One of my plans was put into effect today. A battle plan that is. That’s what I do. My job. I work for the military.
On TV, on the news, you always see all those guys running around, tanks going here and there, aircraft swooping to and fro. They never tell you really, but those things don’t happen on their own. Every piece on the board, from pawn to king, has a direct designated place he goes and thing he does, everything is scripted. Really all you see out there is a theater production on some grandiose scale. The tricky part is scripting the guys on the other side.
The show must go on, they always say. And yeah, it always does go on. At some cost though. The show works a little different out there. It isn’t just for fun, or for a review, for ticket sales. It isn’t just to entertain an audience or inspire a thought or aspiration. It is about lives. If you respond the wrong way, if you get “stage fright”, if you miss a line and have to improvise, it doesn’t just mean you’ll be in the paper the next morning, mentioned in a poor review. You’ll be in the military obituary instead. They will say you were “struck down in your prime by a foreign menace”, They will say you died “bravely in combat” or “in service of your country”, but that’s a sugar coat. That is an easy answer, that is the easy take miracle pill. It isn’t the truth. The truth is that your son, your daughter, died because of me. I killed them. Their script told them to go to Point A. They went to Point A. But Point A was under artillery fire. Or there was a tank at point a that was pointing at them. Or a pilot missed his mark on a bombing run, and Point A is nothing more than a crater. People make mistakes, right? Life is all about learning from our mistakes, isn’t that it?
I can tell you they didn’t learn from theirs. They never got to. They made their mistake, and they got put in a box for it. Or maybe I made a mistake. Maybe Point A was 10 meters too far to the east. 10 meters. 12 are dead because of 10 meters. Or maybe 20 seconds wasn’t long enough. 20 seconds to move 45 meters to Point A. I probably won’t ever know. I will never get to ask. I can presume I made a mistake, and try to learn from it, try to change. But it is already made, and the record is in the paper, on the 13th page: the obituary. And I know I will make others.
I have written 35 battle plans that have been put into action. In those 35 battles, 298 of our soldiers have been killed. An average of 8.5 men per battle, they tell me. I could never figure that one out. My maximum deaths in a battle, 39. My minimum, 2. 32 of the plans have been successful, 3 have failed.
They say that the failures aren’t my fault. They say that the deaths aren’t my fault either. When we lose, they all come and reconcile with me. The generals, the colonels and commanders, they all pat me on the back and say, “Sometimes things just don’t work son, that’s how war is. Nobody wins ’em all.” They’re right. Nobody wins them all. Nobody wins at all. Nobody.
When we win, they come and pat me on the back too. They shake my hand, and they talk loud, and they smile. I smile back. They tell me, “You’re a damn fine strategist, maybe the finest we have ever had. You’ve done a real service for your country, son.” That one always makes me cringe. A real service. A real service for my country.
The press comes, and I disappear. They give their speeches. When the battle has been lost, they step on stage, their faces solemn and stern, their conduct sincere, their voices low and grave. They say “nothing could be done” and that “The loss is a real tragedy”, they speak of the lost men and “How they will be missed”, they cast their eyes around the room as they speak, cold and fortified stares. They go on for a while like that. But by the end, they have turned the ever-turning tides. They give that familiar sermon of hope, speaking of “Plans to strike back” and that “Victory is coming soon” and that they will have the enemy “Runnin’ with their tails tucked”, and then they step away and let the politicians finish the mess. When they win, it is just about the same. They stand behind podiums, they smile, their voices high and happy, and they speak of the “profound success” on the field. They preach about how “everything went exactly as planned” and how “proud they are to serve this country, our country”. They never mention me. It is the one mercy they show, they never mention me. They only say that “Everything went as planned.”
Just as planned.
They never tell the press the truth. They tell them of glorious victory, of sparse and indecisive defeat, and always speak of coming victory. They tell them those who died did so nobly, and nothing more. They don’t tell them the projected casualties, they don’t tell them that those who died did so as part of a plan. The bodies are numbers. “11 died, and they will be sorely missed.” The media is mostly sympathetic. They know the truth already. They know they need it, so they do not delve deeper. War is business, and business is booming. The engine of the world needs fuel, and the fuel is blood. The guilty, the innocent, the brave, the cowardly, the fighters, the runners, and the gawkers all bleed and die so that our world might continue to turn. Our world needs fuel, and the fuel must come from somewhere.
Just as planned.
That word echoes in my ears. It is the beating of my heart, it is bags beneath my eyes, it is the stone in my stomach and the eidolon in my dreams. Plans, plans, plans. Plan, planned, planning, plan. Just as planned. The battle went just as planned. Just as planned, and 11 are dead. Is that number part of the plan? 11 families with an empty seat at Thanksgiving. 4 daughters without a father, 2 sons without a mother, 2 soon-to-be-wedded wives standing alone on the altar. 1 boy whose grandparents are his parents now, and whose grandparents are without their only son. All of them, dead. Just as planned.
I draw lines for a living. I draw lines on paper, I label points and draw arrows. I talk to high-ranking, coffee-drinking, senior staff members and point at things on a map, and they nod and smile and shake my hand and take the maps to their soldiers, and the soldiers take those maps to heart, and they take their hearts to the battlefield where they might be punctured all for the sake of acting out my script. They fall, and die in the theater of war, because of the dots and lines I put on their maps, because of the targets I drew on their chests. I never meet those soldiers. I never even see those soldiers.
With every plan I make, there is a casualty prediction, and of those casualties, deaths. I write my plans very carefully, I double and triple check every line, every arrow, every annotation, every circle, square, oval, every dot. I triple check them all. But the funny thing is, I can never reach zero. Zero, a dream number, a fantasy. Zero tortures me, endlessly. Those projected numbers always haunt me. Est: 24 casualties, 11 dead. Sometimes those numbers earn names in my dreams. Faces, pictures, families, graves. Sometimes I don’t sleep, and all I see are faces. Faces that will be a part of a plan. I go back to work the next morning, my heart beating, bags under my eyes, a stone in my stomach, and the horrors of my nightmare world trailing close behind.
And I start a new map.
I can’t quit. I can’t. Not with those faces in my mind. Those 298 faces. Those 298 families, missing a member come Thanksgiving time. I can’t quit. I cannot trust another with this duty, this damned task that kills me day after day. I have to keep on drawing lines, putting dots on a page, moving troops to Point A, and ending their lives. I have to, because too much is at stake to trust another. This is my endowment. It is my talent, it is my curse, it is my inevitable duty. Drawing lines, sending men to die, is a burden that I must bear. Not because I can, but because it is one I cannot trust another to do. I owe it to those 298 others to slash that count to zero.
The plan put into effect today was the biggest I have ever drawn up. The high ups say it is genius. That disgusts me. Predicted casualties: 225. Predicted deaths: 40. I tap the end of my ballpoint pen on the hard oaken desk that bears my name, staring at an almost blank page that is in front of me. 8 groups of tally marks are evenly aligned in the center of the white space. A tiny platoon of soldiers. I tap on. 240 beats per minute. My heart pounds on. 120 beats per minute. I know I will not sleep tonight.