作者: Svetlana Alexievich
出版社: W. W. Norton & Company
副标题: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War
讀完S. A. Alexievich 1996年關於切爾諾貝利核災難的《VoicesfromChernobyl》，追溯讀她1992年關於蘇聯入侵阿富汗的《ZinkyBoys》，很不是滋味。假如說切爾諾貝利是一場正義的人類對抗核災難的戰爭，所有的犧牲有著偉大的意義，那麼在這場非正義的阿富汗侵略戰爭里，犧牲為的又是什麼呢？
S. A. Alexievich用她擅長的雜碎但有章的“人聲拼圖”，記錄了一個個小人物對這場戰爭的理解和感受，湊成一副有血有肉的立體歷史畫面。她克制地不做道德審判，可是已經知道這場戰爭真相的讀者，真的可以不後見之明地居高臨下嗎？
The men and women who make up this book are very diverse; perhaps all they have in common is that they were affected by the war in Afghanistan. It is no exaggeration to say that they offer us a unique insight into the Soviet condition at a turning-point in the country’s history; but they also have something to tell us about our common humanity – and inhumanity.
My aim is to describe feelings about the war, rather than the war itself. What are people thinking? What do they want, or fear? What makes them happy? What do they remember?
But I’m not here to judge what I’ve seen and heard. My aim is simply to reflect the world as it really is. Getting to grips with this war today means facing much wider issues, issues of the life and death of humanity.
the military oath: ‘I stand ready to defend my Motherland, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, when ordered to do so by the Soviet Government, and, as a soldier of the armed forces of the USSR, I swear to defend it with courage, skill, dignity and honour, not sparing my blood and even my life for the achievement of total victory over our foes … ’
We were soldiers. We were sent there to obey orders and honour our military oath. I kissed the flag … ’
We were sent to Afghanistan to obey orders. In the army you obey orders first and then, if you like, discuss their merits — when it’s all over. ‘Go!’ means exacdy that. If you refuse you get thrown out of the party. You took the military oath, didn’t you?
‘Could you have refused to go to Afghanistan?’ Me personally? Only one of our group of professional army officers, Major Bondarenko, a battery commander, refused. The first thing that happened was, he had to face a ‘court of honour’, which convicted him of cowardice. Can you imagine what that does to a man’s self-esteem? Suicide might be the easiest way out. Then he was demoted to captain and posted to a building battalion as punishment. Then he was expelled from the party and eventually discharged with dishonour. How many men could go through all that? And he was a military man to the bone — he’d spent thirty years in the army.
At lunch-time crates of vodka suddenly arrived. We were lined up in rows and informed that in a few hours’ time we would be flying to Afghanistan to do our duty as soldiers in accordance with our military oath. It was incredible! Fear and panic turned men into animals — some of us went very quiet, others got into an absolute frenzy, or wept with anger or fell into a kind of trance, numb from this unbelievably filthy trick that had been played on us. That was what the vodka was for, of course, to calm us down. After we’d drunk it and it had gone to our heads some of us tried to escape and others started to fight with our officers, but the compound was surrounded by troops from other units and they shoved us into the plane. We were just thrown into that great metal belly like so many crates being loaded. That’s how we got to Afghanistan.
When my wife enquired why I was in Afghanistan she was told that I’d volunteered. All our mothers and wives were told the same. If I’d been asked to give my life for something worthwhile I’d have volunteered, but I was deceived in two ways: first, they lied to us; second, it took me eight years to find out the truth about the war itself. Many of my friends are dead and sometimes I envy them because they’ll never know they were lied to about this disgusting war — and because no one can ever lie to them again.
I was always intoning high-sounding phrases about the Pioneer spirit, the Pioneer sense of duty, and when I was called up I naturally volunteered for Afghanistan.
I wanted to know what it was like to have one apple and two friends, you’re hungry and they’re hungry, so you give them the apple. I thought it would be one big happy family. That’s the reason I went.
I wanted to be a hero and looked for a chance to be one. They say it was a man’s war but the truth is, it was a boy’s war. It was kids not long out of school who did the fighting. It was like a game for us. Self-esteem and pride were terribly important: can I do it or can’t I? He can — can I? That’s what we were worried about, not politics. I’d been preparing myself for a challenge of some kind since I was a young boy. My favourite author was Jack London. A real man had to be strong — and war makes you strong.
How did I end up here? I simply believed what I read in the papers. ‘There was a time when young people were really capable of achieving something and sacrificing themselves for a great cause,’ I thought, ‘but now we’re good for nothing and I’m no better than the rest. There’s a war on, and I sit here sewing dresses and thinking up new hair-dos.’
I was an ordinary, rather bookish, Moscow girl. I thought I’d find real life only somewhere far away, where the men were strong and the women beautiful. I wanted adventure and escape from everyday life …
how did I come to be in Afghanistan? I volunteered to ‘go to the aid of the Afghan people’. Radio, TV and the press kept telling us about the Revolution, and that it was our duty to help.
‘Someone’s got to. And I’d like to be somewhere I’m really needed.’ We knew there was a war on, blood was being spilt, and nurses were needed. I burst into tears, but I couldn’t say no to her. She looked at me sternly. ‘We’ve both taken the Hippocratic oath, Mama,’ she said. ... She went back three days early: ‘Forgive me, Mama, but there are only two nurses left for the whole field-hospital. Enough doctors but a shortage of nurses. The girls are exhausted. I’ve just got to go.’
When we drove through Kabul the women threw sticks and stones at our tanks, kids swore at us in perfect Russian: ‘Russky, go home!’ What were we doing there?
Those kids even dance and sing when they see our casualties being carried out. We take presents to their villages, flour, or mattresses, or cuddly toys — sweet little rabbits and mice — but none of that makes any difference.
All of us, whether we were naïve or cruel, good or rotten, fathers, husbands and sons, we were all killers. I understood what I was really doing — I was part of an invading army, let’s face it.
I went to Afghanistan full of enthusiasm. I thought I could do something useful out there. I expected to be needed by the people. Now all I remember is how the little girl ran away from me, trembling, how frightened she was of me.
All the same, we saved the old woman. That evening I looked into the post-op ward with the surgeon to find out how she was feeling. She was lying there with her eyes open, and when she saw us her lips started moving. I thought she was trying to say something — until she spat a gob of phlegm at us. I couldn’t understand what right she had to hate us. I went rigid with shock: we’d saved her life and she …
Sometimes we massacred a whole village in revenge for one of our boys. Over there it seemed right, here it horrifies me. I remember one little girl lying in the dust like a broken doll with no arms or legs … And yet we went on being surprised that they didn’t love us. They’d come to our hospitals. We’d give a woman some medicine but she wouldn’t look at us, and certainly never give us a smile. Over there, that hurt, but now I’m home I understand exactly what she was feeling.
We went to Afghanistan to build socialism but found ourselves penned in by barbed wire. ‘Don’t leave the compound, lads! No need to spread the message, we’ve got specialists for that.’ Pity they didn’t trust us. I talked to a shopkeeper once. ‘You’ve been living you lives the wrong way. Now we’ll teach you how to build socialism.’ He smiled. ‘I did business before the revolution and I do business now. Go home. These mountains belong to us. Let us sort out our problems in our own way.’
we were innocent, however naïve our faith may have been. We thought the new government would give the land they had taken from the old feudal barons to the peasants, and the peasants would accept it with joy — but they never did accept it! We thought the tractors, combines and mowers we gave them would change their lives, but they destroyed the lot! We thought that in the space age it was absurd to think about God — we even sent an Afghan lad into space: ‘Look, there he is, up there where your Allah lives!’ we said. But Islam was totally unshaken by our modem civilisation.
One morning I lit up a cigarette and there was a lizard, no bigger than a mayfly, sitting on the ashtray. I came back a few days later and the lizard was still silting there in exactly the same position. He hadn’t even moved his little head. It suddenly occurred to me, that’s the essence of the Orient! I could disappear and reappear a dozen times, break things up and change things round as often as I wanted, and he’d still be in no great hurry to turn his tiny little head. It’s the time-scale, you see. It’s 1365 according to their calendar.
In Dostoevsky’s novel Ivan Karamazov observes: ‘No animal can be as cruel, so exquisitely and artistically cruel, as man.’
‘They do take prisoners. They cut off their limbs and apply tourniquets so they won’t bleed to death. They leave them like that for our people to pick up the stumps. The stumps want to die, but they’re kept alive.’
We went to save lives, to help, to show our love, but after a while I realised that it was hatred I was feeling. Hate for that soft, light sand which burnt like fire, hate for the village huts from which we might be fired on at any moment. I hated the locals, walking with their baskets of melons or just standing by their doors. What had they been doing the night before? They killed one young officer I knew from hospital, carved up two tents full of soldiers and poisoned the water supply.
Everyone was part of it over there: men and women, young and old, kids. One time, our column was going through a kishlak when the leading vehicle broke down. The driver got out and lifted the bonnet — and a boy, about ten years old, rushed out and stabbed him in the back, just where the heart is. The soldier fell over the motor. We turned that boy into a sieve. If we’d been ordered to, we’d have turned the whole village to dust.
‘They killed my friend. Later I saw some of them laughing and having a good time. Whenever I see a lot of them together, now, I start shooting. I shot up an Afghan wedding, I got the happy couple, the bride and groom. I’m not sorry for them — I’ve lost my friend’.
Yes, I was a killer and I’m covered in blood … But I saw him lying there, my friend who was like a brother to me, with his head cut off, and his arms, and his legs, and his flayed skin … I volunteered for the very next raid. I watched a funeral procession in a village, there were a lot of people there. The body was wrapped in white. I could see everything quite clearly through my field-glasses and I gave the order: ‘At the funeral — FIRE!’
And to them you’re just a Russky, not a human being. Our artillery wipes his village off the face of the earth so thoroughly that when he goes back he literally can’t find a trace of his mother, wife or children.
Where did all the hatred come from? There’s a simple answer to that. They killed your mate. You’d shared a bowl of chow, and there he was, lying next to you, burnt to a cinder. So you shot back like crazy. We stopped thinking about the big questions, like who started it all and who was to blame?
We never said I’m going … ’ always ‘I’ve been sent … ’ And we never said the word ‘last’: ‘Let’s go and have a last drink.’ ‘Are you crazy? There’s no such word! Final, ultimate, fourth, fifth, anything, but not that word!’ Superstition was rife.
Out of habit, we never shook hands before going into action. The day of that last explosion our new CO shook my hand, out of sheer friendliness — no one had warned him. And I got blown up … Was it just superstition? Who knows? There was another belief: if you’d volunteered for Afghanistan you’d end up dead, but if you were just posted there you might get home alive.
Fear is more human than bravery, you’re scared and you’re sorry, at least for yourself, but you force your fear back into your subconscious. And you try not to think that you may end up lying here, small and insignificant, thousands of kilometres from home.
What actually happens if you get shot in the head is that your brains fly out and you run after them, up to half a kilometre, trying to catch them. You go to the very limit, until physiological death overtakes you.
We lost all five soldiers and the lieutenant on the tractor. I’d spent the past few evenings with them, talking and smoking and now they were literally blown to pieces. We went and collected them up, including a dust-covered head, so completely squashed it looked as though there wasn’t any bone.
Within two or three weeks there’s nothing left of the old you except your name. You’ve become someone else. This someone else isn’t frightened of a corpse, but calmly (and a bit pissed off, too) wonders how he’s going to drag it down the rocks and carry it for several kilometres in that heat. This new person doesn’t have to imagine: he knows the smell of a man’s guts hanging out; the smell of human excrement mixed with blood. He’s seen the scorched skulls grinning out of a puddle of molten metal, as though they’d been laughing, not screaming, as they died only a few hours before. He knows the incredible excitement of seeing a dead body and thinking, that’s not me! It’s a total transformation, it happens very quickly, and to practically everyone.
All any of us wanted was to survive. There was no time to think. We were eighteen or twenty years old. I got used to other people’s deaths but I was frightened of dying myself. I saw how a man could become nothing, literally nothing, as though he’d never been. When that happened they put empty full-dress uniforms in the coffin, and threw in a few spadefuls of Afghan earth to make up the weight … I wanted to live.
You kill him and you sense you’re alive! ‘I’M ALIVE!’ But there’s no joy in killing a man. You kill so you can get home safe.
War can’t make a man better. Worse, yes, but not better, that’s for sure.
‘Who did this?’ he asked. It had happened at night but I knew perfectly well who’d done it. But I wasn’t going to grass. You just didn’t grass — that was the iron law of camp life. ‘Why keep quiet? Give me his name and I’ll have the bastard court-martialled.’ I kept quiet. The authorities were powerless against the unwritten rules of army life, which were literally life and death to us. If you tried to fight against them you always lost in the end. Near the end of my two years I even tried to beat up someone myself. I didn’t manage it, though. The ‘rule of the grandads’ doesn’t depend on individuals — it’s a product of the herd instinct. First you get beaten up, then you beat up others. I had to hide the fact that I couldn’t do it from my fellow dembels. I would have been despised by them as well as by the victims.
In Kunduz two ‘grandads’ forced a new recruit to dig a hole one night and stand in it. They buried him up to his neck, with only his head sticking out of the ground, and urinated over him all night long. When they dug him out in the morning he shot them both dead. The case was the subject of a special Order of the Day, which was published throughout the army. Christ! So much blood, and they do this.
在生死只隔一線的戰場，所有的社會道德都是笑話。不是小偷小摸，而是明目張膽的盜賣軍姿；把手中武器賣掉換錢買鴉片，讓阿富汗人用這些武器殺害自己和戰友；甚至惡劣到直接殺害店主，搶劫一空。但是被軍事法庭審批的時候，其他士兵的感覺卻是“why all this fuss about a few dead Afghans?”“We were all on their side — the general opinion was that they were being executed for their stupidity rather than for what they’d done. The shopkeeper’s dead family didn’t exist for us.”這怎麼不是一場小偷和強盜的戰爭？
In these conditions good men get better and the bad get even worse.
Only a madman will tell you the whole truth about what went on there, that’s for sure. There’s a lot you’ll never know. When the truth is too terrible it doesn’t get told. Nobody wants to be the first to come out with it — it’s just too risky. Did you know that drugs and fur coats were smuggled in in coffins? Yes, right in there with the bodies! Have you ever seen necklaces of dried ears? Yes, trophies of war, rolled up into little leaves and kept in matchboxes! Impossible? You can’t believe such things of our glorious Soviet boys? Well, they could and did happen, and you won’t be able to cover them up with a coat of that cheap silver paint they use to paint the railings round our graves and war memorials …
Everyone traded, officers as well as the rest of us, heroes as well as cowards. Knives, bowls, spoons, forks, mugs, stools, hammers, they all got nicked from the canteen and the barracks. Bayonets disappeared from their automatics, mirrors from cars, spare parts, medals … You could sell anything, even the rubbish collected from the garrison, full of cans, old newspapers, rusty nails, bits of plywood, and plastic bags. They sold it by the truckload, with the price depending on the amount of scrap metal. That’s war for you.
For a few foreign currency vouchers the medics would sell you a couple of glasses of urine from a hepatitis patient. You drank it, fell ill and then got yourself discharged from the army. Some of the lads shot their fingers off or mutilated themselves. Then I remember seeing planes taking off for home with a cargo of zinc coffins, plus suitcases full of leather jackets, jeans, women’s underwear, China tea …
So they sold their blankets and bought opium, or something sweet to eat, or some foreign gimmicks. The little shops there were very colourful and seductive. We’d seen nothing like it before. The boys sold their own weapons and ammunition knowing they’d be used to kill them.
One day two of our lads went to a shop, shot the shopkeeper and his family and stole everything they could lay their hands on. There was an enquiry and of course everyone denied having anything to do with it. They examined the bullets in the bodies and eventually charged three men: an officer, an NCO and a private. But when our barracks were being searched for the stolen money, etc, I remember how humiliated and insulted we felt — why all this fuss about a few dead Afghans? There was a court martial and the NCO and the private were sentenced to the firing squad. We were all on their side — the general opinion was that they were being executed for their stupidity rather than for what they’d done. The shopkeeper’s dead family didn’t exist for us. We were only doing our international duty. It was all quite cut and dried.
女性來阿富汗幹什麼？書中一句話，頗為一針見血“People who are contented with their lives don’t come over here. All us women are lonely and frustrated in some way.”只是阿富汗不可能為她們提供答案，而是留下另外一個難以愈合的傷疤……
Why are women so desperate to get here? The short answer’s money. You can buy cassette-recorders, things like that, and sell them when you get home. You can earn more here in two years than in half a lifetime at home. Look, we’re talking honestly, woman to woman, right? They sell themselves to the local traders right in those little shops of theirs, in the small store-rooms at the back, and they are small, I can tell you! You go to the shops and the kids follow you, shouting ‘Khanum [woman], jig-jig … ’ and point you to the store-room. Our officers pay for women with foreign currency cheques, in fact they’re called chekists.
Just at that time there was an article in Pravda called ‘Afghan Madonnas’. As a result we got admiring letters from girls from back home, and some of them were so impressed they went down to their local recruiting offices and asked to be sent to Afghanistan. The reality was rather different: we couldn’t walk past a group of soldiers without sneering comments like ‘Well, Bochkarevka! How’s our little heroine today? Doing our international duty in bed, are we?’ The name ‘Bochkarevka’ comes from the little houses (they look a bit like railway carriages) known as ‘bochki’ reserved for senior officers — majors and above, so the girls who, well, ‘serviced’ them were known as ‘Bochkarevki\ You’ll often hear soldiers who’ve served here say things like this: ‘If I hear that a certain girl’s been in Afghanistan she just doesn’t exist for me.’
I never saw any of us girls wearing military medals, even when we’d won them honestly. Once someone wore the one ‘for Military Merit’ but everyone laughed and said, ‘For sexual merit’, because they knew you could win a medal for a night with the battalion CO.
After a battle we’d be sorry for the wounded — but not for the dead, only for their mothers.
You look at a dead soldier and think of his mother. I know her son’s dead, you think, and she doesn’t — yet. Could she sense it? It was even worse if someone fell into the river or a ravine and the body wasn’t found. The mother would be told he was ‘missing’. This was the mothers’ war, they were the ones who did the fighting. The Soviet people in general didn’t suffer much.
‘Mum!’ they screamed, ‘Mum!’ when they were frightened and in pain. Always, always for their mothers.
On 4 March I had a dream. There was a great field with explosions of white everywhere, and flashes and long ribbons of white stretching into the distance. Sasha was running, running in zigzags, with nowhere to hide. Still there were flashes everywhere. I raced behind him, trying to overtake him, to get in front of him. Once in the country I had thrown myself over him during a thunderstorm, and I had heard him scratching under me like a little mouse, whimpering, ‘Save me, Mama, save me … ’ But in the dream I can’t catch up with him, he’s so tall and his strides are so long. I run until I drop, but I can’t reach him …
‘I’m putting in for Afghanistan.’ ‘Yura! How could you?’ ‘Mum, that’s the way you brought me up, so don’t try and rewrite history now. You were right: all these degenerates I’ve come across recently — they’re nothing to do with me or my country, I’m going to Afghanistan to show them that there are higher things in life than a fridge full of meat.’
What could I tell my own son? That the Fatherland didn’t need him? That those people he was trying to ‘show’ assumed, and would go on assuming, that he was going to Afghanistan because he was after imported goods, foreign currency, medals and promotion? For people like that Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya was a fanatic rather than an ideal; they couldn’t conceive that a human being could be capable of such heroism.
You’ll die, not for your country but for God knows what. Can our Fatherland really send our finest sons to death for nothing? What kind of Fatherland is that?’
Day after day, night after night, I brooded over the past, and cut myself into little pieces with the knowledge that I myself had sent him there. No words, no music can convey that agony to you.
One morning I left the flat to go to work. They met me as I was going down the stairs. Three soldiers and a woman. The men were in front, carrying their caps in their left hands. Somehow I knew that this was a sign of mourning. I turned round and ran upstairs. They realised I must be the mother so they followed me upstairs. I went down in the lift — I wanted to rush into the street and run away, escape, put my hands over my ears and block everything out. By the time I reached the ground floor — the lift had stopped to let people get in — they were standing there waiting for me. I pressed the button and went up again … I got to my floor and ran to the flat, but in my shock forgot to slam the door shut. I heard them coming in. I hid in the bedroom, they came after me, with their caps in their left hands.
‘I’m glad they don’t open the coffins, so that we don’t see what has happened to our sons. I’ll always remember him alive and in one piece …
That was three years ago, and we still can’t bring ourselves to open the suitcase full of his things that they brought with the coffin. They seem to have his smell about them, even now. He died almost immediately from fifty shrapnel wounds. His last words were, ‘It hurts, Mama.’
They brought in the coffin. I collapsed over it. I wanted to lay him out but they wouldn’t allow us to open the coffin to see him, touch him … Did they find a uniform to fit him? ‘My little sunshine, my little sunshine.’ Now I just want to be in the coffin with him. I go to the cemetery, throw myself on the gravestone and cuddle him. My little sunshine …
We went for walks, my husband and I, saw the violets in bloom and the tiny leaves unfurling on the trees, but I began to cry. The beauty of nature and the joy of life hit me so hard. I was frightened by the passing of time. I knew it would take her, and the memory of her, away from me. Some things about her are receding already, the things she used to say, the way she smiled.
I’ve been dying for two years now. I’m not ill, but I’m dying. My whole body is dead. I didn’t burn myself on Red Square and my husband didn’t tear up his party card and throw the bits in their faces. I suppose we’re already dead but nobody knows. Even we don’t know …
I rush to the cemetery as though I’m meeting someone here — and I am, I’m going to meet my son. I spent die first few nights here on my own and never felt a moment’s fear. I know all the birds’ little habits, and how the grass moves in the wind. In spring I wait for his flowers to grow up, out of the earth, towards me. I planted snowdrops, so that I’d have an early hello from my son to look forward to. They come to me from down there, from him … I sit with him until nightfall. Sometimes I give a sort of scream, which I don’t hear until the birds fly up around me. A storm of crows swirls and flaps over my head until I fall silent.
I feel better here with my son. If I’m not at work I’m usually here. To me it’s not a grave but his home. I worked out where his head is; I sit nearby and tell him everything about my everyday life. We share our memories. I look at his photograph. If I stare at it deep and long he either smiles at me or frowns a little bit crossly. We’re still together, you see. If I buy a new dress it’s only for me to come and see him in and for him to see me in. He used to kneel in front of me and now I kneel in front of him.
I’d sit at the piano just like him, sometimes I even caught myself walking like him, especially after his death. I so desperately wanted him to live on inside me.
Send me the worst imaginable pain and torture, only let my prayers reach my dearest love. I greet every little flower, every tiny stem growing from his grave: ‘Are you from there? Are you from him? Are you from my son?’
In the middle of the road a young Afghan woman kneels by her dead child, howling. I thought only wounded animals howled like that.
When I saw their Kabul on TV I wanted to get a machine-gun and shoot the lot of them. I’d sit there ‘shooting’ until, one day, it showed one of their old women, an Afghan mother, I suppose. ‘She’s probably lost a son, too,’ I thought. After that I stopped ‘shooting’.
At the airport we came across a film-crew we knew. They’d been filming the loading of the ‘black tulips’, as they’re known here. They wouldn’t look into our eyes as they described how the dead ‘sometimes have to be dressed in ancient uniforms, even jodhpurs and so on from the last century; sometimes, when there aren’t even enough old uniforms available, they’re put in their coffins completely naked. The coffins are made of shabby old wood, held together with rusty nails. Casualties waiting to be shipped are put in cold storage, where they give off a stench of rotting wild boar.’
We found a dirty box lying on the airfield, with 1st Lieutenant Dovnar’ scrawled over it in chalk. I tore open a board where the little window was let into the side of the coffin. His face was uninjured but he was unshaven, he hadn’t been washed and the coffin was too short. And the smell … I couldn’t bend down and kiss him. That’s how my husband was returned to me. I knelt by the man who had been my love.
In the amputee wards the men’ll talk about anything except the future, according to some girls I know. In fact no one likes to think of the future here. Perhaps it’s more frightening to die if you’re happy.
There were a lot of lads there with legs and arms missing. They’d smoke and crack jokes. They were OK there, but they didn’t want to go home. They’d beg to stay until the last possible moment. Going home was the hardest thing of all, starting a new life.
They might not admit it back home but over there I often heard men say that killing could be a pleasure. One junior lieutenant I know went back home and admitted it. ‘Life’s not the same now, I actually want to go on killing,’ he said. They spoke about it quite coolly, some of those boys, proud of how they’d burnt down a village and kicked the inhabitants to death.
Yes, people leave here morally broken, expecially the ordinary soldiers, the eighteen and nineteen-year-olds. They see how everything is for sale here, how a woman will sell herself for a crate, no, for a couple of tins of corned beef. Then they go home, these boys, and look at their wives and sweethearts in the same way. It’s not surprising they don’t behave themselves too well. They’re used to deciding things with the barrel of a gun.
We existed between life and death — and we held other men’s life and death in our hands too. Is there any feeling more powerful than that? We’ll never walk, or make love, or be loved, the way we walked and loved and were loved over there. Everything was heightened by the closeness of death: death hovered everywhere and all the time. Life was full of adventure: I learnt the smell of danger — I’ve got a sixth sense for it now. We’re homesick for it, some of us; it’s called the ‘Afghan syndrome’.
Everyone’s at war here. Some are sick, in mind or body, others are wounded, but everyone’s damaged in some way, no one escapes intact.
We’re all suffering from a wasting disease, you know. Over there it showed itself as a mismatch between our weight and our height, but here, back home, it’s a mismatch between our feelings and our ability to express them in what we say and do.
You get home and land in a completely different world — the world of the family. The first few days you don’t hear a thing they say. You just watch them, touch them. I can’t explain what it means to stroke your child’s head after everything that’s happened. The morning smell of coffee and pancakes, your wife calling you to breakfast …
Coming home was terribly difficult and very strange. I felt I’d had my skin ripped off. I couldn’t stop crying, I could bear to be only with people who’d been there themselves. I spent my days — and nights — with them. Talking to anybody else seemed a futile waste of time.
After I got back I couldn’t bear to wear my ‘pre-war’ jeans and shirts. They belonged to some stranger, although they still smelt of me, as my mother assured me. That stranger no longer exists. His place had been taken by someone else with the same surname — which I’d rather you didn’t mention. I rather liked that other person.
You try and live a normal life, the way you lived before. But you can’t. I didn’t give a damn about myself or life in general. I just felt my life was over.
To begin with the media kept quiet about us, then we were all heroes for a time, and now we’re being knocked off our pedestals again so we can be forgotten about.
In spite of all that we were still idealists. We had our faith. The worst came later. We were sent to Afghanistan by a nation which sanctioned the war and returned to find that same nation had rejected it. What offends me is the way we’ve simply been erased from the public mind. What was only recently described as one’s ‘international duty’ is now considered stupidity.
We did our killing over there but we’re being condemned for it at home. Casualties were flown back to Soviet airports and unloaded in secret so the public wouldn’t find out. You say that’s all in the past now, do you? But your ‘past’ is very recent.
Now the war’s over they’re trying to forget all about us, or else hide us out of sight. They treated the veterans of the war with Finland the same way. Thousands of books have been published about World War II but not one about the Finnish war. Our people are too easy on their rulers — and I’ll have accepted it myself in ten years or so.
他們被看作野心政權的受害者，甚至是作為強盜、罪犯被審視著，在這樣的輿論環境下，已經和社會脫節幾年，只學會殺戮技能的他們，怎麼會不變成“a lost and unwanted generation”？
People back home had their own view of the war. ‘So you think you were heroes, were you? You lost a war, and anyhow, who needed it, apart from Brezhnev and a few warmongering generals?’ Apparently my friends died for nothing, and I might have died for nothing too.
We vets are called Afgantsi. I hate the name. It’s like being branded — it marks us out as different from everyone else. But different in what way? Am I a hero, or some kind of an idiot to be stared at? Or even a criminal?
Don’t try and tell me we were victims of a mistake. I can’t stand those two words and I won’t hear them spoken. We fought well and bravely. Why are we being treated like this? I knelt to kiss the flag and took the military oath. We were brought up to believe these things were sacred, to love and trust the Motherland. And I do trust her, in spite of everything.
‘I’m scared to go home,’ people say. Why? Simple! We’ll get home and everything will have changed in those two years, different fashions, music, different streets even. And a different view of the war. We’ll stick out like a sore thumb.
The young people ignore us. There’s absolutely no mutual understanding. Officially we have the same status as the World War II vets. The only difference is, they were defenders of the Fatherland, whereas we’re seen as the Germans — one young lad actually said that to me! We hate the younger generation. They spent their time listening to music, dancing with girls and reading books, while we were eating uncooked rice and getting blown up by mines. If you weren’t there, if you haven’t seen and lived through what I’ve seen and lived through, then you don’t mean a thing to me. You know, in ten years’ time, when our hepatitis, shell-shock, malaria and the rest of it starts getting really bad, they’ll just get rid of us — at work and at home. They’ll stop putting us on their committees. We’ll have become a burden … What’s the point of this book of yours? What good will it do? It won’t appeal to us vets. You’ll never be able to tell it like it really was over there. The dead camels and dead humans lying in the same pool of blood. And who else needs it? We’re strangers to everyone else.
What happened to me is still boiling inside. Do I want to have my past taken away from me? No! It’s what I live by.
When we read articles in the Soviet press about our ‘achievements’ we laughed, got angry and used them as toilet paper, but the strange thing is this: now I’m home, after my two years out there, I search through the papers to find articles about ‘achievements’ and actually believe them.
‘So the whole thing was a stupid mistake, was it? Do you realise what that means to me and the rest of us? I went over there an ordinary Soviet bloke, sure the Motherland wouldn’t betray us or lie to us. You can’t stop a madman going mad. Some people say we went through a form of purgatory, others call it a cesspit. A plague on both your houses, is what I say!
‘Who can I tell all this to? Who’d want to listen? As the poet Boris Slutsky put it: ‘When we returned from the war I saw we were needed no more.’
We don’t need anything. Just listen to us and try to understand. Society is good at doing things, ‘giving’ medical help, pensions, flats. But all this so-called giving has been paid for in very expensive currency. Our blood.
...the almost complete ignorance in which the Soviet public was kept about the war, at least until the advent of some measure of media freedom (the celebrated glasnost) in the mid-1980s. The information available to ordinary people amounted to a few pat phrases about the ‘limited contingent’ of Soviet troops and the ‘fulfilling of international obligations’, together with much anti-American propaganda. True public debate and political opposition of the sort which, at the very least, provides some counterweight to the government version of events in more open societies, simply did not exist. Another factor, related to this ignorance, was the ruthless secrecy with which news of casualties was treated. This applied not only to the press, but to society in general.
We’ve got so used to living on two levels, one according to what we read in books and the press, and the other — totally different — according to our own experience. It’s more shocking than comforting, when newspapers actually start to describe life as it really is. Everything you wrote is true, except that the reality was even more terrible.
At the time, the official justification for the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was that ‘the Americans were on the brink of an airborne invasion which we anticipated and thus prevented by less than one hour.’
The press reported that our soldiers were planting trees and rebuilding bridges and roads.
We were going to create a revolution, weren’t we? That’s what we were told and we believed it. It was kind of romantic.
We were told over and over again that we were there to fight bandits, that we’d be heroes and that everyone would be grateful to us. I remember the posters: ‘Soldiers, Let Us Strengthen Our Southern Borders!’ ‘Uphold The Honour Of Your Unit!’ ‘Flourish, Lenin’s Motherland!’ ‘Glory To The Communist Party!’
We were told that this was a just war, that we were helping the Afghan people to put an end to feudalism and build a wonderful socialist society. There was a conspiracy of silence about our casualties; it was somehow implied that there were an awful lot of infectious diseases over there — malaria, typhus, hepatitis, etc.
There was no equipment: one syringe for all the patients, and the officers drank the surgical spirit so we had to use petrol to clean the wounds. They healed badly for lack of oxygen, but the hot sun helped to kill microbes. I saw my first wounded patients in their underwear and boots. For a long time there were no pyjamas, or slippers, or even blankets. Gradually we began to ask ourselves what we were all here for. Such questions were unpopular with the authorities, of course. There were no slippers or pyjamas, but plenty of banners and posters with political slogans, all brought from back home. Behind the slogans were our boys’ skinny, miserable faces. I’ll never forget them …
We weren’t allowed to tell the truth in the next-of-kin letters. A boy might be blown up by a mine and there’d be nothing left except half a bucket of flesh, but we wrote that he’d died of food poisoning, or in a car accident, or he’d fallen into a ravine. It wasn’t until the fatalities were in their thousands that they began to tell families the truth.
We spread out a tarpaulin, their common grave, to try and sort out which leg or fragment of skull belonged to whom. We weren’t issued with identification tags because of the ‘danger’ of them falling into enemy hands. This was an undeclared war, you see — we were fighting a war which wasn’t happening.
No mention to be made of fatalities, nor of any ‘unofficial activities’, because we are a ‘great, powerful and morally health/ army. All photographs and films to be destroyed. We did not shoot, bombard, use poisons or lay mines here. We are a great, powerful and morally healthy army.
I think I’m shouting, but my lips are glued together and I can’t open them. So I lie back in the coffin. ‘If they want me to be dead perhaps I am dead and must keep quiet.’
Dostoevsky described military men as ‘the most unthinking people in the world’.
Army life itself kills the mind and saps your resistance to the point that they can do what they want with you.
I had a long talk with one of them. I was trying to get him to admit the awfulness of the choice: to shoot or not to shoot. But we didn’t get anywhere: the problem didn’t really seem to exist for him. What’s good? What’s bad? Is it good to ‘kill in the name of socialism’? For such young men the limits of morality are defined by the military commands they receive.
‘You need to do two things — run fast and shoot straight. I’ll do all the thinking round here,’ our CO told us. We pointed our guns where we were told, and then fired them, exactly as we’d been trained, and I didn’t care, not even if I killed a child.
We had orders, not ideals. You don’t discuss orders — if you did you wouldn’t have an army for long. You know what Engels said? ‘A soldier must be like a bullet, constantly ready to be fired.’ I learnt that by heart. You go to war in order to kill. Killing is my profession — that’s what I was trained to do.
But I’m a soldier and killing’s my profession. I’m like the slave of Aladdin’s magic lamp, or rather the slave of the Defence Ministry. I’ll shoot wherever I’m told to. When I hear the order ‘Fire!’ I don’t think, I fire, that’s my job.
I’ve been an army man all my life. True soldiers think in a particular way, which doesn’t include asking questions like whether this or that war is just or unjust. If we were sent to fight, that in itself meant it was both just and necessary.
How could I admit to doubts? The army won’t tolerate free-thinking; once you’re in harness you live by command. From morning to night.
To kill or not kill? That’s a post-war question. The psychology of war itself is a lot more urgent. The Afghans weren’t people to us, and vice versa. We couldn’t afford to see each other as human beings.
We never bothered ourselves with questions about whether we were doing the right thing or not. We carried out our orders the way we were trained to. Now, of course, with the benefit of hindsight and a lot of information which we didn’t have at the time, the whole business is being reconsidered and re-evaluated. After less than ten years!
We didn’t betray our Motherland. I did my duty as a soldier as honestly as I could. Nowadays it’s called a ‘dirty war’, but how does that fit in with ideas like Patriotism, the People and Duty? Is the word ‘Motherland’ just a meaningless term to you? We did what the Motherland asked of us.
I accepted the official line so completely that even now, after all I’ve read and heard, I still have a minute hope that our lives weren’t entirely wasted.
We were soldiers obeying orders. In wartime you can be shot for disobedience, and we were at war. Obviously it wasn’t the generals themselves who killed women and children, but they gave the orders — and now they’re blaming us. Now we’re told that to obey a criminal command is itself a crime. But I trusted the people giving the orders. As far back as I can remember I’ve been taught to have faith in authority. No one ever told me to judge for myself whether or not to trust the authorities, whether or not to shoot. The message was hammered into us over and over again: have faith, trust us.
I can talk about all this to you but I feel terribly frustrated, because I can’t get over to you what it was really all about.
At the time we thought about such questions amazingly little. We kept our eyes shut. Or rather, all we saw were our wounded, mutilated and horribly burnt patients, and we learnt how to hate, but not to think.
Afghanistan was more important than anything else. I too wish I could understand what it was all about, and what it was all for. Over there we had to force such questions back inside us, but at home they just come out and have to be answered.
I can’t describe how things were over there or what I felt about them at the time. Come back in another four years, perhaps I’ll be able to then. And ten years from now everything may look completely different, the picture may have shattered into a thousand tiny pieces.
it was the self-mutilators, soldiers who shot themselves in the knee or fingers. A sea of blood and a shortage of cotton-wool … Such men were generally despised, even by us medics. ‘There are lads getting killed out there, and you want to go home to Mummy? You think you’ll be sent back home? Why didn’t you shoot yourself in the head? I would, if I were you!’ That was the sort of thing I used to say, I promise you. At the time they seemed the most contemptible of cowards; now I’m beginning to realise that perhaps it was a protest as well, and an unwillingness to kill other people.
It hurts me to think how gullible I was. The political education officers managed to convince us of things they didn’t believe themselves. They’d known the truth for a long while. There was this slogan: ‘Afghanistan makes brothers of us all.’ Crap!
The first thing I learnt about army life was that you’re a slave. I felt the army took my personality away from me.
Loneliness is my salvation. I enjoy talking to myself. ‘I hate that man. I hate him.’ ‘Who?’ ‘Me!’
Sometimes I think we don’t need our eyes — after all, you close them anyhow when the most important things are going on, and when you’re feeling really good. I was more blind when I had my sight. I’d like to cleanse myself of everything that’s happened, of all the dirt they shoved us into.
fable of Krylov’s, where the pagan priests climb inside the hollow idol to harangue the credulous populace.
The bitter psychology of this conflict was also very different from the positive mood of the nation as a whole during World War II: Afghanistan wrenched boys from their daily life of school and college, music and discos, and hurled them into a hell of filth. These were eighteen-year-olds, mere school-leavers who could be induced to believe anything.
I was brought up to believe that only those who killed in peacetime were condemned as murderers. In war such actions were known as ‘filial duty to the Motherland’, ‘a man’s sacred work’ and ‘defence of the Fatherland’. We were told that we were reliving the achievements of the heroes of the Great Patriotic War against the Nazis, and who was I to doubt it? It was continually hammered into us that we were the best of the best, so why should I question whether what we were doing was right?
We’ve come to believe the message, drummed into us for so long, that we are superlative in every way, the finest, the most just, the most honest. And whoever dares express the slightest doubt is guilty of treachery, the one unforgivable sin!
Do you expect us to talk about our ‘socialist ideals’ like all those interviews in the official media? I don’t need to tell you it’s hard to have ideals when you’re fighting a useless war in a foreign country. We were all in the same boat there but that didn’t mean we all thought the same way. What we had in common was that we were trained to kill, and kill we did. We are all individuals but we’ve been made into sheep, first here at home and then over there.
I had a talk with an old lecturer at college. ‘You were a victim of a political mistake,’ he said. ‘You were forced to become accomplices to a crime.’ ‘I was eighteen then,’ I told him. ‘How old were you? You kept quiet when we were being roasted alive. You kept quiet when we were being brought home in body-bags and military bands played in the cemeteries. You kept quiet over here while we were doing the killing over there. Now all of a sudden you go on about victims and mistakes … ’ Anyhow, I don’t want to be a victim of a political mistake. And I’ll fight for the right not to be! Whatever anyone says, those boys were heroes!
In every war, whether it’s fought in the name of Julius Caesar or Joseph Stalin, people kill each other. It’s killing, sure enough, but we don’t like to think of it as such: even in our schools, for some reason, the education is officially described not as patriotic but as military patriotic education. I say ‘for some reason’, but there’s no secret about it: the aim is military socialism and a militarised country. And do we really want it any other way?
They were just raw boys, almost children, who were thrown into the fire and accepted it as a matter of honour. Well, that’s the way we brought them up.
Our literature teacher once stopped me while I was saying something in class. ‘Don’t give us your own ideas — tell us what’s in the book!’ she said. ‘Have I made a mistake?’ I asked. ‘It’s not what’s in the book.’ You remember that fairy-tale where the King hated every colour but grey? Everything in our kingdom-state was dull grey, too. ‘Teach yourselves to think so that you won’t be made fools of like we were, and come home in zinc coffins!’ That’s what I tell my own pupils now.
I’m forty-five. I call ours the “obedient generation” and the Afghan war the acme of our tragedy. You’ve hit a nerve by daring to ask us and our children this question: “Who are we? And why can they do what they want with us?’”
I ask myself, and others too, this single question: how has the courage in each of us been extinguished? How have ‘they’ managed to turn our ordinary boys into killers, and do whatever they want with the rest of us?
I was sent over there in 1981. The war had been going on for two years, but the general public didn’t know much about it and kept quiet about what they did know. In our family, for example, we just assumed the government wouldn’t be sending forces to another country unless it was necessary. My father thought that way, so did the neighbours. I can’t remember anyone thinking different. The women didn’t even cry when I left because in those days the war seemed a long way away and not frightening. It was war and yet not war, and, in any case, something remote, without bodies or prisoners.
In those days no one had seen the zinc coffins. Later we found out that coffins were already arriving in the town, with the burials being carried out in secret, at night. The gravestones had ‘died’ rather than ‘killed in action’ engraved on them, but no one asked why all these eighteen-year-olds were dying all of a sudden. From too much vodka, was it, or flu? Too many oranges, perhaps? Their loved ones wept and the rest just carried on until they were affected by it themselves.
It’s not true that the public didn’t know what was going on. Everyone could see parents opening their doors to those zinc coffins or having their sons returned to them broken and crippled. Such things weren’t mentioned on radio or television, of course, or in the newspapers (until you recently dared to), but it was plain for all to see.
they were just boys, they didn’t understand a thing. They were taken from their homes, had a gun stuck in their hands and were taught to kill. They were told they were on a holy mission and that their country would remember them. Now people turn away and try to forget the war, especially those who sent us there in the first place.
but I don’t regret a thing. Nowadays there’s a lot of talk about guilt-feelings, but I personally don’t feel guilty. Those who sent us there are the guilty ones.
No one can understand that war. We were left to sort the whole thing out on our own. Now we’re expected to feel guilty and justify ourselves. To whom? may I ask. We were sent by our leaders and we trusted in them. Don’t confuse those who sent us with those who were sent.
who’ll apologise to him, and to everyone else who was broken over there? And I’m not just talking about the cripples.
I want to know who is to answer for all this. Why do they keep silent? Why don’t they name names and take them to court?
What we did had to be done. No, don’t start on that subject, please! There are a lot of clever dicks around now, but why didn’t they tear up their Party cards, or shoot themselves in protest, while we were over there?
My lips used to tremble when I said the word ‘Motherland’. I don’t believe in anything now, let alone in fighting for something. What’s there to fight for? And who against? We fought. Fair enough. Perhaps it was justified, after all. If the newspapers start saying it was right, it’ll be right again. Now they’re starting to say we’re murderers. Who to believe? I don’t know. I don’t believe anything. Newspapers? I don’t read them or buy them. They write one thing today and the opposite tomorrow. I don’t know where the truth is. I think I could find another ‘Motherland’ now, or at any rate get out of this one.
The only people who need this ‘truth’ are the know-nothings who want to use it as an excuse to spit in our faces. ‘You bastards! You killed and robbed and now you expect special privileges?’ We’re expected to take all the blame, and to accept that everything we went through was for nothing.
I’ve got nothing to apologise for: I came to the aid of our brothers, the Afghan people. And I mean that. The lads out there with me were sincere and honest. They believed they’d gone to do good — they didn’t see themselves as ‘misguided fighters in a misguided war’, as I saw it described recently. And what good does it do, trying to make out we were simply naïve idiots and cannon-fodder? Who does that help? The so-called ‘truth-seekers’? Well, remember what Jesus said when he was examined by Pontius Pilate: ‘“To this end was I born, and for this cause I came into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth.’” ‘Pilate asked, “What is truth?’” A question which is still waiting for an answer.
In our day truth is always at the service of someone or something — either the interests of the Revolution, or the dictatorship of the proletariat, or some brutal dictator himself, or the Party, or the first or second five-year plan, or the latest Congress … Dostoevsky insisted: ‘The truth is more important than Russia’.
We’ve worshipped many gods. Some have been consigned to the scrapheap, others to museums. Let us make Truth into a god! A god before whom each of us shall answer according to his own conscience, and not as a class, or a university year, or a collective, or a people …
Those poor boys — we all stand guilty before them! What did we know about the war? We should embrace every one of them and ask his forgiveness. I didn’t fight in this war, but I was part of it.
What kind of people are we, and what right have we to ask our children to do the things they had to do there? How can we, who stayed at home, claim that our hands are cleaner than theirs? And although their suffering, their torture, has cleansed them of their sins, we have not yet been cleansed of ours. The machine-gunned and abandoned villages and ruined land are not on their consciences but on ours. We were the real murderers, not they, and we murdered our own children as well as others. These boys were heroes! They weren’t fighting for any so called ‘mistaken policy’. They fought because they put their faith in us. We should kneel before every one of them.
Our lives are forever tied to those red gravestones, with their inscriptions in memory, not only of the dead, but also of our naïve and trusting faith.
Are we going to react to this moral crisis as we always have done in the past, by attaching blame to a few individuals in order to exonerate the rest of us? No! We are all accessories to this crime.
By tradition we keep a loaf of bread for forty days after the funeral. It crumbled into little pieces within three weeks. That was a sign that the family would crumble away, too …
No, it’s not a bad thing it ended the way it did, in defeat. It opened our eyes.
Arthur Koestier asked this question: ‘Why, when we tell the truth, does it always sound like a lie? Why, when we proclaim the New Age, do we cover the ground with corpses? And why do we accompany our paeans to the glorious future of socialism with threats?’
“為了理解，我把話語權交給所有人。”S. A. Alexievich成功記錄了無數被歷史浪潮吞沒的小人物的憤怒、否定、質疑、反省、懺悔等等情緒，她把無數細微的聲音收集起來，演奏出“偉大光榮正確”也無法壓制的悼念哀歌，讓人們無法再逃避，直面腦海里最大的“為什麼”！
I perceive the world through the medium of human voices. They never cease to hypnotise, deafen and bewitch me at one and the same time.
Childish, unformed voices, trying to sound like Vissotsky*, croaked out: ‘The sun set on the kishlak like a great big bomb’; ‘Who needs glory? I want to live — that’s all the medal I need’; ‘Why are we killing — and getting killed?’; ‘Why’ve you betrayed me so, sweet Russia?’; ‘I’m already forgetting their faces’; ‘Afghanistan, our duty and our universe too’; ‘Amputees like big birds hopping one-legged by the sea’; ‘He doesn’t belong to anyone now he’s dead. There’s no hatred in his face now he’s dead’.
We must distinguish the war from those who took part in it. The war was criminal and has been condemned as such, but the boys must be defended and protected.
I left my blood over there, and the blood of my friends too. We were given medals we don’t wear and will probably return, medals honestly earned in a dishonest war.