A/N: Panini machines are the best invention possible for starving, busy, over-caffeinated college students.
The rain here does not fall softly, like it does when it rolls across open fields back home. Here, water drops like a ton of bricks, smacking against wide leaves, ringing against helmets, slapping exposed shoulders. It does not cleanse – it punishes. There is no washing away of sins; the rain here is angry, outraged, making him pay penance for every wrong he's ever done and every wrong he will ever do.
And oh, how his wrongs have accumulated. Every round he's fired has become easier to forget and therefore must be atoned for, because a man must never forget how many others he has killed lest he become not-man. They say right is right and wrong is wrong, but they're just children who have never been taught how to kill and kill and kill, on orders, in self-defense, just because you can.
War is easier than everyone else thinks. The object of any war is to win. But he knows that victory is impossible without ideology driving men to do the terrible things that war requires, and so he commits himself to the Official Purpose of Spreading Democracy and Freedom because it's simple and convenient. He believes in what he's doing with every fiber of whatever still remains of his soul, and he clings to that belief with the ferocity of a drowning man to a wooden raft. Without it, he's just another man with a gun, just another hollow killer who became a little too good at the job he's been trained to do.
He is top dog. He is the ace, the boss, the big man. They get cheap thrills from calling him Sarge instead of Sergeant, as if there existed some personal bond between him and them. You can call him what you want – soldier, savior, sinner. He doesn't care. All he wants you to know is this: you are full of shit.
He doesn't fight this war for his countrymen. He doesn't fight this war for the President, for Robert McNamara, for generals or commanders or even the useless lieutenant quaking in his boots each time a mortar explodes overhead. Don't overcomplicate things – his motives are much simpler than you'd think. Freedom? Too abstract. Patriotism? What country sends children to do an adult's job?
War is simple. The man to his left, the man to his right, the boys in front and in back, whose babyfaces can't even grow a goddamn beard – they are why he fights.
And when he's screaming at you to cover your ass you can see the fear, the genuine terror that this time you're not going to duck fast enough to dodge that .50 caliber bullet zooming straight for your skull, and that this time he won't be able to save you from the hot shrapnel lodged under your vest because this time the mortar dropped right on you and the vest wasn't enough. You think it's all about being a badass but the reality is that he is scared, scared that neither you nor they are smart enough to stay alive out here, not without his help, and like all parents he knows he isn't going to be around forever to keep his flock safe.
He takes it personally when someone decides they're going to croak in a raid, an ambush, an all-out clusterfuck of a fight in the hot, thick jungle. It's an affront to his honor, to his ability, to his devotion, so he kills more and more and more because maybe if he finally gets rid of the last Communist on earth then his boys won't have to fight and die anymore. And he knows, secretly, that he himself will never make it out of this war alive – he's seen his death, the product of his own design, and it doesn't frighten him, not anymore. He no longer stays up, wide-awake in the wee hours, questioning his purpose and his intent – it's all ultimately right. When they look back on what he's done, they, too, will understand that it was all in the interest of the greatest future good – their greatest good.
Not everyone can do what he does. Devotion of this type is rare, a birth defect that will lead to his own downfall, someday.
It's all about rationalization. Coming to terms with what you've become, what you always were: a killer. Ethics, politics, restraint – if you think those are necessary, then you don't recognize the nature of his war. There's no time for high morals, no room for philosophical musings. There is only the platoon, made up of boys roped into fighting something they don't even understand – your boys, fighting your war, in a place they didn't even know existed until deployment. You demonize him, his battle, yet you can't see the simple truth of what you've asked him to do.
And all he wants you to know is this: you are full of shit.