in their digital reality. Even the casualties among this generation were few, and the heroic stories of their survivors, broadcast 24/7 on the web, kept any feelings of despair at bay, those stories and these many flags we see today. Still, somehow, our virtual Tamerlane forged our will through the terror, however muted, of his acts. which, after all, consisted events writ in fire and torn flesh at their origin.

War in the highlands brought us to a pique of action, decisiveness that instantly halted Tamerlane's blood-curdling raids and monstrous acts of remote-controlled terrorism. Today we bear the burden of his displaced countrymen, those innocent refugees who escape the mountains to drive into our town in their filthy trucks and assemble their squalid suburbs of tents. Sometimes in favorable wind you can smell their alien cooking and their unsanitary open tranches. The years and money their eviction will squander from our government has yet to be calculated. I hear they have collaborators among us--but I count it as gossip--that the refugees, in their machinations for survival, silently bend our people's will to their ends.

I continue my walk past the café and around the corner to the courthouse square. I calm my neurosis, console myself with the truth of this war: it concluded in triumph, testimony to the fortitude of my people. And why do I worry about this generation and their sense  of reality when their self-sacrifice has fetched us victory in the form of a truth so plain that any child could see it? There, over the stately double doors of the court, I see the end of all our fears, this trophy of war. Who am I to make light of this generation's sacrifices when they lead to what's holy? From the first news of Tamerlane's furtive bombings the fruit of our devotion was inevitable. How can I disparage these people? There, on the flag pole over those doors I see it: Tamerlane's head that gave birth to our trials, severed, brought home and embalmed as a real reminder.

*This is a draft of short piece I wrote in 2011 at the news of the killing of a famous terrorist. In 2013 someone named Tamerlan bombed the Boston Marathon. The coincidence horrified me and doomed this bit of writing, which was an attempt to view the reality of our current wars through a Borgesian lens of nightmare and stilted language. It actually sounds too overwrought to me today. Still, I like the way it steps just to the side of our world. I hope its gawkiness does not turn anyone away.

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