Glasnost : TRUTH HELPS, TRUTH HURTS : Fictions From War, Rejections at Home

The Dream

BY T. Ivnitskaya

Dedicated to the memory of Andrei N.

We were the new green reinforcements. We had been trained but we hadn't yet been un der fire. We were all scared to death and, probably because of that, we all tried to look confident, self-assured, cynical. Fedenko kept telling stupid jokes and everyone laughed even if it wasn't at all funny. I think I laughed louder than the others, and I kept telling jokes too.

Then they were brought there. Their hands were tied behind their backs and they all looked kind of pitiful. It didn't seem right that these kids were the enemy, it didn't seem reasonable. I think that all of them were about my age, except for two old men. Our platoon leader appeared from somewhere and explained about our enemy, and how he should be treated. He also spoke about counterrevolution, and about the security of the home front. It was a whole political lecture.

And they just stood there, their arms tied, pitiful like a bunch of wounded sparrows. I noticed one of them especially, and he too seemed to look at me and smile apologetically. Then again, maybe I just imagined it.

But I felt like there was a connection between him and me. Would you believe, I even wanted to talk to him? I just couldn't get it through my head that this was "the enemy that must be destroyed." And then it began. It was sort of a target practice--like a test. They would put them, one at a time, against the wall of this stupid roofless building, facing the wall. The sergeant, still biting his nails, would call out a name. Then the one that was called would come forward and shoot at the one against the wall. I don't know what my face looked like, but when my turn came I felt unsteady, like something got disconnected inside me. I knew that now, right now, I would have to kill a defenseless guy who stood there with his arms tied behind his back, and in fact, the very same guy that kept looking at me with that strange smile. Kill . I didn't know why and for what. I think he didn't know it either. He never understood it, even later when the end came.

I lifted my AK-47 but I looked with my gray eyes into his black ones. He didn't understand. He, just like me, couldn't understand that in a minute, this blond guy in blue beret was going to kill him. He must have thought that there was a mistake, a misunderstanding, a screw-up--whatever--and that it was all about to be straightened out and we would introduce ourselves, and maybe he'll invite me home for a visit, and all will be well . . . . He seemed to believe this for he took a step towards me--he wanted to say something. I lowered the gun barrel and sighed with relief.

Sgt. Liashko's voice brought me back: "Hey, are you falling asleep there?"

I raised the gun barrel again. I was beyond understanding anything at all.

"Comrade Sgt. Liashko! I request permission to untie him," I said in a stranger's voice, my tongue swollen and dry, not sounding like a soldier at all.

"Have you lost your mind? Follow orders! Use the bayonet! Let's go, now!"

"Please, no, Sergeant," I wanted to scream, to yell, to crawl on my knees and kiss the dusty American-paratroop-style boots that Liashko wore. But instead my voice quietly said, "Understood, sergeant. Use the bayonet. Yes, sir."

He never did turn his back to me. "I am a student," he said in English and I understood him. "I am 21, you see? I am a journalist. I am a student, I've got a mother."

We were supposed to know how to kill. We were taught many possible and impossible ways. It took me six thrusts to kill him. The bayonet kept hitting his ribs, his chest, his bones. The bayonet couldn't find the narrow opening between the fourth and fifth rib, not until the sixth time.

He lay there, his eyes opened in surprise, his mouth open just a little bit with a thin black ribbon of blood slowly creeping across his cheek.

I had just killed a human being, maybe a good human being. I think that I killed two people--him and me.

In six days, if I am not killed, I will be 22 years old.

From: A. Bogoslovsky, literary consultant, Manuscript Dept., Yunost Magazine, Moscow

To: Tatyana Ivnitskaya

Dear Mrs. Ivnitskaya:

Your stories were read by us with care and interest. It is quite true that the time has come for the publication of truth about Afghanistan. There are no limits to truth, still truth has another side we need not display--naked, antisocial realism. Every war may be regarded as senseless killing and it is conceivable that a terrorist may be seen as a young student, loved by his mother. But we must remember the loads of metal coffins that keep on rolling home, and if we do, then to say that "he will forfeit his life, not knowing why, for whom, and in whose name . . ." is to be sacrilegious. We know for what and in whose name we must fight! Just imagine: What if we had published similar stories during World War II, stories that asked that Germans not be killed because they had mothers! In this respect your stories about Afghanistan are void of political and moral content. Naked realism is always the consequence of an author's inability to handle the material by other, more artistic and creative means. We cannot, therefore, publish your stories in our magazine.


A. Bogoslovsky

An open letter to the literary consultant of Yunost, A. Bogoslovsky: Dear Comrade Literary Consultant:

We carefully read your rejection of the stories by Ivnitskaya about our men in Afghanistan. It is possible that we misunderstood, but you seem to say that there are two separate truths, or rather that truth has two sides--the social and the antisocial. You were apparently taught this concept while attending journalism classes. Our friend, Andrei Nasedkin, with whom we jointly "fulfilled our internationalist duty" in Afghanistan, was also a student of journalism. These stories are based on what he told the author. He volunteered for Afghanistan duty while a senior at the university in order, as he liked to say, "to see what I am made of." He saw what he was made of, as did all who were there and who really fought. They are easy to recognize: they are reluctant to talk about it, not because of bashfulness, but because they find it very difficult.

There are, of course, others, those who didn't see a single guerrilla during the two years they spent there. They are the ones who love to talk about "international duty" and "capitalist hirelings," and, of course, about their own "heroic" deeds. Theirs is the other truth you must have had in mind, the "truth" of braggarts who never had a chance to prove themselves, to see what they are made of, and who say what is expected of them, embarrassed to admit that they hadn't seen combat.

Unlike them, Andrei didn't want to write about all this; he was reluctant to even talk about it, even with friends. He was a true storyteller--every story was like a complete work of art, and everything was the truth. His wasn't a two-sided truth, but the only truth that can be, the truth that was seen by all of us who served and fought with him. All of us are ready to vouch that it really was like that, and maybe even more "realistic" (you seem to like this term).

War is not a picnic with beer and girl friends. War is when half a platoon doesn't return from its mission. War is the wounded and crippled teen-age soldiers screaming in unbearable pain. It is the "reptiles"--noncoms who stay under cover and shoot those who can't take it and are running away. It is the psychiatric wards filled with crazed alcoholics and drug addicts. It is the primordial terror when it seems that every shell is coming straight at you. It is also the loose bowels and the unbearable stench. . . .

Those who haven't been there must know the "naked" truth--no matter how disgusting. Maybe this would enable us to stop this meaningless slaughter, this shame that even the blood of our soldiers cannot wash away. Our soldiers have been forced to become criminals and murderers, for it is a crime to force another nation to submit to our will, even though the nation is a neighbor of ours. You and those like you are the only ones who know for what and in whose name we fought. We still don't know it and neither do the prematurely gray mothers and wives. They are losing their sons and husbands and they don't know why; would you accuse them of also being "void of political and moral content"? It is your comparison with World War II that is truly sacrilegious: Can't you see any difference between defending our Motherland and a dirty and despicable struggle for "spheres of influence"?

We are outraged by your illogical and senseless rejection of the stories by T. Ivnitskaya. She performed a great service by accurately and truthfully recording what she was told by Andrei, our recently fallen comrade-in-arms, and by submitting the stories to your magazine under her own name. We regard your rejection as an insult to his memory. You admit that the time has come for truth about Afghanistan and yet you are afraid of this truth.

As far as your objection to "naked realism" is concerned, it should also apply to (Erich Maria) Remarque, (Ernest) Hemingway and the authors of many other famous books on war. Let the use of "artistic and creative means" be on the conscience of those who write their "reports from the front" without leaving their Moscow offices. Leave us our "naked antisocial realism": the artificial limbs, the blindness and deafness caused by explosions, the recurring nightmares and the inner emptiness that cannot be filed by your pseudo-patriotic babbling.

Your refusal to bring the stories by T. Ivnitskaya to a wide audience changes nothing. They are being read and they will continue to be read by people who care about our Motherland and our people. You will not succeed in hiding the truth about Afghanistan!

-- Signed by soldiers from Andrei Nasedkin's unit.

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