by Alzo David-West
The fires were raging. The land was burning, and the trees were burning. The thatched huts in the village were burning. Brown farming men and women in dusty white clothes, with bundles on their heads and babies on their backs, were running. The wind was strong and hot and smelled of fuel oil. Everywhere was burning, and blackened bodies lay in the fires.
They did not understand why the American bombers came. The Korean People’s Army was a thousand li away. They did not understand why the Americans made war, like neglected angry gods, from the sky. The men and women screamed and cursed and prayed and saved the ones they loved, if they could. It was a very bad time. The fires were raging. The village was burning.
I remember her well, our comrade sister Ahn Chohae. She was nineteen years old when the American imperialists invaded the northern half of our country, and she was the first woman to die in our unit. She was shy and quiet, and she had come to the party and the army after the enemy’s air attacks killed everyone in her village. Many of us lost our families, our neighbors, and our friends that way, never seeing the faces of the aggressors who were always ruthlessly dropping bombs without discrimination. Comrade Ahn trained quickly in the war, and she was talented. She joined our women’s antiaircraft machine-gun unit, and she shot down dozens of the planes that slaughtered hundreds and thousands of our people.
Last week, as we were preparing for the sixty-second anniversary of our victory in the Fatherland Liberation War, one of our sisters remembered and mentioned comrade Ahn. No one now in the party and the army knows anything about her, and I doubt our new young leader has even heard her name. We always wondered why she never received a medal or a statue or a portrait in her honor, and why her story was removed from the official printed copies of our reminiscences. Ahn Chohae was the first woman who died in our unit, but everyone else wanted to forget her after we won the war. Some of us wrote angry complaints to our party, army, and government offices over the years, but no one responded. How can we forget our sister, Ahn Chohae, without whom we would all have surely died?
After the American ground forces entered our capital in October, she did what none of us could do. She gave herself to them. She did not surrender, no. She simply told us that all men were the same and that, when they were distracted with her, we could strategically retreat, regroup, and rearm to kill more of the invaders, who came like housebreakers into our people’s republic. The majority of us opposed her idea. We wanted to fight them all, but Ahn Chohae softly rejected our opposition as shortsighted and naive. She was not a physically strong person, and she had bad knees; yet she was the strongest among us. She said she would be a diversion, a plaything for the Americans, whose treatment of so many of our women in the war we still cannot describe without shedding tears.
We from our unit, who carried out our revenge and helped drive the American imperialist gangsters out of our country, survived the war thanks to comrade Ahn Chohae, and we have not forgotten her, whose death allowed us to be the eighty-year-old great grandmothers we are today. Oh, Ahn Chohae, why did the party forget you? Why did the army forget you? Why do the young people not know your name? We tried and tried to tell everyone, yet no one wanted to listen. But we have not forgotten you, sister Ahn Chohae. We have not forgotten how you limped into the enemy’s encampment and gave yourself, like a broken flower, to the American Army beasts that day.
New Order of the Ages
General Raytam looked from his command ship upon the burning Korean beach villages and the roasting bodies under the napalm stew that flowed from the bellies of jet fighters.
He swaggered and told the brigadier general at his left and the major general at his right that it was a glorious sight, the most sublime he had seen since his action in the European trenches when he was a young man.
“Korea is the crux, the vital point, the nexus,” he said, “and no Commies are gonna muck it up this time.”
He lit a pipe and smiled on his steel chair.
Bomb chains, chains of bombs, were falling from the sky.
A young lieutenant behind him asked, “General Raytam, sir, is it not excessive? I mean, a case of overkill.”
“Everyone there’s compromised, my boy,” the general replied without turning. “Intelligence. It’s all in intelligence.”
The sun shone brightly, and the general put on a pair of sunglasses.
Smoldering, smoldering, and black waves were roiling and churning around the hull of the command ship.
“They’ve got only one coastal battery in this region, sir,” the lieutenant said.
“They’ve got bones—Red bones!” General Raytam retorted, and he, the brigadier general, and the major general laughed.
A flash of light shot across a hill top.
“What the hell is that?” General Raytam demanded. He picked up his binoculars and saw a column of refugees in white rags, carrying a mirror.
“It’s signal communication! Fry ‘em!” the general ordered.
“Civilians, sir!” the lieutenant cried out. “They’re civilians!”
“Don’t be nervous, my boy.”
The brigadier general and the major general conveyed the order to a squadron of pilots, who ran to their jet fighters and took off from the command ship.
“Damn Commies,” General Raytam muttered, looking through his binoculars, as the raggy bodies melted under the airstrike.
Amphibious assault divisions from other ships later took the beach, and flamethrower teams shot streams of fire into tunnels on the shorefront.
General Raytam’s cheeks were wet with laughter. “Oh, I could die! I could die!” he gurgled in wild excitement.
He told the lieutenant to bring a record player and play some Beethoven: “Symphony Number 6, Opus 68, the ‘Pastoral Symphony,’” the general specified.
Dead refugees and dead soldiers covered the beach like ants. The flamethrowers were like dragons, and ants cannot fight dragons.
“Do you see that? Do you see that?” General Raytam insisted. “It’ll be the Communist tombstone of Asia when we save the world from these gypsies.”
The lieutenant’s agitation grew. His skin crawled with a feeling of anxiety, and he wished he was not listening to Beethoven … on this day when Korea was burning and people were dying and General Raytam and the other generals were laughing.
“Eh-gi! Eh-gi!” a woman was screaming on shore, holding up a naked baby boy.
General Raytam looked through his binoculars, pointed, and said, “Those two … over there … we’ll spare ‘em.”
Pillars of smoke were rising along the coastline; sea breeze was blowing; and the sky was darkening.
* * *
The young lieutenant sat in his cabin, preparing to type an official report of the engagement with the North Korean coastal battery earlier in the morning and the afternoon.
The woman, the baby, and the bodies on the hill and the beach flashed in his mind. He shivered, and his hands shook uncontrollably, and he started convulsing.
Suddenly, he threw the typewriter onto the floor, where it smashed into pieces, and his tears mingled with the shards.
“Help me,” he quavered. “What should I write? How can I write?” he wondered as his conscience tore at him.
A feeling of violent sickness came.
“Medicine. Medicine,” he thought, staggered up, and took some pills from a first-aid kit in the cabin.
He sat, swallowed the pills with a cup of seltzer water, and looked at a poster of the Great Seal of the United States hanging on the wall.
“Novus Ordo Seclorum.”
The lieutenant turned his face down, staring at the smashed broken typewriter and scattered shards and keys, and he heard the sound of the “Pastoral Symphony” playing again, in the night.
Black waves outside the command ship were turning and churning in tireless vortices.
Beethoven. Black water. Burning beach villages. Bodies.
General Raytam entered the room, smoking his pipe. He studied the young lieutenant for a moment and, briefly, felt a slight twinge.
“It’s very simple,” the general said. “It’s all very simple.”
Editor’s Note on Memories of War:
Memories of War is not Alzo David-West’s first work to appear in Eastlit. His previous published pieces are: