Notes I know Sachs’ accent is poor. I’ll fix it when I write this stuff up properly.
Sachs was my first deserter.
He’d walked into town the night before and handed himself in at the Mayor’s office. It took a lot of guts to do that. After the actions of the lost army its members were as likely to be killed on the spot as allowed to live.
Few in the town liked to admit to knowing anything but perfunctory English, so they had called on me to debrief Sachs. Officials would be sent to escort him into custody, possibly protective depending upon how cooperative he was, but they could take weeks to arrive. It would look good if the town could send back some intelligence on its own initiative.
There were two cliched farmers at the door, cradling shotguns, sucking on their Gaulloise and scowling at me as I approached. My rough French got me past them and into the quiet building, where there was no-one to meet me. There are offices on the ground floor. I tried a few handles and they were all locked so I went up a flight of stairs to the function room and Mayor’s office. The office door was open, the jolly official sitting at his desk. He smiled and waved me in.
Sachs was sitting in one of the leather chairs across the desk from the mayor, tucking into a breakfast of bread and cheese. I must have done a double take and looked around for more security, because the mayor shook his head and waved me in again. I took the other leather chair and studied Sachs.
He was unshaven, with perhaps a week’s growth of beard, and looked like he’d slept in his clothes for the last few nights. He noticed me and stopped eating. He extended a hand, “Pleased to meet you, sir.”
I shook the grimy hand. He had a firm grip, but didn’t try to test mine. Formality over, he went back to eating.
My French was good enough that I understood enough of the Mayor’s explanation. “Monsieur Sachs, I think, wants to get away from his army and tells us all about it. We thought it better if a native English speaker interrogated him.” I nodded understanding. “You understand you cannot blog this?”
“I understand. I shall save it for my memoirs.”
The Mayor chortled and passed a dictaphone and tapes across the desk. “Would you like some coffee?”
Against my better judgement I said yes. It was nasty and bitter, like too many I’d tasted recently. I pretended to be engrossed in cueing up the recorder so I don’t have to drink any more. “I’m ready to begin when you are.” Sachs says around his breakfast.
“When you sign up to serve you are pledging your life to your country. And you expect your country to not waste your life or risk it for anything trivial. Really, too often, you’re just following those orders without questioning them because you’ve decided that your leaders can’t possibly be wrong.” Sachs had finished the bread and cheese, and two mugs of the awful coffee, and now he had the energy to tell his tale.
“I’ve been unhappy with orders since before the President died. It got worse after the mad woman took over, when she started talking about how we were doing God’s work. That got the Jesus freaks all fired up They’ve been going on about it being a christian army for years. If mostly you’re fighting the ragheads…. er, I mean the muslims, it comes natural to react against them. But it was all other religions that were wrong, and all anyone who wasn’t their type of christian too.
“Now I was raised christian, but I was brought up to let people be. Other folks find God their own way, or don’t even need to. But the fundies in the army can’t live and let live.”
“Let me tell you what happened just before the break out. The orders had come down and we were all thinking about them. Most of the guys, me too, were confused. Some of us were going to follow the orders because they were orders. Some were too scared not too. The true believers were full up for it, and shouted down anyone else’s doubts. And then there were the others. The ones who said no and refused to follow the orders.”
Sachs took a look at his coffee, drank the dregs, grimaced and carried on. “There were them, and there were ten Muslims on the base. Well, some of them were Nation of Islam, I’m not sure how they count, but it didn’t make a difference. And there were thirty or so Jews. They… They disappeared, just before the break out. I heard they were crucified. That was the fundies trying to be ironic, I guess. It was supposed to be an example to the rest of us. Something to scare us into carrying on with the madness. It inspired some guys to cut out before the event, or start planning to escape as soon as possible. I was one of the ones who got out as soon as they could.”
“I dropped to the back of a patrol one day. We were in a forest and our commanders thought there were hostiles close by. I took the risk of that. I had some civvies with me and a few days rations. I dumped all the rest of my kit but my sidearm and ran. I avoided contact with anyone for as long as possible, using the forest tracks to head in the opposite direction to my unit Then I stole a car and drove west. It’s chaos out there. I wasn’t stopped at all on the road. When I got here I figured I was far enough away from the fighting to be safe. That’s why I gave myself up.”
“We’ll need to know everything about your unit. Where they were when you left them. Where they were headed. How many soldiers and what equipment. All of that stuff.” I pointed out.
“I’ll tell you as much as I can.”