Peter W. Earsman

A BODYGUARD OF LIES

‘In war, the truth is so important, it must always be accompanied by a bodyguard of lies’
Winston Churchill

IWVPA Bronze Helmet Top Poet Award of Excellence for July 2001My son said.
Hey Dad, where were you in the war, what places did you go?
And were you on some tropic isle or mountain deep in snow?
Perhaps on sandy desert dunes, or some French village street?
Or in some foreign restaurant where secret agents meet?

For almost a week we hid in that stinking swamp. Eating whatever insects we could catch, small frogs that came near enough and drinking the foul water. It was almost a relief when the Japs finally discovered our hiding place. They hauled us out and beat us before pushing us down the trail that we guessed led to their encampment. For the first couple of miles Arthur fell every few minutes, his smashed knee collapsing under him. The Japs finally allowed me to hoist him on my back. His face was near mine and he cried out every time I stumbled and a bone from his broken leg dug into my spine.

And I replied.
I had it really easy son, a piece of cake for me,
a south pacific paradise, white sand and clear blue sea,
with shady trees of coconuts and cool, delicious streams.
The war was miles and miles away – not even in my dreams.

My son said.
But other kids have told me Dad, their father’s war was hard,
and some had even shot a man while standing there on guard,
I wonder what it’s like to pull the trigger of a gun?
Just pull the trigger, wham! Kapow! I bet it’s really fun.

Peering over a cornice of rock I could see the bunker with the slit in its concrete face only twenty yards away. Blue of smoke drifted out as two heavy machine-guns sent fifty calibre chunks of lead zipping and cracking over our heads, then down to thud into the struggling groups of men in the bloody surf fifty metres below.

I yelled to the two men on my left and held up a grenade and made a throwing motion. They nodded. Three grenades, then three more, lobbed up to the machine-gun post. Two of them went through the slit, one bouncing and rolling – the other one right through. The noise was deafening. We ducked as dirt and chips of masonry fell about us.

Inside the bunker was a shredded nightmare. Six enemy soldiers were dead I thought, but then saw one was still alive. He was standing slumped against the wall, his uniform in wet tatters, his legs shaking violently. At his belly he was fumbling with shiny ropes slippery in his hands; blue and purple, some looped beneath his bloody fingers like bloated vines.

He lifted his chin and looked at me and I saw his family, his home and his life.

I aimed my rifle at the middle of his forehead He nodded and closed his eyes.

I closed my eyes – and squeezed the trigger.

And I replied.
There’s something you should know about the soldiers in a war,
They’re bakers and they’re taxi-drivers, clerks in grocery stores.
Your Dad is just a farmer son, who labours in the mud,
what would I know about such things, as killing, death and blood?

And my son said.
But Dad.

And I replied.
Go to sleep son