“Have no fear of robbers or murderers. They are external dangers, petty dangers. We should fear ourselves. The great dangers are within us. What threatens our souls? It is forbidden to kill. Therefore, all murderers are punished. Unless they kill in large numbers, and to the sound of trumpets.” – The manifestation of Thomas Neill Cream, from River, British television series, based on a quote from Voltaire
The muffled drum’s sad roll has beat
The soldier’s last tattoo;
No more on Life’s parade shall meet
The brave and fallen few.
On Fame’s eternal camping-ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And Glory guards, with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead. – Theodore O’Hara, American poet and soldier
There is a quote from “Nine Line” that defines the book so very well.
“No, sir. It says here that you are deceased. As of two months ago.”
The ponderous, ‘file it in triplicate, we will get back to you in a couple of years’ mentality of a war machine weighted down by politicians and paper, upper echelons more interested in raising their profiles, and climbing their ladders, than protecting those under their care. “What a fucked up way to run a war.”
Nine Line is a paean to the stupidity of war – and the great and noble sacrifices of those who fight. And a scathing, horrific acknowledgement of the horrors these young men and woman suffer in a medieval land of savagery beyond all moral comprehension. Unconscionable waste – of resources, of potential.
Of life itself.
Nick Patterson grew up the son of a wrench monkey at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. A good, hardworking man, he raised a good man in Nick. A man who wants to help. To do what he can to make the world a better place. He wants to be a doctor, but a working man’s son can’t afford a good school without a bit of help. So, the Navy it is. “The Navy had covered everything: tuition, books, fees, room, and even a little bit of beer money besides.” An ER residency at SUNY, then it’s off to the wars – literally.
Life in the sandbox, a festering malignancy on the ass of the world. A land once rich with life and history, now brutally destroyed, driven to the lowest possible depths of human depravity by madness and hatred and greed. Vicious heat, sand and wind. Bombs and bullets and blood. Oh, so very, very much blood. Rivers of blood, bits and pieces of humanity, once vibrant, now simply meat. The reality of the barbarism of life in a land where savages hold no humanity, are the worst they can possibly be. Where the Dark Ages never grew into the light. Where life has no worth other than as cannon fodder. Unless, of course, you are a woman or child. Then? You are a possession. No rights. No love. No hope. Where all the goodness and love and light has been stripped away, until only hatred remains. Thousands of years of violence and death, justified by warped interpretations of religious beliefs, racial tensions, and warlords bent on controlling the few resources available by creating mountains of dead and dying. Medieval people existing in a medieval world. A medieval world filled with bombs and guns, IEDs . . . and So. Much. Blood.
Have you noticed how we ignore it these days? We, with our smart phones and takeaway, golf games and video games, wrapped up in sheer self-interest. It’s all about us – about who gets kicked off the island, who has the newest electronics, what stupid stunt the celebrity of the moment just pulled. Petty, self-centered, and oh, so unrepentantly ‘entitled’.
“People like us don’t go off to war. That is for those people too poor to find a way out or too dumb to know any better. Uniforms are for the lower classes.”
While so many suffer – suffer and die, alone in the sand, those with the power to create change ignore the reality of lives snuffed out, lives destroyed.
Mr. Kitchen is that rarest of novelists – a man who writes from his heart about his own experiences and those of his closest companions, those who fought and died at his side. Marine. Pilot. A Navy scholarship to the Michigan School of Medicine. Then, Iraq with a Forward Resuscitative Surgical System team. This book made me laugh and cry. It made my heart pound and hurt and, at times, it lifted me up to see the utter goodness in the hearts and minds of young women and men in the worst of circumstances. It is an absolutely wonderful book, full of truth, pain, and the ultimate sacrifices made by those men and women, so young, so full of hope and life and plans, so violently snuffed out.
“There must be some kind of way out of here,
Said the joker to the thief,
“There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief.
Business men – they drink my wine
Plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line
Know what any of it is worth.” – Bob Dylan & The Band, All Along the Watchtower
Read this book. You really, truly should. There is hope, even in the pain. But we must never forget. Must never take for granted the sacrifices made, the lives lost, and the political machine which keeps it all running.
“These were guys who would never laugh or get drunk or screw again. Young, healthy, and with a lot more life left, they were cut down. For what? So one asshole can take land and power from another asshole?”