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Collection II
Volume I, Unit 10
by Jack Nero

Undead Platoon

Undead Platoon  audio! (Volume I. Unit 10)
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Undead Platoon

And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
—JOHN DONNE, Sonnet 72, Death, be not proud

If your killer instincts are not clean and strong
you will hesitate at the moment of truth.
You will not kill. You will become dead Marines
and then you will be in a world of s*** because
Marines are not allowed to die without permission.

—GUNNERY SERGEANT HARTMAN, Full Metal Jacket

Through two double-doors of a box-like building the color of sand, the kind of which there are seemingly millions in any southern American city, on an all-black set a director called out, “Lights! … Cameras rolling! … Go!”

“With us in the studio today,” fired off a blonde with predatory eyes, “we have Brigadier General Douglas McCarthy, commanding general of the 1st Marine Division, currently stationed in Afghanistan. General McCarthy, thank you for agreeing to talk to us on such short notice.” McCarthy sank slowly into an armchair opposite the blonde. He was a middle-aged man in a uniform with many stripes on it, very tall and with a stooped posture. “As you know,” the blonde continued, “the country is shocked and stricken with grief over the tragic death of forty-one US Marines in an ambush that occurred on December twenty-second, just a few days ago, on the outskirts of Mazar-i-Sharif, in Balkh province, Afghanistan. Now, I understand this is in the north of the country, where the Taliban wields little or no influence. How did this come to be? Who is to blame for the death of these forty-one soldiers?”

“Marines, ma’am.” The general coughed, uncomfortable. “Forty-one Marines.”

“Okay. Who is to blame for the death of these forty-one US Armed Services personnel?”

“Well.” The general stared at his large open hands, ten fingertips touching each other. “This is a matter of some mystery to us. The only information we have to go on are recordings of conversations the platoon commander had with the base before communication was cut off.”

“But I understand that Lance Corporal Morton Lazarus Jr., the lone survivor, has offered the Army critical eyewitness testimony of what happened during the ambush.”

“Lance Corporal Lazarus Jr. was debriefed by his superiors in the Marine Corps, but the information he was able to provide has been of limited use to us for a number of reasons.”

“And what would those reasons be, general? After all, he is the sole survivor of a devastating attack that decimated a platoon of Marines. Is it unreasonable to say that he could help the military as well as the American people understand what actually happened, and why?”

“Journalists and the military sometimes view what’s reasonable differently. I think we have to step back a bit, try to understand the situation—”

“Okay—”

“For four years now, we have been in the middle of a hearts-and-minds campaign aimed at winning the trust and favor of the local population. We made significant strides, building over three hundred and fifty schools and close to one hundred hospitals in the province, a quarter of them in the Mazar-i-Sharif area. As a result, we saw real improvements in the Afghans’ cooperation with our forces on rooting out extremist elements, and what we believed was a certain acceptance of our presence there. Then, over the last six months, after more than three years of steady progress, the situation stagnated" 'Then, over the last six months, after more than three years of steady progress, the situation stagnated. Further changes were met with resistance.' ". Further changes were met with resistance. Then, things began to deteriorate rapidly, to a point at which the kind of openness and trust we had for the Afghanis became untenable" '... the kind of openness and trust we had for the Afghanis became untenable. We realized that if we were going to maintain a peace and avoid casualties, we had to step back and treat the local population with a bit more reserve.' ". We realized that if we were going to maintain a peace and avoid casualties, we had to step back and treat the local population with a bit more reserve.

“Now, the population in Balkh province is pretty homogeneous" 'Now, the population in Balkh province is pretty homogeneous; the majority are Tajiks, with just a bit of Uzbek and Pashtun and a smattering of other nationalities thrown in.' "; the majority are Tajiks, with just a bit of Uzbek and Pashtun and a smattering of other nationalities thrown in. That creates very effective communication channels between villages and towns, since everyone is part of a clan and related somehow, and news within family networks travels quickly. That is a potential security threat, however, since, if the population wants to carry out an insurgency" '... if the population wants to carry out an insurgency and 'throw off the American aggressor'—which we were fast becoming in their eyes—they can spread the news fast.' " and ‘throw off the American aggressor’—which we were fast becoming in their eyes—they can spread the news fast.”

“General, do you believe that the attack was the work of just such a family network?”


The general stared at his large open hands, ten fingertips touching each other.
Illustration by Sarah Wedge

“That’s difficult to say, ma’am. That’s an unknown to us at this point, just like the other aspects of this attack. What we do know is that the population in Mazar-i-Sharif, and specifically Balkhab village, where the attack occurred, never exhibited any malice" '... the population in Mazar-i-Sharif ... never exhibited any malice toward American forces. As a matter of fact, they lavished obsequious service and attention on the officers...' " toward American forces. As a matter of fact, they lavished obsequious" '... the population in Mazar-i-Sharif ... never exhibited any malice toward American forces. As a matter of fact, they lavished obsequious service and attention to the officers...' " service and attention on the officers who regularly visited the homes of the village elders. The Afghanis could even be said to be somewhat fawning" 'The Afghanis could even be said to be somewhat fawning, praising American advances in technology to high heaven,... and doing so without hesitation and constantly.' ", praising American advances in technology to high heaven, especially in automobiles and weapons, and doing so without hesitation and constantly.

“Mind you, this is a very staid" 'Mind you, this is a very staid and conservative society; very few things about how these people live have changed over the last thousand years.' " and conservative society; very few things about how these people live have changed over the last thousand years. Still, they certainly do appreciate the examples of technical progress we have brought over to their desert, and they were never shy about expressing it.”

“Then, General, if there was such friendship and mutual understanding, how could everything go so wrong so fast?”

“We are still analyzing that. As I mentioned, roughly six months ago, after the celebrations of Nowroz, the local New Year, there was a sudden burgeoning" '... after the celebrations of Nowroz, the local New Year, there was a sudden burgeoning of acrimony, a growing ill will toward Americans...' " of acrimony" '... after the celebrations of Nowroz, the local New Year, there was a sudden burgeoning of acrimony, a growing wave of ill will toward Americans...' ", a growing wave of ill will toward Americans from the local chieftains.”

“And what turned the tide of good will that the hearts-and-minds campaign was building up?”

“Our intelligence analysts believe that the local population was radicalized by Afghanis from other parts of the country who came to the city for the holiday. After we stepped up our drone attacks in the south, the mood there had turned pretty anti-American, and it’s possible that when these people traveled to Balkh and saw the good relationships the US military was developing with the elders, they decided to tell them of their experience with Americans… which is only fair, I suppose.

“Immediately after the New Year’s celebrations, the elders began accusing the officers they dealt with of violating all sorts of small, superficial" '... the elders began accusing the officers they dealt with of violating all sorts of small, superficial rules of conduct, saying that they were an occupying force and the least they could do was be respectful.' " rules of conduct, saying that they were an occupying force and the least they could do was be respectful. All of a sudden officers couldn’t address them in Persian, had to speak Tajik; but we didn’t have anyone who spoke Tajik! And they didn’t follow this new rule slavishly" 'And [the Afghanis] didn't follow this new rule slavishly themselves.... This rule, it was only for the Americans.' " themselves. Their servants continued to speak Persian to them. This rule, it was only for the Americans.”

“And what happened next?”

“Next, they accused us of blasphemy" 'Next, they accused us of blasphemy, because the officers did not say In the Name of Allah in their language every other sentence.' ", because the officers did not say In the Name of Allah in their language every other sentence. Then, they said US servicewomen could not wear pants in the village, because women in pants supposedly went against their mores" 'Then, they said US servicewomen could not wear pants in the village, because women in pants supposedly went against their mores.' ". Basically, they started behaving in a very ignoble" 'Next, they accused us of blasphemy.... Then, they said US servicewomen could not wear pants in the village.... Basically, they started behaving in a very ignoble way after everything we had done for them.' " way after everything we had done for them. In short, they stopped liking us, or putting up with us, and they were making their new position known.”

“Well, then, if you knew there was anger brewing, why is it mysterious to the Army that such an attack occurred?”

“With full respect, ma’am, I don’t know how the Army feels about it, but Regional Command-North was fully apprised of the changing mood as it changed. What’s a mystery to us is not why the attack happened—the reasons were there, at least in the minds of the Afghans. What’s a complete mystery is how the Marines died.”

“General, do I understand correctly that the bodies of the Marines have not been recovered?”

“Uh, no, ma’am, they have not. Although I sure would like to know the name of the individual who shared that information with you.”

“General, we have some footage that you might like to see. It’s from an informal interview with Lieutenant Odin, the commander of 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion. It was shot at Camp Valhalla, the battalion’s home base, a month before his death in the attack, and will be published next week on the Marine Corps Times web site.

“Roll tape, please.”

“And who would you say is the most gung-ho Marine in the platoon?”

“Definitely Lance Coconut Lazarus. Oh, sorry… Well, I’ll tell you—he’s as tough as a coconut, so there! Whenever there’s some impossible, obstinate" 'Whenever there's some impossible, obstinate task before him that just won't give in, well, he just won't give up! He's adamant about finishing the job...' " task before him that just won’t give in, well, he just won’t give up! He’s adamant" 'Whenever there's some impossible, obstinate task before him that just won't give in, well, he just won't give up! He's adamant about finishing the job...' " about finishing the job, getting things done right. A born recon man. Probably the best in the whole Bravo outfit, not just our platoon.”

“The guy is that good, huh?”

“He is, if you ask me. Mort’s a by-the-book kid, always in compliance" 'Mort's a by-the-book kid, always in compliance with the Code of Conduct...' " with the Code of Conduct, which can be a little exasperating sometimes, I guess. But by-the-book is one of his tenets" 'Mort's a by-the-book kid, always in compliance with the Code of Conduct, which can be a little exasperating.... But by-the-book is one of his tenets—there's no playing around.' "—there’s no playing around. He’s very serious. Matter-fact, the two things I’ve always noticed about him are seriousness and this tranquility" '... I've always noticed... this tranquility that he has about him. Deep and peaceful, like the ocean.' " that he has about him. Deep and peaceful, like the ocean. One of the best in the Corps, definitely.”

“That was deep!”

“All right, that’s it. Turn that thing off. I don’t need witnesses as I question an ‘enemy combatant’!”

“Aaahh! Help!”

“Okay, stop tape. We also have a recording of… Dr. Sharon Styx, the psychiatrist who assessed Lance Corporal Lazarus. Roll tape.”

“My frank impression is that Morton Lazarus is under duress" 'My frank impression is that Morton Lazarus is under duress from his superiors to agree to a version of events that isn't what he experienced.... [This] pressure from his commanders is not helping.' " from his superiors to agree to a version of events that isn’t what he experienced. There are also possible signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, for which another evaluation will be needed. In any case, the pressure from his commanders is not helping. Speaking about what happened seems to have alleviated" 'Speaking about what happened seems to have alleviated some of the stress, but what is worrisome is that he seems to want to return to the events after the attack time and again, which could be a sign of masochistic tendencies.' " some of the stress, but what is worrisome is that he seems to want to return to the events after the attack time and again, which could be a sign of masochistic" '... he seems to want to return to the events after the attack time and again, which could be a sign of masochistic tendencies. Either he enjoys putting himself through the pain and stress of that situation or...' " tendencies. Either he enjoys putting himself through the pain and stress of that situation or… I actually suspect that there may be more going on here.

You could say—and I know this will sound very strange—that Lance Corporal Lazarus considers himself undead, in a way. That ambush… everyone should have died there; that’s how it was planned. The fact that he’s alive… is miraculous and… strange.

This is tough to judge, and perhaps I am going out on a limb here, but he seems to be plagued by an overwhelming sense of… guilt, survivor guilt, and I’m not sure what could assuage" '... he has been plagued by an overwhelming sense of guilt, survivor guilt, and I'm not sure what could assuage it, so that he could go on with his life.' " it, so that he could go on with his life.

Actually, now that I think about it again, I—yes, of course!—it isn’t guilt, it’s envy! He’s envious that they died... or, as the case might be, did not die, but rather went off somewhere where he’d like to join them.

Sorry… I’m sorry. I know this sounds absolutely, certifiably crazy, but that’s the impression I got from talking to him. And what complemented" 'He's envious that they... went off somewhere where he'd like to join them.... I know this sounds... crazy, but that's the impression I got.... And what complemented that impression for me was his constant stressing that a Marine is not supposed to get left behind...' " that impression for me was his constant stressing that a Marine is not supposed to get left behind and needs to make every effort to rejoin his platoon if he becomes separated from it.”

There was commotion in the back of the studio. Finally, an assistant came up stealthily behind the general, holding something. Seeing the smirk on the blonde's lips as she looked past him, McCarthy snapped around and saw a large cue card with the words LAZARUS AWOL. The psychiatrist’s last words rang in the general’s head.