Saturday, October 30, 2010

God after Auschwitz

A survivor of the Holocaust lamented that “there was no God in Auschwitz. There were such horrible conditions that God decided not to go there…Many of us who survived are atheists.”  I certainly cannot blame her for feeling that way. God after Auschwitz. Why Did the Heavens not Darken? The Silence of God. The spirit behind these known phrases needs no explanation. During his visit to Auschwitz Pope John Paul II asked: "Why was he silent? How could he permit this endless slaughter, this triumph of evil?" We inevitably look for linkage between the mundane and the divine in history and in our life experience; yet history is a dark testament to humankind’s brutality and the absurdity of the human condition more broadly, and so the search is a difficult one, full of hazards and pitfalls.

Not a few among us have demons to exorcise. But imagine what it must be for a survivor of genocide to have experienced such unmitigated hatred and lack of compassion, to have witnessed or suffered the mass rapes and tortures at the hands of grim-faced death squads. Can blue skies ever be anything but gray for these people?

It’s autumn now. October is my favorite month. This time last year I fondly recall walking with my youngest daughter, Monika, to her soccer practice after school. I had the night off from work. I sat on a grassy embankment overlooking a beclouded opal sky, pre-peak trees of golden and green hues, a gleaming pond, and verdant soccer fields animated with 13-year-old girls in bright red socks and shorts. It was wonderful. Autumn always induces in me, and most people I’m sure, a wistful melancholy. In the movie “Amadeus,” Salieri refers to Mozart’s music filling him with “such longing, such unfulfillable longing.” This kind of indescribable yearning often overtakes me in this season. A shout from the coach in the distance aroused me from my reverie and focused me back on God and suffering in the world.

The Abrahamic faiths—Judaism, Christianity, Islam—have had to wrestle with the problem of pain. If one affirms belief in an omniscient, providential and loving Creator, then ubiquitous evil and suffering in the world demands an explanation. Where is God? The classic theological answer is—drum roll please!—free will. God created humankind with an innate ability to choose for or against God. To a certain extent, this theological explanation works. When probed more deeply, though, one wonders why God would set up a moral universe by divine decree, knowing ultimately the pain and sorrow contained therein. Whether we choose the dogmatic paths of theism and atheism or the equally problematic path of agnosticism, we must live with the mystery, at least until we enter the “undiscovered country.”

Those who violated the Elie Wiesel Commandment and “stood idly by” during the Holocaust have to question not only their moral being—a problematic proposition since many will rationalize their way out of the regret and shame—but also more broadly the effectiveness of their respective religious traditions. Where was God in that dark hour? Where was the restraining hand of the church through which God is said to speak and act? I’ve spoken with pastors, theologians and historians in Germany. There have been attempts to revive interest in the church today, but the legacy of the Holocaust casts a long shadow. German Christendom failed. Catholics and Protestants still pride themselves on making ecumenical gestures and bridging the 500-year confessional chasm. What about the Jews? Even some of those brave German priests and pastors who stood up to Hitler when it came to killing the disabled were not so vociferous about the persecution of the Jews.

What of the sons and daughters of Jacob? What are they to make of this failure? Some victims believe that God was with them in their darkest hours, while even more abandoned God or felt abandoned by God. The Hebrew religion found cohesion in the traumatic exodus from Egypt and the tumultuous struggle for a homeland. The aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE helped forge Judaism. Likewise, the Shoah will always be a part of modern Jewish identity. Judaism, it would seem, is theodicy—an attempt to find or affirm God in a seemingly godless world. For what it’s worth, I’m walking that path.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Fighting Monsters

Halloween's a fitting time to talk about monsters.  I'm not thinking about the ghosts and goblins that emerge from the darkness in October.  Nor am I referring to serial killers, sexual sadists, and perpetrators of genocide, even if, truth be told, these evils have preoccupied my mind all too often.  I'm not addressing a monster of one's own making, like, say, Frankenstein or alcoholism.  I alluded to Friedrich Nietzsche in the last blog.  The full quote is as follows: Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.  And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.  I used to think that Nietzsche went crazy and wasted away at a relatively young age because he had spent his life fighting monsters like one of the epic Greek heroes he often wrote so much about.  The truth is more prosaic and, well, ignominious.  He quite possibly died from syphilis.

There are more fiendish creatures that haunt the caverns of my disturbed mind.  I cannot slay them with my Ka-bar combat knife.  Bullets, silver or otherwise, have no effect on them.  Gathering a mob of torch-wielding villagers and chasing them down will do no good. No. Wherever my mind roams, they're already there.  They come out mostly at night like the monsters of books and movies, I suppose, but they're lurking about throughout the day too.  They whisper such horrific things into my ears, messages that would sap the life out of me if I were to dwell on them long enough.  I dare not give voice to their words, though I have already done so in this blog here and there.  I will not infect you with their poison like the carrier of a demon seed.  I've fought them all my life, but I think they've finally won.  Now I stand here diminished, teetering on the brink of despair.  That frickin' abyss is gazing into me.  Oh well.  I need to take time out from this struggle with my demons and see the glass half full.  At least I don't have syphilis!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Three Ikas

Friends, acquaintances, and students will testify that I am a hard-ass. I certainly don’t want to disabuse anyone of this persona I’ve painstakingly created for myself over the years. Moreover, I’m a private person. I spend most evenings alone staring at pages in a book or imagined images on a wall.   Having joined Facebook recently was a big step for me.  Sharing some convivial moments with my classmates these past couple of weeks was another huge step.  (Parading around the Capitol naked and holding a sign with three F-bombs written on was yet another milestone, but that's a different issue altogether.)  I have become numb to emotional pain.  It’s true. I don’t have a soft spot in my heart.  I have of late lost all my mirth.  I’m fine physically, but mentally, well, I suppose I’ve looked into Nietzsche’s abyss long enough, and, yes, it’s looked back into me.

Yet life is not without its rewards, even for disheartened and disconsolate souls such as myself.  My three daughters bring joy to my heart and put a stride in my step.  Blessed is the man whose quiver is full.  I couldn't ask for a better situation.  Erika, Jessika, and Monika are healthy, smart, and talented.  Don't worry.  These positive comments about my own children are not a circuitous route to lauding my fatherly prowess or personal attributes.  Parents inevitably see aspects of their personality in their offspring and claim genetic determinism for this or that physical or behavioral trait, whether or not genetics is the whole story.  Some of the physical characteristics that we've bequeathed to our children are clear enough; however, I would suggest that each of my daughters is a self-made woman in the making.

My eldest, Erika (above), who takes after my wife, will turn twenty this November.  She is going to college and working as a waitress at an Italian restaurant.  I’m so proud of her. She has an artistic sensibility and has a refined taste in film and music.  Her creative side also comes out in the art room where my wife teaches high school art.   Erika likes to make glass beads. Would that I could better express my feelings to her.  Our relationship somehow changed upon my return from Afghanistan a few years ago.  I've relished every minute we shared in the car as I'd sometimes take her to school last spring.  Now that she has a car, a nice forest-green Jetta, I'll probably see less of her.  Jessika will turn 16 this November.  I took the photo of her (in the tank top) when we were walking around Tokyo last summer.  I suspect her temperament comes closest to mine.  She can be hamming it up in a social context one minute, and seeking refuge as a solitary creature in her room the next. She's on the varsity swim team and plays basketball.  She likes being the center of attention and indeed has a commanding presence and personality.  Monika, the baby of the family, has my eyes and penchant for reading books.  As a former musician, I'm proud of her musical interests.  She plays standup bass in the high school orchestra.  Knowing that athletics builds confidence in girls, we've gotten her plugged into sports.  Monika plays on an elite soccer team and is a member of the high school tennis team.  On her downtime, she likes to read, play games, and hang out with friends.

Our house can get rather loud and boisterous, what with all the chattering and drama; yet, I wouldn't change it for the world.  Three flowers sprung up in our garden of love; I hope they receive the loving nutrients they need to flourish.  Yesterday I was changing diapers (my wife much more so!), and today I'm handing them keys to the car.  One minute I'm cradling them in my arms, and in the next they're going to the prom.  My wife is the best mother in the world, and I owe much to her guidance and active involvement in the girls' lives, especially given my frequent absences due to military responsibilities or otherwise.  I miss going to Ski Hi apple orchard with my wife and kids, eating apple-cinnamon donuts and apple strudel.  I miss carving pumpkins and setting up Halloween decorations with them.  I miss watching Monika at her soccer practice against the backdrop of a red, orange and yellow tree line.  I miss going to the theater with Jessi and her friends (when they want me to go along, that is, and when they're not watching a girly movie like, say, "Twilight.")  I miss making sarcastic remarks and talking about music with Erika.

As my daughters have gotten older, they’ve realized that I’m not exactly normal, but I hope they know how much I love them. Yes, I tell them I love them from time to time, but that’s just a word. I sent off three Halloween cards back home. I hope the recipients receive them well. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

An Unsung Hero

The Civil War Era has bequeathed to posterity a panoply of heroes, some more prominent in the annals of our national past than others. These courageous souls dedicated their lives to the essential moral issue that plagued our country throughout the nineteenth century: slavery. I’m a Union man all the way, so Ulysses S. Grant, a flawed man who achieved great deeds as a commander and President, is one of my role models. If you read history closely, however, you will come across many lesser-known individuals whose dedication to the war effort was no less valiant. Brigadier General E. D. Townsend, who served as Adjutant General of the U.S. Army during the Civil War and Reconstruction Era, was one such person. He worked closely with President Lincoln and oversaw administrative efforts on the part of the U.S. Federal Government to protect the newfound freedom of ex-slaves after the War. Source material on Townsend is meager, but I have managed to glean the highlights of his military career from his 1893 obituary and a couple of secondary sources.

He had all the right credentials to rise in the ranks. Having graduated from West Point in 1837, he fought in the Second Seminole War and (unfortunately) participated in the removal of the Cherokee to Oklahoma Territory. Like Grant, Townsend served briefly at a remote post on the Pacific Coast in the decade leading up to the Civil War. On the eve of the War, he gave an assessment of the defense of the southern fortresses in the event of a conflict. As both executive officer of the War Department and deputy Adjutant General during the Civil War, Townsend exhibited professionalism throughout his military career. According to one source, he had “an expert knowledge of files and office work.”

Most of Townsend’s long-lasting achievements occurred during his official tenure as Adjutant General after the War, from 1869 to 1880. Under his watch, the Adjutant General branch established its insignia, a shield with thirteen red and white stripes on the bottom and a blue field containing thirteen white stars on the top. Two insignia pins with this design grace the lapels of my Army dress uniform to this day. Townsend contributed a valuable resource for future historians when he oversaw the compilation of government documents related to the Civil War. This long process culminated in the “Official Records of the War of the Rebellion” a few years after his death.  The correctional facility at Fort Leavenworth prison is also Townsend’s handiwork, as the Adjutant General, wanting to improve the military prison system, founded the institution in 1875. What I most appreciate about Townsend is his supervision of the “Freedmen’s Bureau,” essentially a military court that treated legal matters pertaining to the abolition of slavery in the South. In a way, Townsend’s work in the Reconstruction Era mirrored his responsibilities during the Civil War. As Assistant Adjutant General in 1863, he assisted in the recruitment and training of blacks in the Union Army.

What drew me to Townsend is his legacy as an Adjutant General, a branch of the Army in which I currently serve as a second lieutenant. Moreover, this dramatic period in American history has always fascinated me. With a foot in both the War Department and Adjutant General’s Department, Townsend reminds us that both moral and military victory, sometimes, is determined as much on the battlefield as behind a desk.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Work and Play

This morning I found myself in bed with a yellow lab named Daisy, wearing a green flowery summer dress and almost knocking over a vomit-filled baseball cap off the nightstand. What happened? Where did I go wrong? I’m not a big fan of bestiality and I gave up my transvestite lifestyle years ago. The puke, I suspected, was my own, given the foul taste in my mouth. (Then again, the dog’s mouth tasted like my barf too, so I wasn’t sure whose barf was in my hat, hers or mine.) My best bet in figuring out this mysterious set of circumstances was to retrace my steps the previous day. As things came into focus, I recalled that I had been part of a weird experiment. Dear reader, the following events will boggle your mind, but I assure you that they transpired exactly as I recount them below. I’ve used pseudonyms to protect identities and reputations.

Here’s a strange experiment for ya. Take thirty-seven biped mammals and place them in a small classroom for about six hours. Give them an assignment with little guidance and watch their frustrations come out.  The experiment was ostensibly about group projects that the said mammals had to perform. I won’t bore you with the details, other than to explain that the purpose of this exercise was to learn how to determine brigade strength should we deploy overseas. Some dudes in white lab coats somewhere had us divided into five groups. Like the Stanley Milgram experiment in the Sixties, the social scientists used a ruse to have us believe we were assisting in an experiment when in reality we were its subjects. After giving us some basic instruction, the “teacher” left us to our own devices for a good chunk of the afternoon. (Absentee instruction is an interesting way to teach a course, but as I say, the whole “group project” thing was just a ruse anyway.)

To make a short story long, we were inputting data onto electronic forms. A representative from each group would brief the instructor on our work when we finished. As the hours rolled on, and on, I started to feel like I was trapped in a Kafka novel, forcibly atoning for my sins in a penal colony. Lord of the Flies is probably more apt, for I also saw myself as a schoolboy stranded on an island watching my classmates divide into factions and regress into crazed chimpanzees. Take Snuffy, for instance. He got into a pissing match with Charles for not meeting Snuffy’s standards. The latter’s pretentious and self-congratulatory character came to the fore in this experiment, an unpleasant development that doesn’t bode well for the field training exercise the Orwellian guys in white lab coats will subject us to in November. For his part, Charles’s idiosyncrasies were on full display during these long hours of confinement in the classroom, especially his uncanny ability to find a difficulty where absolutely none exists and to generate a question when answers are as clear as day.

The experiment finally concluded around 6:30 pm. After such a nerve-racking experience, I needed some kind of social outlet to sooth my distraught heart.  Granted, I might be sophisticated, sagacious and modest to a fault, but I like to let my hair down once in a while and enjoy a drink or three and some fellowship with my classmates. Perhaps some cordials and dinner conversation would restore my faith in humanity.  Lt. Ripley drove Chief, Pocahontas, and me to Slick’s apartment where we met up with $hara and her friends from Fort Gordon; Duchess, Belle, and Heidi came in separate vehicles.  Somehow a humongous bottle of Jack Daniels found its way into my hands and ultimately down my gullet. Whether it was divine providence, a satanic conspiracy or pure happenstance, I do not know.   I signed up for a half marathon in a few weeks, but I'm not sure the pepperoni pizza, Cool Ranch Doritos, and whiskey that I consumed will prepare me well.  I still cannot explain the dog, the dress and the vomit; my suspicion, however, is that I probably had a good time last night.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Dreck and Drivel

I had to read an article for a homework assignment. In all due respect to the author, gorging on poo and drinking pee, relatively speaking, would have been more enjoyable and a more productive use of my time. As Martin Luther once responded to a Catholic opponent: How dare you waste such innocent paper! It’s like the author (a charitable term here) swallowed up a bunch of acronyms, jargon and techno-babble only to spew them out all at once, leaving a poor sap like me to read this vomitous mass. I guess this is what happens when you give laptops to primates. I felt like a part of me died inside as I subjected myself to this sterile gibberish. Unworthy of my arse, this toilet-paper of an essay had me literally writhing in agony at the coffee shop as I read it.  I feared people would think I'm demon-possessed or about to have an epileptic seizure.  Listen, I’m a nonfiction reader for the most part, and what others consider dry I can actually enjoy, depending on the topic. This article, however, was an unpleasant mixture of dreck and drivel.  Currently I’m choosing some new textbooks for my courses this spring semester and while I always endeavor to strike a balance between readability and scholarly credibility, I’ll be doubly sure now that my students don’t read anything boring and dry.

Honestly, I never read Army publications. One time I was chewing the fat with a battalion commander in his office.  A lawyer in the civilian world, he was highly educated and sharp as a whip.   Although he outranked me considerably, he knew I had a Ph.D. and wanted to get my take on things.  He handed me a typical glossy Army magazine and had me skim through an article. “What do you think?” he asked. He told me that it really doesn’t explain anything. To be sure, many of these Army magazines provide plenty of glossy photos, colorful text, and generic information, but they don’t really educate the soldier. That’s government bureaucracy for ya! Great way to use federal dollars! If Defense Secretary Gates is cutting back on excess, I say get rid of these worthless editorial boards and publication committees

Meanwhile back at the ranch, Der Viator has to slog his way through a syntactical nightmare. Here, check out some of this bone fide Scheiß: “Shortfalls in personnel services operational support were acknowledged and remedies were put in place to correct these.” I’ll try to overlook the passive voice and ending of the sentence with a demonstrative pronoun, but personnel services operational support? Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot!  How about this doozie:

The discrete TOE BCT/BDE S1 is the basic building block within the Expeditionary Force concepts of modular, scalable, flexible organizations capable of providing responsive, sustained support across the full spectrum of military operations with the minimum but effective number of personnel located within the battle-space based on the unique requirements of the battle-space.
Looks like Shakespeare was going for the Guinness record on how many prepositional phrases one could cram into a run-on sentence.  Elsewhere he writes that the S1 section of a battalion is an “existence based structure.” Huh? I wonder if one could say this using normal human discourse. Just a thought.  I'm not sure if the author, an asshole based entity, understands the King's English.  Would that I could take back the half hour I wasted in reading and re-reading this five-year-old "update"!

Actually, I’ve been a bit harsh, for the Army could put this essay to good use. Instead of water-boarding, we should have prisoners at Guantanamo read this torturous article. I tell you what you want to know, yes? Please! No more of this drivel? Allah help me. These acronyms! Such syntax! We planted bombs at harbors in Florida and New York, okay? Please, please!  The horror!  The horror!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Chapter 1: Apricots and Plums (7/7)

“One monster at a time. It’s a start. We’ll never win over the Afghan people and wean them off Taliban insurgents—and their protectors across the border—unless we do something about these guys.”

“And the we here is the ICC?” asked Parkinson.

“Yes, and the U.N., NATO, and the EU,” reassured Jürgenmeyer.

“Can you explain your organization in more detail?” asked Mustafa.

“We are a non-profit organization based in Kabul.  We focus on nation building and human rights. The graves referenced in the letter we sent you, and alluded to in a phone call, is the handiwork of Ahmadzai’s army.” Jürgenmeyer turned to Mustafa. “Your work is highly valued, Doctor. You have been personally requested for this investigation by the governor of Paktia and ISAF.”

“ISAF?” asked Dr. Anderson.

“International Security Assistance Force, a combined NATO and U.S. contingent of 50,000 troops. Publicly, Ahmadzai has tried to amend his reputation over the years, and the Americans, it would seem, have bought it.”

“Both Afghan and U.S. administrations need this ‘New Afghanistan’ to work, that’s for damn sure,” said Parkinson, as he looked longingly at his glass now emptied of bourbon.

“That has been a tall order, given the absolute chaos the country has been in, as you mentioned, for the last thirty years,” said Mustafa. He knew the political stakes, but had more of an eye on the moral questions. “It doesn’t take much for these mujahedeen warlords to turn their guns on each other—on hapless peasants—over a perceived insult or piece of turf.”

“Man is wolf to man. Hobbes,” Selderhuis asserted, as if that terse statement settled the matter.

“Back to Hobbes, are we?” teased Parkinson.

“Actually that’s Plautus, originally. Homo…Homo lupus ad hominem. Yes.” Jürgenmeyer’s classical education at Heidelberg finally had some practical usage: to upstage his pedantic lowlander neighbor.

“No offense to wolves.” Mustafa had the last word.

“If you agree to the mission, you will fly in two weeks to Bagram Airbase, via Kryzgstan. You’ll meet up with Lt. Colonel Robinson, the force protection commander and military representative of the PRT.”

“Pardon?” said Mustafa.

“Provincial Reconstruction Team,” answered Jürgenmeyer. “NATO and U.S. have funded a number of military units in Afghanistan since 2002 in an effort to help rebuild the infrastructure in the provinces and lend some credibility to the fledgling central government in Kabul.”

“Yes, I know something of them, just not the details,” responded Mustafa. “The PRT in Paktia Province is run by the Americans, is it not?”

“Yes, most of them are. The area is fairly safe, at least compared to the southern provinces…”

“The operative word is fairly,” interjected Dr. Anderson with some trepidation in her voice.

“Eastern Afghanistan is just as dangerous,” Selderhuis submitted.

Jürgenmeyer shrugged off the comment. “There’s been little trouble in the area. Those barbarians send over a mortar or rocket, but the Taliban have less of a presence here than they do in the south and further to the east along the border with Pakistan. The investigation is in a more secure area. Interestingly enough, and perhaps not surprisingly, the region is riddled with mass burials dating back to Alexander the Great. Just a few years ago they found next to a mine shaft…”

“A grave site dating back to the Soviet occupation.” Mustafa finished his statement. “Yes, I know.”

“I don’t have to tell you that it’s a rough terrain, but you’ll have showers, a dining facility—or chow hall as the troops call them—and suitable billeting.”

“That’s better than Bosnia, I’ll admit.”

“Yes. Once Uncle Sam sets down his roots somewhere, you’ll live in comfort,” mocked Parkinson, overdoing his mocking tone to show unequivocally he meant the comment in jest.

“So I have noticed,” responded Mustafa with a wistfulness in his voice.

Jürgenmeyer soldiered on with the details. “At BAF—Bagram airfield, that is—you’ll also meet with Mr. Sharp. “He looked over his paperwork to make sure. “Cameron Sharp, a civil affairs guy, ex-military. He’s the U.S. liaison between the locals and your team. Once you coordinate with the excavation crew, you’ll fly out via a Chinook to the site. The flight takes only about 20 minutes. The grave is near a little village, hamlet really, called Sorkh Parsa. Civilian contractors and U.S. army engineers are there helping the locals build a new medical clinic, as I mentioned before. For the investigation, we have already assembled a team of medical specialists and forensic archaeologists. You would lead this team if you accept the mission.”

“In the letter you mention that the site has been disturbed,” said Mustafa.

“I concede I don’t have all the details. I haven’t been there, but I have received reports. It’s being guarded 24/7 by Nordhoff and U.S. military.”

“Nordhoff?” asked Selderhuis.

“The security firm contracted to oversee security. I appreciate your time and ask you to consider the importance of this mission. A stable Afghanistan is in the world’s best interest, and this investigation is one means to that end. Please think it over.  You don’t need to make a decision now.  Get back to us.  I thank you for your consideration and time.”

“Where are you staying, Herr Jürgenmeyer?” asked Mustafa.

“At the Hotel Palais just down the street.”

“Care to join me for a smoke?”

“You read me like a book.” Jürgenmeyer was a bit surprised at the gesture for a moment, but grinned like a child.

As he got up with Jürgenmeyer, Mustafa felt an obligation not to leave his dinner partners without an answer to their previous query. “My friends, for the sake of full disclosure, here’s what Mr. Drago kindly said to me, after cursing my mother: Someday I will kill you and your family.” The rest of the group looked at each other with consernation, but endeavored preserve the jovial mood.

“I guess he’s not one to mince words, hmm?” said Dr. Anderson.

“That son of a bitch will rot in prison,” Selderhuis interjected, “and finally join Milosevic and Saddam in a special place reserved for those of their ilk. Forget that vicious remark!  It’s time for a toast. Here’s to success in the investigation and life imprisonment...hopefully. Cheers!”

“Şerefe!” added Mustafa, taking a swig of his cold tea.  The man drinking wine at the next table kept a circumspective eye on them.

On his way out Mustafa grabbed the navy blue Russian overcoat that Sirma bought him while visiting her family in Ankara. Along the wall of the hallway leading from the hotel restaurant to the lobby was a mural of mediocre quality depicting The Hague in the 17th-century.  Stevedores along the waterfront unload crates and barrels full of molasses, tea, and spices from exotic ports in the East Indies or somewhere else in the far-flung mercantile empire. For tourist consumption, the painter, or the hotel management who hired the painter, wanted to show the Golden Age of Dutch civilization. The dockworkers carry their crates oblivious to the sea battle going on in the upper left corner.  Dutch schooners engage a Spanish Armada that, thanks to the painter's use of dark tones, appears ominously on the horizon.

The Turk and German exited the revolving doors, lit up, and walked down the street. The air was crisp, the street wet. They walked along the busy thoroughfare, initially exchanging some pleasantries on international justice and European football.

Mustafa came to the point. “I’ll take the assignment on the condition of complete control. I choose the team. Agreed?”

Jürgenmeyer hesitated.

“So if the people you’ve already assembled at Bagram don’t meet my standards...”  Mustafa had decided he wouldn't take this mission if the terms were dictated to him.  “And I’m not putting my people into harm’s way…”

“U.S. Marines and the 82nd Airborne are in the area. We got a quick reaction force at our disposal. Complete protection from the air. And as far as the Nordhoff security goes, you’re in good hands.  Most of these men are former American or British special forces.”

Despite Jürgenmeyer's assurances, Mustafa knew there were no guarantees in life.  He returned to his ultimatum. “My team, or I’m sticking to my plans for retirement this month.”

Einverstanden.  Jürgenmeyer stamped out his cigarette butt.

“You come from Bavaria, no?” Changing the subject, Mustafa was happy to speak in the Western language he knew best. Jürgenmeyer’s eyes brightened. Mustafa found himself liking Jürgenmeyer as a person, but he did not trust him.

“I’m from Ulm. We like to call it Swabia.”

“My younger son teaches at the University of Augsburg.”

“Not far away at all! Your German is impeccable, I must say.” Jürgenmeyer already knew something of Mustafa’s work in Germany, but feigned ignorance for the sake of a good conversation.

“Tell me, Herr Jürgenmeyer. How do you know that Ahmadzai is the perpetrator of this crime? It could be any number of those Afghan warlords.”

“He’s no stranger to this area. In fact, he has a mud-walled compound within 15 kilometers of the site. With what we know about him, it seems straightforward. But that’s where you come in. You’ll prove, or disprove, his involvement.”

“Let’s say he was responsible for those bodies. What then?”

“Truth be told, it’s politics. It’s about sending a message. For some, it’s about discrediting the Karzai administration. The provincial governor is also pressing for this investigation against Ahmadzai.  He's not your typical warlord; he's worse than bad.  I'm curious.  What’s your take on people like Ahmadzai, Drago, and Joachim Kroll?”  The last name was a reference to Mustafa’s first high-profile investigation as a forensic anthropologist.  Kroll was a serial killer who ate his victims; Musta had the grim task of identifying the victims.  His report of the grisly details on the news had brought him a degree of recognition from Germans and Turkish Gastarbeiter alike.

“Sometimes good and evil originate from the same source,” responded Mustafa.  Yet again Rumi’s words resonated in his consciousness. Men are as demons, and lust for wealth their chain. The chain is made of their fears and anxieties. It urges them towards good and toward evil.

“You don’t have to tell me that,” Jürgenmeyer came back.  “My hometown gave the world both Albert Einstein and Josef Mengele.”

One thing that Jürgenmeyer said had Mustafa thinking on the flight the next morning. After Mustafa’s reference to the crimes of Ahmadzai, Jürgenmeyer responded, “I guess both our nations have their dark past.” The comment was so off the cuff that Mustafa didn’t bother to respond. What did he mean by this? Is he trying to say something?

Mustafa had this statement and many other issues to ponder. Preoccupying his mind in such a way was a self-diversionary tactic, for Mustafa harbored a deep fear of flying. Only as the plane started its descent into Istanbul could Mustafa relax.  He took solace at the comforting skyline of minarets and domes.

Three weeks after the conversation at the Ridder Hotel, Mustafa, refreshed from a brief sojourn on the apricot farm with his grandchildren, walked across the tarmac of Incirlik Air Base and boarded a C-17 bound for Kyrgyzstan.  His connecting flight at Ataturk airport had left him little time to find a rug for Sirma, but, in a way he hadn’t intended, he would end up keeping a promise that he had made to her: the trip would be his last mission. He was off yet again to some god-forsaken land where half-decomposed ghosts beckoned, for he too concealed mysteries buried deep within his heart, secrets that no trowel or shovel can exhume.

For the moment he had more immediate worries: another flight. “Allah, guide and sustain me with your love and righteousness.”  The forensic anthropologist pressed rosary beads between his thumb and fingers.  He leafed through the days's issue of Milliyet to take his mind off the flight. He wore around his neck the nazar that Sirma had placed inside his suitcase before he had left for Europe. He was hedging his bets.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Chapter 1: Apricots and Plums (6/7)

“You can decide on your real answer while I pay a long overdue visit to the bar."  Parkinson winked. “I want to see if this bartender will give me a little taste of home and I don’t trust the waiters to get it right.” As he got out of his chair, he held up a piece of paper in his right hand. “We should talk about Afghanistan before his arrival.” Parkinson was referring to a letter they had all received from a Kabul-based NGO called Projekt ROLA; they were awaiting a representative, Herr Jürgenmeyer, who arranged to meet them, Mustafa in particular, at 7 pm.

“Yes, that would be good,” chimed in Selderhuis. “I’ll take this opportunity to make a phone call in the lobby.”

Parkinson put a feeler out. “I’ll wait for you at the bar? Even a Calvinist such as yourself can enjoy one hard drink with a friend.”

“Believe me, Gary, faith’s got nothing to do with it. Mrs. Selderhuis keeps mehow do you say?on a tight leash.”

“The old trick of blaming the spouse. I should have known…”

As their voices trailed off, Dr. Anderson and Mustafa, thoroughly entertained by this exchange, smirked.  “Now that’s an odd pair!”

Dr. Anderson checked her cellphone for text messages from her daughter-in-law in Los Angeles and turned to Mustafa. “Wim once told me he wanted to be a pastor when he was twenty and even went to seminary, a Reformed seminary of some kind, before he went into law.”

“Why am I not surprised?”

Dutch waiters in white pleated shirts scurried back and forth carrying silver trays of steaming fish and vegetables. One of them approached the table next to Mustafa and company where a young fair-skinned man sat, seemingly engrossed in a local newspaper. He had a well-trimmed mustache and wore an ash-colored suit. It would take someone of preternatural perception, or someone with foreknowledge of the man’s purpose of being there, to pick up on anything askew. As the waiter took his order, he was rather curt and dismissive, more intent on bringing as little attention to himself as possible than being rude. He ordered only a glass of white wine, and spoke softly so that those sitting at the table nearby could not hear his accent.

“How is Sirma?” Alone with her senior colleague, Dr. Anderson took the opportunity to catch up on more personal affairs.

“Thank you for asking, Lynn. She’s helping Cenap manage the farm. Nothing but a headache. Gathering documents that date back eighty years or more!” Mustafa had told Dr. Anderson about an ongoing property lawsuit, but he would never elaborate.

“And the grandkids?”

“I don’t see them enough.”

Dr. Anderson knew that Mustafa was laconic when it came to family matters, but she also sensed he was distracted. “You’re thinking about taking this case, aren’t you?”

“Am I an open book?”

“I think I know something about you by now!”

“I haven’t made up my mind about it. It’s time to devote myself to apricots and grandchildren, not dirt and death. If I accept this assignment, Lynn, I want you as my chief pathologist once we got bodies for you. The site isn’t even six months old, they suspect, so I'll definitely need you.”

“I won’t be teaching until January; I’ll have a week or two late December. But let me get this straight: you’re going to accept this mission? In Afghanistan? I think we both swore we’d never go back to that hellhole. You know more about it than you’re letting on.”

“No, not really. I read the letter in my room last night. The letter from Projekt ROLA…”


“There’s something about this one that….”

“I know. You have a strange feeling about it!” Dr. Anderson was used to Mustafa’s cryptic and quasi-mystical reasons for accepting or declining a forensic investigation. Little did she know that the old man’s sixth sense was based on more than science and intuition.

“I’ll hear what this Herr Jürgenmeyer has to say. The letter stresses urgency, but any dig should wait until spring for more favorable climatic and soil conditions.”

“And when you’re retired and harvesting fruit trees!”

The two formed an odd partnership, though because of its romantic connotation Mustafa would never use the word partnership to characterize their work together. Fifteen years her senior, Mustafa had become a kind of uncle to her, especially since the death of her husband from a stroke. Nonetheless, he felt he was being unfaithful to his wife whenever he was alone with a woman. At first Dr. Anderson accounted for this bizarre behavior by supposing him to be a shy when it came to matters outside work, but she realized that he thought it was “proper” behavior. He had even arranged to stay at a different hotel than Dr. Anderson during their sojourn at The Hague. She learned to put up with his idiosyncrasies.

“Wim said it earlier,” said Parkinson returning to the table, triumphant with a glass of bourbon in one hand and loosening his tie with the other.  “Let’s be thankful for what we’ve achieved: international law put Drago away.” Selderhuis soon followed and took up his chair.

“Let’s not clink our champagne glasses just yet, Gary. Mustafa’s a teetotaler after all,” retorted Dr. Anderson. Mustafa frowned. He didn’t care to disabuse them of their pious portrait of him. He was in fact not averse to downing a rakı or two with his Turkish chums.

“Okay, let’s talk about this. Have you been to Paktia before? Have you worked with Operation Afghanistan? What do you know, Wim?” Parkinson searched for a pen in his breast pocket as he spoke.

“As the letter specifies, the ICC is calling for a discreet investigation related to a high-profile cabinet official in the Karzai government, a former warlord.” Dr. Anderson was using shorthand for the International Criminal Court.

“What?”  Parkinson feigned incredulity.  “In the Karzai government? Dost mine ears deceive me?” said Parkinson.

“Once a warlord always a warlord, I say,” asserted Dr. Anderson.

“Can’t argue with that. So who is this individual?” asked Mustafa. “I have three or four people in mind. I’m just curious.”

“Let’s play, Know your Warlord.” Dr. Anderson hummed a made-up theme song. “Could it be Dostum? Do I hear an Ismail Khan??”

“That’s more than I know,” said Selderhuis. “Jürgenmeyer has the details.” He turned to Mustafa. “Listen, doctor. I know you’ve decided to take no more missions, but at least hear him out. It’s an important investigation, and you have been personally requested.”

As Selderhuis was making his plea, a swarthy Teutonic-looking man in his forties walked into the hotel restaurant carrying a brown file folder, sporting a jacket over a white shirt with a straight collar. The gait, orange-flushed cheeks, thick build, the eyebrows—Mustafa recognized him for a Bavarian. The restaurant hostess was directing him their way. Dr. Anderson followed Mustafa’s eyes toward the German man already at their table and extending his hand.


“Hello, everyone. My name is Dominick Jürgenmeyer and I represent the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Judge Escavarra, and my own organization, Projekt ROLA, Rule of Law in Afghanistan. I think I’ve talked to you all by phone at one point or another. I trust you haven’t waited long.” He consulted his watch—7:13—and took pride in having violated a German stereotype.

After mutual introductions and a brief exchange of pleasantries, Jürgenmeyer described the mission. “I’ve lived in America long enough to know,” he said, making eye contact with the two Americans at the table, “that I need to get the bottom line up front. We’re asking Dr. Doctor Özerkan to head up an investigation team to examine a mass grave in Eastern Afghanistan…”

“Yes, in Paktia Province.” Mustafa wanted to move on from the information he had already received in a phone call, letter and e-mail. “Where exactly? Can you be more specific? Along the border with Pakistan?”

“I’m coming to that. Not on the border exactly. It’s near a village called Qela Dho.” Jürgenmeyer waited for a follow-up response from Mustafa. Not getting one, he proceeded with his information brief.

“We, that is, the ICC and NATO and a host of other involved organizations have reason to believe that a Pashtun tribal leader named Ahmadzai is responsible for the death of probably twenty people—civilians—at this remote location. We’re not positive about the numbers.” Jürgenmeyer, a lawyer by trade, scanned the four faces, finding only Mustafa seemingly familiar with the warlord’s name.

Mustafa knew something of Jalaluddin Ahmadzai, a maverick Pashtun warlord who had found exile in Turkey during the Taliban years. He had once seen him during a stopover at Incirlik Air Base. Nobody could miss him: a long black beard, black turban, and angry eyes that looked as though they could pierce armor. What he was doing on an American airbase, Mustafa had no idea, but it was clear he had made enemies in Afghanistan and Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, had encouraged him to leave.

When Mustafa spotted Ahmadzai, he had a retinue of young men around him and appeared to have just finished prayers. Those were the days when America had lost interest in Afghanistan and paid little attention to the Taliban. Once U.S.-funded and Pakistan-supported mujahedeen sent the Soviets back over the Amu Darya with their tails between their legs, the West shifted focus to a putative new world order. Whatever differences Ahmadzai had with the Taliban, Mustafa knew the warlord shared their radical Sunni beliefs and strict implementation of Sharia law. Weeks after spotting him at the airbase, Mustafa read in the newspaper about one of Ahmadzai’s men murdering a fellow Afghan at a religious school in Üsküdar.

Jürgenmeyer continued with the details. “I’m referring to Jalaluddin Ahmadzai Khan, a thirty-seven-year-old tribal leader with a long history of drug smuggling, abductions, and, well, the usual things that warlords unfortunately do in this part of the world. Counternarcotics agents call him JAK…”

“Jack?” asked Parkinson.

“J.A.K. A code name.”

“Yes, I see.”

“But locals and troops on the ground refer to his nom de guerre, the ‘Tank Eater.’   He operates a network, the so-called JAK Network, that hides and protects heroin labs throughout the area and has direct ties to the Quetta Shura, that is, the Taliban leadership safely ensconced just across the border from Kandahar. Believe it or not, the DEA relied on him in an ill-fated program to eradicate poppy production back in the early Nineties.”

Parkinson reacted with a hearty laugh. “Oh, I’m a believer alright!” Jürgenmeyer’s comment afforded Parkinson yet another opportunity to demonstrate his disapproval of the aforementioned American Imperium. “What warlord haven’t we supported at one time or another?”

Selderhuis wanted clarification. “What is this tank-eating business?”

“According to local legend, Ahmadzai, as a kid back in the Eighties, one night snuck onto a Soviet tank that was holding his village captive and dropped a few grenades down the hatch.”

“What a wonderful coming-of-age story,” Dr. Anderson blurted out sarcastically.

“He’s a warrior, no doubt about that,” Jürgenmeyer went on. “His followers sometimes refer to him as mullah, but the appellation hasn’t stuck with those outside his Ghilzai tribe. He became a fundamentalist as a medical student at Kabul Polytechnic University.  He's cultivated a reputation as a pious Muslim.”

“A Jihadist in other words?”

“Yes, but not necessarily in the 'terrorist' meaning of the term,” responded Jürgenmeyer, making quotation marks with his fingers. We’ve established no direct connections with Al Qaeda, and I do emphasize direct, for satellite phone chatter is suspicious in this regard. His relationship with the Taliban, moreover, is problematic.  Sometimes he forms an alliance with them, sometimes he doesn’t.”

“How was this site discovered?” Mustafa asked.

“The Americans were building a women’s health clinic on the site.”

“Oh yeah? I got a name for it: The Michelle Obama Clinic.” Everyone looked at Parkinson strangely. “You know, like the Laura Bush maternity ward in Kabul? Geez.”

Jürgenmeyer wasn’t going to waste time on peripheral issues. “Listen, we need to keep this secret for now. As some of you might know, Ahmadzai formerly served as one of the deputy presidents in the Karzai administration, though everyone knew he had blood on his hands. A man like Ahmadzai has a checkered past. His resume reads like a catalogue of unmitigated cruelty and sadism, but he still plays a role inside Kabul and has Karzai’s ear.”

“More like a rap sheet, I’d say,” said a caustic Selderhuis.

“He’s a nasty piece of work.” Jürgenmeyer had pocketed that American phrase for use on occasions such as this.

Parkinson was suspicious. “Did he kill Americans?”


“Did he kill any Westerners or officials of the Afghan government.”

“Not that we can tell.”

“Why are you so interested in Ahmadzai?” Selderhuis held the same suspicion of his dinner partners at the table. “I mean, his crimes are appalling but not exactly earth-shattering, as far as Afghan warlords go.”

“Your question is apt. Ahmadzai has become too powerful and the civilized world needs to bring him down. He’ll jeopardize efforts to stabilize the Afghan government. He stands in the way of ongoing efforts to lessen the influence of warlords in the country and convince the Afghan people that we, the international community, are serious. I should also add that he has had tremendous influence drawing soldiers away from the Afghan National force after they’ve been trained. We have evidence that they bring their new skills and new weapons into Paktia to serve Ahmadzai’s nascent army.”

Jürgenmeyer could see on Selderhuis’s face that he still wasn’t making his point. “We need a legal basis to put Ahmadzai away. We cannot just send the 82nd Airborne after him. He himself has agreed publicly to submit to the rule of law. We know that’s a lie, but that’s the basis on which we’ll subdue him, keep him off the streets.” The German availed himself of another American expression. “We need evidence of wrong-doing, and since we’re dealing with Afghanistan, a country in shambles for over thirty years, we need significant crimes, not your run-of-the-mill opium smuggling or kleptocracy.”

“Only in Afghanistan!” sighed Parkinson.

“I suppose that would be a rather bloody undertaking anyway, no?” queried Dr. Anderson.  “Taking him by force, I mean.”

“Ahmadzai’s got the damn Afghan National army in his back pocket,” commented Selderhuis.

“Not quite the entire army, but you’re right about a bloodbath. What the chief prosecutor wants to do is build a case on him for what we suspect are horrendous crimes against his own people and then nab him with SAS or Navy Seals.”

“À la Drago and Krajiŝnik,” stated Dr. Anderson.

“Precisely, but hopefully without a hitch.” Jürgenmeyer was aware that Drago’s bodyguards managed to kill a EUFOR commando and wound another in the course of his abduction on the western border of Serbia.

“Good luck with that,” said Dr. Anderson.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Land Navigation and Territorial Demarcation

I again reminder readers that I, Der Viator, am currently involved in military training at Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina. Today we had land navigation. The training staff, known here as the cadre, hand us a map, compass, and protractor to find at least five out of eight locations in the woods. Once we find the wooden stake that marks the location and record the number contained on it, we again shoot an azimuth and walk the necessary meters to the next point, being ever so careful to maintain our “pace count.” For those of you who are interested, I’ve discussed land navigation back in August when my Reserve unit conducted an exercise at Fort Elroy. Before we move out into the woods, though, we plot the grid coordinates, the azimuth degrees, and distance between points on our map. What with my background as an intelligence analyst and concomitant training in land navigation, I had hoped to find all of the points; however, I got a “go” for the test with the bare minimum of five. I guess I should be thankful that I didn’t get lost. I’ve certainly come a long way since my youthful days in basic training, some five or six years ago.

Rest assured I went into the woods prepared. I had two canteens full of water, an interesting book about Afghanistan, an extra pair of underwear, and of course my GPS-tracking cell phone. I also brought a bag of popcorn so that I could leave a trail behind me if I got lost. My only worry was that the birds would get to it first. I’ve learned my lesson. When I did land nav a few years ago in the arid region of southern Arizona, I had been out there for what seemed like an eternity. I didn’t get lost, mind you; rather, I was hell-bent on finding all of the points, come what may. It ended up being a life-changing experience.  I was almost left for dead, especially after a group of illegal aliens making their way down the Huachuca Mountains robbed me of my last granola bar. Once I ran out of water, I had to survive by eating ants and drinking my own urine.  Thankfully a she-wolf found me and raised me as one of her own. People look at me aghast whenever I pull my trousers down and mark my territory, be it in the classroom, at the lectern, or on my front lawn.  I've never been able to share my family past with anyonenot so much because I'm ashamed but because I'm a private person.  So now you know.

Monday, October 4, 2010

At the Store

So the other day I’m at the store, right? I grab a “snack” off the shelf and proceed to the checkout counter. You could be in Wal-Mart, Target or wherever, and it’s always the same story. Only a couple of the checkout counters have their light on and you must decide which is the best line to get into. At this point I do a mental calculus in my primate brain. For instance, last night three of the eight checkouts were open and each had one or two shoppers in line. What I do is base my decision first on gender and then on age. For instance, if line A consists of a middle-aged or old lady, I’ll avoid it like the plague, and move on and choose the next line. She’ll be pulling out every coupon known to man and taking her sweet time. If line B has a male, preferably a young male, then that’s my destination. Don’t call me a sexist, okay? It’s just a basic fact of life: women in general, and “mature” women in particular, take longer in the process of buying their goods. Most males get their underarm, tube socks, Red Bull and hustle their way through the checkout.

Anyway, I’ve learned my lesson not to depart from this time-honored wisdom. I mistakenly thought an old couple were just about finished with their purchase, so I got in line behind them. Harold and Martha, I swear, were moving at glacial speed just to spite me. The old woman was digging into her purse for this and that. The old man felt compelled to be chatty with the checkout girl. Do that on your own time, asswipe. Come on people! I got places to go, things to see. I admit that I’m usually in a hurry and rather impatient, more a congenital defect than reaction to circumstances. And what was it that I was buying? Those who know me are aware of my one weakness: peanut M&Ms. I had a craving for them—somethin’ fierce, I tells ya. Heck, I’d wipe out an entire village of elderly men, women and children if they stood between me and that precious yellow bag. Don’t judge me. We all have our kryptonite. Once I got home I tore into those suckers like a ravenous wolf and satisfied my wanton lust for chocolate.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Chapter 1: Apricots and Plums (5/7)

“I was thirsty, you see,” responded Mustafa in halfhearted jest. “I merely wanted to make sure we had properly catalogued it. Since the bottle was found next to the remains of Z34 and Z35 respectively, we couldn’t be certain if it belonged to one of the victims. We did suspect that one of the perpetrators threw in the bottle. Since the deaths were perimortem, we postulated that the brandy-drinking killer was enjoying it just before or during the executions.”

“Well that makes sense,” said Selderhuis. “They probably got themselves drunk silly before hacking them to death.”

“Hacking? No, that’s what they do in Africa,” replied Mustafa. “It’s the Balkans, so we’re talking about slit throats and gunshots to the head. Most of the forty-three victims had multiple bullet holes. Besides, men don’t kill because they’re drinking; they just drink to make the killing easier.”

“True enough,” said Parkinson.

“When we first got to the site,” explained Dr. Anderson, “we could see bullet scars on the trees nearby, too many to count. We practically tripped over a sea of brass casings. They really went to town. Dare I say, this evidence of a free-for-all shooting embarrassed Drago, as his own account at the trial revealed.” She consulted Mustafa with a gesture of her hand and he nodded in agreement.

“Of course he didn’t voice this embarrassment outright. And I say embarrassed, not ashamed. Drago has tried to cultivate the reputation of a professional soldier who dispatches the enemy with discipline and precision. Can you believe it? No Serbian commander in the field ever bought it, but as long as he was killing Croats and Muslims, who cared? As for the bullet holes, we started to mark them with little red flags to determine the direction of the grave before exhumation. We did have the satellite photos with us, and so we knew where it was, just not the details. By the time we finished marking off the site, the whole area was festooned in a sea of red.”

“Had a U-2 spy plane not produced photos of displaced mounds of earth in the area, by the way,” explained Parkinson to Selderhuis, “we probably wouldn’t be here now.”

Parkinson stubbornly focused on the plum brandy. “What I don’t understand, Mustafa—and I’m sure Wim wants to know as well—is why you were so adamant about this bottle, the Slivovitz, being the key to convicting Drago? I mean, sure, everything you unearth at a site is potentially crucial evidence and treated as such, but it’s almost as if you knew what happened?”

Dr. Anderson quickly responded.  “You don’t think I’ve tried to get that out of him, Gary?  I think Mustafa agrees that we might have tested that bottle anyway, but how he…”

“I thought we’ve been through this before, Lynn,” interrupted Mustafa, now in his colleagues’ jocular spirit. “A djinn whispered into my ear, Good doctor, the key to the case lies in the bottle. Follow the bottle.” Dr. Anderson shrugged, as if to say to Selderhuis and Parkinson, See, what’d I tell you?

Dr. Anderson obliged to sum things up. “Suffice it to say, were it not for the fact that you could trace the brandy bottle back to Drago, we wouldn’t have had a conviction.”

“Funny how future developments hinge on such a small detail,” said Selderhuis. “Come now, Mustafa. How did you know to pursue that detail so relentlessly?”

“Science, my friends! I simply go where the science leads me.” Mustafa was aware of an irony in his comment that his colleagues would not appreciate; more than forensic science directed his steps.

Dr. Anderson steered the conversation from the investigation and back to the trial. “They should have gotten life, as far as I’m concerned. That’s international justice for you!” Aida’s similar words in the hotel lobby reverberated in Mustafa’s mind.

“I would say death, but on behalf of my EU-loving countrymen or what’s left of them, including our dearly misguided president and prime minister who still pine for that elusive membership in the European club, I’ll say life imprisonment.” Mustafa hadn’t shaken his witty mood, undoubtedly an emotional release of tension from events that transpired earlier in the day.

“They’re going to prison, good riddance,” said Selderhuis. “Let’s face it, though. The history of the world is replete with war and genocide. We haven’t made a dent in solving this problem.” Selderhuis was entering Mustafa’s well-trod path, and the latter took notice. “Think of all the time, money, personnel, international wrangling, and political machinations necessary to put three men on trial, and I’m not counting the tactical planning and legal hurdles involved in their capture. Genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity—whatever you wish to call it—are rooted in the human species as much as is the drive for sex or the ability to make tools.”

“Tell us something we don’t know, sagacious one,” said Dr. Anderson.

“Wait, I’m not done. We’ll have another round of Dragos, Saddams, and Pol Pots this century, I’m sure. They’re like regional antichrists waiting somewhere to usher in their respective apocalypses when they come of age.”

“So we’re elevating Drago to the level of a Saddam Hussein, are we?” Parkinson remarked. “Or should I say lowering?”

“Why not? He started out as a street thug too. Look, I’m not saying that we throw up our hands and embrace the doom and gloom of the human condition,” continued Selderhuis, “but let’s at least keep things in perspective. What’s the solution we hear from putative experts? I’ll answer for you, my friends, because I’m the sage: education. Rubbish. If someone wants to kill another person, all the education in the world won’t stop them. What kind of education are we considering, anyway? A madrassa in Pakistan or what?”

“Most high school students in America, and many in Europe, I read in The Economist yesterday,” Dr. Anderson interjected, “can’t locate Iraq or Afghanistan on an unmarked globe. So much for the fruits of education in the West!” With her head tilted slightly, she glided her eyes toward Selderhuis. With her glasses perched on the end of her nose and a raised chin, she had the same professorial look she gave students in her survey courses when she posed some trick question and watched them fumble for answers.

“How about democracy?” threw out Parkinson. “Conventional wisdom has it that democracies don’t commit genocide.”

“I know the conventional wisdom,” responded Selderhuis.  “That’s a joke! Give me a break. Whose democracy!”

“I beg to differ, Wim, but I’ll give you the floor.” Parkinson was tiring of Selderhuis’s pedantic ravings and more interested in accompanying his dinner wine with a shot or two of bourbon.

Dr. Anderson attempted to rein Selderhuis in. “Must you be so dreary on an evening of celebration, Wim?”

“You’re right. I have a nasty habit of finding the fly in the ointment. Let us talk about more pleasant things like….well…give me a topic. Children playing in the park?”

“No,” said Parkinson. “How about the benefits of education and democracy for global peace?”

“Don’t get Wim started, Gary!” Dr. Anderson had a keen sense of Parkinson’s sarcasm.

“I’m having fun, Wim!”

“I would presume—and Lynn knows I don’t like presuming…,” began Mustafa.

“That’s true,” Dr. Anderson confirmed with a snicker. “He doesn’t like to presume…I presume.”

“We all share Wim’s less than sanguine perspective on human nature. Even you, Gary, don’t avow the perfectibility of mankind, if I recall our conversation the other day.” Parkinson stifled a response. “But the verdict’s still out on whether we as a species, someday, will have a system in place to prevent genocide or,” Mustafa reconsidered his statement midstream, “more likely, diminish its impact.”

“My, my, we’re optimistic here aren’t we, Mustafa?” Selderhuis had been half-consciously looking for a good debate and thought the jousting had begun, never mind that Mustafa, unlike Parkinson, agreed with him in essence.

“He didn’t exactly say we’d beat our swords into plowshares, Wim,” said Parkinson. “Believing in the perfectibility of humankind is foolish enough, but creating a system, a tripwire if you will, to prevent the species’ worst crime against one another, well, it’s worth trying. There are so many variables. Scholars have tried to come up, as you know, with an early warning system.

“A fool’s errand, I say,” Selderhuis objected.

Dr. Anderson sought to cut Selderhuis off before his expected diatribe. “Problem is, you can’t invade a country and force a regime change Bush-Cheney style just because a dictator imposes censorship, tries people for political crimes or discriminates against an ethnic minority. Things usually start out okay, and these wicked dictators are well-intentioned, arguably, to do good for their people, the majority group at any rate.”

“Whilst pocketing a little lucre from state coffers on the side,” Parkinson retorted, “and paying off their cronies. I don’t take your dim view of humanity, Wim. But I also don’t disagree with you about our ability to predict genocide. Did the world know what Hitler was going to do when he took power in, what, 1930?”

“He became chancellor in 1932,” corrected Selderhuis.

“In the end it’s no more scientific than judging a tree by its fruit,” said Dr. Anderson.

“What’s this?” Mustafa was more taken by the tree analogy than the larger discussion.

“The Bible…”

“Yes, yes, I know the reference.” Know a tree by its fruit, Mustafa thought to himself, as the wistful expression on his face amused his colleagues. The fruit will tell you what kind of tree it is. Or maybe the fruit in and of itself determines the tree, for the seeds are contained in the fruit. Apricots and plums swirled in his fecund mind. Apricots and plums. In his hotel room he would reflect on Rumi’s words in the Masnawi:
Seemingly the bough is the cause of the fruit, but really the bough exists because of the fruit. Were he not impelled by desire of fruit, the gardener would never have planted the tree. Therefore in reality the tree is born from the fruit, though seemingly the fruit is born from the tree.
“Let’s solve the world’s problem another day,” said Parkinson, navigating the conversation away from the murky waters of genocide and toward the terra firma of the courtroom. “What do you make of that circus at the end of the trial today?”

“Oh yes, I heard that the lawyers lost…how shall we say this…their professional demeanor,” said Selderhuis. “If you ask me, those Serbs and Russians are thugs in suits and ties, just like their clients.”

“That’s a little strong, don’t you think, Wim?” protested Dr. Anderson. “But maybe they were the ones who gave our Mr. Drago his Turkish vocabulary.”

Selderhuis looked at Mustafa. “Thanks for reminding me. Tell me, Mustafa, how is Mr. Drago able to speak in a foreign tongue so fluently? That was the case, no? What did he say to you?”

Mustafa remained quiet for a about ten awkward seconds, making Mr. Selderhuis and company wonder if the former’s Dutch accent was too difficult for Mustafa’s less-than-fluent command of the English language or if they were broaching a touchy issue. The forensic anthropologist then sat up in his chair, stirred his black tea, meticulously set down the spoon on the saucer, placed each hand on the table, and looked up from his cup to scan each of his colleagues. In an exaggerated gracious tone he responded: “He wished me and my family many blessings and expressed to me in a most cordial manner how grateful he was that justice prevailed in the end. He also wanted me to know that he had unfairly misjudged Muslims and Turks such as myself.”

“All that in a few words, huh?”  A tone of disappointment escaped Dr. Anderson’s lips as she shook her head and played along.

“Come now, Mustafa,” said Parkinson.  “I suppose he’s now carrying a photo of Atatürk in his wallet. Is that it?”

“No,” came the quip, “a photo of Bill Clinton.” Mustafa smiled and turned toward the window overlooking the dark green waters of the Hofvijver.

“I’ll tell you where he picked up Turkish: The Hague Hilton.  Where else?” Parkinson was referring to the detention unit a few miles away from the courthouse in Scheveningen, where the ICTY houses its detainees. “They get classes in foreign languages to while away their time, not to mention a gym, TV, computer, fresh bedding every night, conjugal visits and the list goes on. How wonderful! Is it a wonder that these guys come into the courtroom without the slightest worry?”

“Ah yes, The Hague Hilton,” sighed Dr. Anderson. “I’m sure the accommodations were better than his shoddy chain of hotels throughout the Balkans.” In the decade between the war and his capture, Drago had owned Star Comfort, a business conglomerate operating eleven luxury hotels and a vacation resort in Serbia, Croatia, Republika Srpska, and Montenegro. “We’re well aware of the party that Drago hosted last year on his floor: the fancy Serbian dishes, the hors d’oeuvre, the Turkish pastries, plenty of Pepsi…”

“Don’t forget the plum brandy,” reminded Mustafa.

“That’s right! He had the audacity to order plum brandy, though he knew alcohol is forbidden.”  Dr. Anderson stated the obvious.  “A Slivovitz undoubtedly.”

“Mr. Slovac is not one to waste an opportunity in thumbing his nose at the rule of international law,” added Mustafa.

“Disgusting! And you can be sure that’s where Drago picked up his Turkish to tell you…” Parkinson elongated you, probing for his answer from Mustafa again.

“ thank me for my diligence as an investigator.” Mustafa wore his wry face again. Selderhuis no longer pressed him on the matter. He could only assume the words were hateful and he need not press the matter.

For the moment, everyone at the table became transfixed by two swans fighting over a piece of bread on the terrace outside their window.  A waiter came to clean the table and shooed them away. Serbian and Muslim swans. Isaac and Ishmael. No, more like US and China. Laughter. Here comes the U.N. Watch out! More laughter.