'Missiles' by Jason Cobley
My family came here when our nation was youthful and full of hope. Everything seemed balanced. All kinds of foreign businesses were here, investing in infrastructure, building roads, houses; more businesses. Government was focused on efficient and productive education and healthcare systems: the best life we could achieve for all of us. We felt as if we were the chosen people. Like all good things in life, though, it came at a cost. This is our land, there can be doubt. We were displaced by history many centuries ago, and others had settled here, built their own cities full of their own ways that were not ours and, we believed, defiled the land that was bequeathed to us. When history turned full circle and it was time for us to be resettled in our homeland, they had to move. History shows that we have the right, and that their tenancy was only ever going to be temporary. You cannot blame those who lacked our education for not knowing and for reacting so badly to resettlement. Their leaders have to carry the blame for what followed. Years of bloodshed, people fighting for possession of land that they knew was not theirs to fight over but ours. Years of them defying our will and provoking us into war.
I joined the army when I was seventeen, happy to sign up to do my duty. Initially unsure, I was swayed by the images of them in their concrete shacks, firing rockets from home-made emplacements, surrounded by their laughing children, at our land. The stories of young soldiers lost to this war and their weeping mothers and girlfriends did not stop me. I signed up to train for what I do now.
I sit at a bank of screens, controller in hand, a calibrated joystick that precisely identifies targets. We have our satellites and drones that bring us pictures of where they hide, and the buildings in which they plan their attacks, store their weapons and make their bombs. Some of them masquerade as schools or hospitals, and each time we strike, they parade injured women and children in front of the cameras to make it seem as if we are deliberately killing their families. My orders are clear: I am not to zoom in any closer than to verify the shape of the building and its structural weaknesses, then press the button – more like a trigger on my joystick – that sends our missiles to the targets. We are almost always successful. But that doesn’t stop the international media relaying their images of murdered children. We are not murdering children. We are targeting munitions and terrorists to protect ourselves.
This time, I have decided to prove it, if only to myself. It is against orders, but I tell myself it will be understood once I can share the recording with my commanding officer. I calibrate the software to show the highest magnification and zoom in as I send the missile towards a street on their side of the divide. On the face of it, this seems to be a residential area, but our intelligence tells us that it hides an entrance to an underground bomb-making facility.
We have given warning. The siren sounds. People run. Not just women and children – the terrorists too. The missile comes closer. The whine as it descends through the air must be deafening. The impact is slightly off-target, taking away the side of a neighbouring building as well as the roof of the facility. I watch longer than I should. Instead of reporting success straight away, I wait. I wait for the dust to clear. Through my grainy video image on the bank of screens before me, I see rubble. I see twisted metal that may be girders, or rocket launchers. It is hard to tell. Torn fabric shows me that one of them was simply a curtain pole. Lying under the metal and amongst the rubble are bodies. I count at least twelve, none of them moving, some in strange positions. They are all small, short people. Children.
I scan the recording, the live image, all the data, carefully. There may be weapons there, but I have missed them. I have killed children. This building was a legitimate target. We have the right. But this is out of balance. I had thought the propaganda that we were killing children was a lie. I was wrong. Thousands of their civilians dead, ours only in single figures. Dozens of our soldiers killed in the line of fire, as many of their terrorists as we can find. But their terrorists look the same as their civilians on my screens. I cannot tell. Things are out of balance.
I send the data back up the line to my superiors. They seem content with my work. Nothing is questioned. The live feed is still showing on one of the screens. I cannot hear, but there is screaming, weeping, anger. But also there are people wandering amongst the rubble retrieving belongings. No one seems to be searching for weapons. One man picks up a teddy bear, holds it to his chest. A child sits on a lump of concrete, alone, crying. A man seemingly around my age looks up. He cannot possibly see the camera from where he is, but he seems to be looking into the lens from this massive distance. I wonder what he is thinking. No, I know what he is thinking.
When the order comes to send another missile to the same target, to make sure we achieve our objective, I hesitate. There is no longer any doubt that civilians would be hurt, and if we are slightly off-target again, will we try a third time? And a fourth, before they can respond?
The order comes again. I calibrate the system. I make sure the missile launcher is armed. I set the coordinates. They are not the same coordinates I was given. This time, the outcome might be more balanced.