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281

Return to Normal

New York, 1999-2003

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terms
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notes

Thomson, A., Postlewait, H. and Cain, K. (2006). Return to Normal. In Thomson, A., Postlewait, H. and Cain, K. Emergency Sex (and Other Desperate Measures): True Stories from a War Zone. Ebury Press, pp. 281-301

(adjective) marked with small spots or patches contrasting with the background

291

the morning sun glints through the blinds, throwing dappled orange light across her skin

—p.291 by Andrew Thomson, Heidi Postlewait, Kenneth Cain
notable
2 years, 8 months ago

the morning sun glints through the blinds, throwing dappled orange light across her skin

—p.291 by Andrew Thomson, Heidi Postlewait, Kenneth Cain
notable
2 years, 8 months ago
294

We actually set out to save the world. That is what was insane — not ten-year-old warlords with bad breath and voodoo fetishes in Liberia, not Matt's assassin, not the boss in Somalia who set us up for an ambush in exchange for a fifteen percent kickback on the judges' salaries, not the Hutu militias who butchered a minority who had repressed them or the Tutsi survivors who executed the suspects — but me, for thinking I could enter a war and personally restore order.

So that's the easy answer: forswear idealism; resign myself to a sad maturity; put away the things of youth; be thankful I survived and move on. But that's horseshit too, a craven capitulation. I'm not ready to let the youthful part of myself go yet. If maturity means becoming a cynic, if you have to kill the part of yourself that is naïve and romantic and idealistic — the part of yourself you treasure most — to claim maturity, is it not better to die young but with your humanity intact? If everyone resigns themselves to cynicism, isn't that exactly how vulnerable millions end up dead?

When the Cold Was ended, the power of freedom, democracy and hope weren't abstract concepts; they were palpable in the Iraqi desert, across the Berlin Wall, in Tiananmen Square, atop Yeltsin's tank. That hope crescendoed for us in Cambodia. So we piled into Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia — missionaries, mercenaries, and madmen with no understanding of the history, politics, or culture but with Land Cruisers, military-issue radios, malaria pills, and the sure knowledge that we were on the right side of history.

What a feeling. Andrew wanted to bind the wounds of innocent war victims, hoping to find grace. Heidi embraced the freedom-born-of-emergency determined to liberate herself and, in the process, as many women as she could touch. I planned to harness the power of an ascendant America to personally undo the Holocaust. Don't laugh. We were young. We weren't the first, and won't be the last, to venture forth overseas with grand ideas.

Then eighteen Rangers fell in Somalia and suddenly history started moving in the wrong direction. Rwanda, Haiti, and Bosnia were all in flames, burning the remains of our innocence. One million civilians we promised to protect died on our watch. There are many competing versions of this story — U.S., UN, NATO, EU. But we were there and capital letters always lie and our version has no meaning if no one renders it.

So I make the conscious choice to believe again: we did not misspend our youth. At least we can bear witness. I did save lives and I did earn my way into Dr. Andrew's club. The act of rendering is therefore mine. l won the right, I am the owner of that privilege.

There is a plaque in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum In Jerusalem, which reads, 'The Jewish people will never forget the righteous among the nations who endangered their lives in order to save Jews from the Nazi murderers and their collaborators. In their praiseworthy deeds they saved the honor of mankind.' I have a copy of these words over my desk and I look at them every day on my way out. Who saved the honor of mankind in Rwanda? Or Bosnia? Or, God help us, Liberia? But I have another quote from the exit of Yed Vashem over my desk, which reads, 'Son of man, keep not silent, forget not deeds of tyranny, cry out at the disaster of a people, recount it unto your children and they unto theirs from generation to generation.'

I don't know who saved the honor of mankind during my time in the field, but I do know that an ancestral memory of tyranny commands me to keep not silent.

There is no ambiguity here. I am a witness. I have a voice. I have to write it down.

this passage hit me at a pivotal moment in my self-development as a writer and I can still feel its influence even today

—p.294 by Kenneth Cain 2 years, 8 months ago

We actually set out to save the world. That is what was insane — not ten-year-old warlords with bad breath and voodoo fetishes in Liberia, not Matt's assassin, not the boss in Somalia who set us up for an ambush in exchange for a fifteen percent kickback on the judges' salaries, not the Hutu militias who butchered a minority who had repressed them or the Tutsi survivors who executed the suspects — but me, for thinking I could enter a war and personally restore order.

So that's the easy answer: forswear idealism; resign myself to a sad maturity; put away the things of youth; be thankful I survived and move on. But that's horseshit too, a craven capitulation. I'm not ready to let the youthful part of myself go yet. If maturity means becoming a cynic, if you have to kill the part of yourself that is naïve and romantic and idealistic — the part of yourself you treasure most — to claim maturity, is it not better to die young but with your humanity intact? If everyone resigns themselves to cynicism, isn't that exactly how vulnerable millions end up dead?

When the Cold Was ended, the power of freedom, democracy and hope weren't abstract concepts; they were palpable in the Iraqi desert, across the Berlin Wall, in Tiananmen Square, atop Yeltsin's tank. That hope crescendoed for us in Cambodia. So we piled into Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia — missionaries, mercenaries, and madmen with no understanding of the history, politics, or culture but with Land Cruisers, military-issue radios, malaria pills, and the sure knowledge that we were on the right side of history.

What a feeling. Andrew wanted to bind the wounds of innocent war victims, hoping to find grace. Heidi embraced the freedom-born-of-emergency determined to liberate herself and, in the process, as many women as she could touch. I planned to harness the power of an ascendant America to personally undo the Holocaust. Don't laugh. We were young. We weren't the first, and won't be the last, to venture forth overseas with grand ideas.

Then eighteen Rangers fell in Somalia and suddenly history started moving in the wrong direction. Rwanda, Haiti, and Bosnia were all in flames, burning the remains of our innocence. One million civilians we promised to protect died on our watch. There are many competing versions of this story — U.S., UN, NATO, EU. But we were there and capital letters always lie and our version has no meaning if no one renders it.

So I make the conscious choice to believe again: we did not misspend our youth. At least we can bear witness. I did save lives and I did earn my way into Dr. Andrew's club. The act of rendering is therefore mine. l won the right, I am the owner of that privilege.

There is a plaque in the Garden of the Righteous at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial museum In Jerusalem, which reads, 'The Jewish people will never forget the righteous among the nations who endangered their lives in order to save Jews from the Nazi murderers and their collaborators. In their praiseworthy deeds they saved the honor of mankind.' I have a copy of these words over my desk and I look at them every day on my way out. Who saved the honor of mankind in Rwanda? Or Bosnia? Or, God help us, Liberia? But I have another quote from the exit of Yed Vashem over my desk, which reads, 'Son of man, keep not silent, forget not deeds of tyranny, cry out at the disaster of a people, recount it unto your children and they unto theirs from generation to generation.'

I don't know who saved the honor of mankind during my time in the field, but I do know that an ancestral memory of tyranny commands me to keep not silent.

There is no ambiguity here. I am a witness. I have a voice. I have to write it down.

this passage hit me at a pivotal moment in my self-development as a writer and I can still feel its influence even today

—p.294 by Kenneth Cain 2 years, 8 months ago