Picture it and Write: The Empty Looks

by joetwo

Hi there! This is my offering for this weeks Picture it and Write from Ermilia’s blog here. Once again the picture is not mine, this one was found on Tumblur, I am only using it for inspiration. Anyway; Enjoy.

During my Army days I spent a lot of my time on secondment to the UN as a military observer. Mostly it was desk work, writing report after report, but there were times, once or twice when I felt we were really making a difference.

I remember the fall of San-Salvador to the rebels back in ’94. There had been reports of war-crimes on both sides and while the Security Council bickered over who loved their puppets more, we were sent in to, if not find out the facts, at least polish the lies. The fight between the hard-line government forces and fanatical rebels had been harsh. Long before the city limits, the ground had been burnt bare, mostly devoid of life save for the trickle of refugees walking along the road away from the city.¬† It was not the first time that I had seen refugees, they have a look to them, the look of someone who has lost everything, but in this case it was something worse, their faces looked empty, completely devoid of expression, it was unsettling. Something had happened to them, myself and the two other observers, an Australian and a South African, looked at each other and nodded, we had to interview some of them.

I asked the driver to call the others in our convoy to stop. There was a short protest about safety, though our vehicles were in UN white and we were theoretically neutral there was still danger, but I ordered them to stop anyway. However; I did have our bodyguards come out with rifles at the ready and I fingered my sidearm nervously as I stepped out.

I examined the refugees as they walked by. As I got a closer look, I noticed that there were differences in the look between them. Some of the refugees looked more normal, like refugees I had seen before. The others however look absolutely blank, they had no expression, and hardly any reaction. They just marched, they did not interact. The normal refugees, though weary, still looked with trepidation at the guns of our escorts. These others didn’t even give a second glance. I had seen desensitization before but this was unreal. I tried to stop one of them, asking my interpreter over so we can talk.

The first two just walked by, one going so far as to step past me as I got in their way. On the third I was about to grab her when another, normal looking, refugee, presumably her father. Started shouting at me. My interpreter had difficulty keeping up but when I explained what I was trying to do. The man brought over his daughter by gently leading her. “She used to be an artist, a free spirit.” He said through the interpreter “But when the police came they took all the people with a free thought in their heads and returned them like this, sullen, devoid of emotion.” With soft words he turned her around and she lifted her long black hair to reveal a deep scar in the back of her head. “They took out her soul.” He cried “They left only a shell.”

My initial reports were later verified by medical examiners from the WHO. The secret police had lobotomized thousands who had made their lists of possible insurgents. Not just political opponents but anyone who could possibly hold an opposing view. It was unparalleled brutality in violation of every norm the civilized world claimed to possess. When news came out of what had happened even the normally reticent UN Security Council voted to act. Within months the world’s military might was brought to bear against rapidly retreating government forces. Though the leaders all decided to end their reign with a bullet to the head, dozens in the chain of command where brought to justice in the Hague on the force of my testimony and those of my colleagues. But I can never forget that it all began with that poor girl with the empty look on that desolate road so many years ago.

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