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Guest Post: 15 Bullets

(Today's post is a guest post by longtime reader Matty P. If you would like to guest write for us, please check out our guest post guidelines. We look forward to publishing reader posts on future Thursdays.)

Fifteen rounds. That's how many bullets a 9mm Beretta holds. The one I carried was grey. All grey; handle and all. It's heavier than you expect from a hand gun. I didn't know what to do or say when it was handed to me. Ours was a mission of mercy, not a combat mission. Our mission team leader gave it to me for my protection. But it was felt by our team leaders that the location we were heading, to and the people we were helping, could place us in danger. I've used a weapon before, but I’m not a solder; our mission was to deliver medical aide and training.

I just held it and stared at it as if I had no idea what it was. Carrying a weapon on a medical mission seemed hypocritical and wrong. But I wore it. I wore it because it was expected of me.

I was part of a mission to Thailand. Our goal was to assist an indigenous people to the country of Burma(now the Myanmar Republic). They are called the Karen and they technically don't exist. By technically, I mean that they're are not recognized by any of the local governments, including the Thai government which allows their refugee camps within the country. We went because these unrecognized people are being ethnically cleansed by the Burmese military for their religious beliefs (they are Southern Baptist if you can believe it) and we were training their brightest to go back into Burma and provide basic medical services to their own people, everything from basic first aid to bullet wounds and amputations from land mines.   

That's the background. I could talk about the ridiculous number of atrocities enacted upon the Karen (as asinine as it sounds, watching the newest Rambo will give you a fairly accurate depiction of the Burmese military's tactics) but instead I want to relate a story I witnessed rather than the stories I have heard. A story about a 9mm Beretta.

We were in between classes at an undisclosed and remote training sight. I was talking with one of the Karen youths about their eating habits, assisted by a translator, outside by a group of folding tables. They eat their food with their hands which can be a health concern when considering they don't wash their hands before meals. A simple problem with a simple solution that could bolster the health of these indigenous people.  

When the RPG sailed across the river, I didn't even hear let alone see it. The only thing I knew was that a ninety pound man tackled me to the ground in attempts to shield me. Though I weighed more than double he did, I hit the ground hard and skidded on my hands and knees. He put his shoulder and all of his weight to the center of my back and it hurt. I heard gun fire; mostly from our side of the river.

I drew my Beretta and fired.

Fifteen rounds. I unloaded the entire clip toward Burma, toward my attackers. In all likelihood the rounds didn't make it across the river. There wasn't enough gunfire to locate a target at which I could aim. The smoke trail from the RPG was little more than a wisp. So I aimed all my shots in the direction I stood up with my weapon drawn.

Now here's my moral quandary: I didn't think. I only acted. Fear compelled me more than anger. But I acted in a violent manner. I acted with the intent to take a life or many lives. Our Karen advisors believe our attackers were aiming for me as the RPG was within twenty yards of my relatively noticeable light skin and larger stature. So logic would dictate I had the right to self defense. Still, I regret drawing my weapon. It was a mission of mercy. We were there to better and save lives not to take them.
So I tell myself my aim was off. The distance was too far. It was only fifteen rounds...

two comments

Love this post, the irony and disconnect of going to a country to teach medical aid and to help people, and yet experiencing and participating in Violence. Of course, it is a war, a genocide, and you choose a side. Definitely lots to think here.

Really appreciate the post Matty P, and hope for many more.

The execution of such a crazy act, even if self-defense, occurs in a blink of an eye. That doesn’t mean its right or wrong; just in self-defense we move and act so quickly in hindsight it can be shocking.

To bring it back to the Army, that is why we rehearse escalation of force and the rules of engagement. Still its amazing what happens in a blink of an eye.