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I wrote this eleven years ago as my contribution to a Stations of the Cross, which the lent group I belonged to produced.
A Soldier Remembers
“Where is he now? Has he been at work elsewhere since that happened at Golgotha….what if he goes on and on, and suffers and dies, and conquers again and again, from world to world?” (Ibsen)
More than I care to admit I still think about it; such a long time ago in that hot country where I served; with comrades, men trained for war and not what passed for soldiering; just keeping the peace among those strange people, with their single god; fighting amongst each other and hating us more
The worst duty, crucifixion of yet another zealot, and my troop detailed to carry it out; after the interrogation, which had gone on for hours. And the priests shouting at our Governor for the death sentence, while I stood with the prisoner – Jeshua Ben Joseph; strange that, I can still remember his name.
For colonial soldiers, they were good lads in my troop; mostly Iberians, with some Britons and Africans thrown in; and all ready to carry out whatever job they were given without complaint. But even so, it didn’t sit easy with us – executing that man; there was something about him; we could see that he wasn’t the usual fanatic.
So, we pushed him along with the odd rifle butt in his back, to show the crowd we were in charge; and as usual, they were divided, with some for the prisoner, and some against, yelling that he was a blasphemer; their blasted religion again, making more trouble than it was worth, trouble to kill a man for.
At the execution he was already done in; he just kept looking around as though he shouldn’t be there; but the cameras were there too, and they caught it all, with me and the lads put to it to carry out the sentence, knowing we’d be the one’s blamed, when the video went to air.
Nobody dies well on a cross, that’s the whole point of it; so, we did the job, not liking it, but not making it worse than it had to be; keeping our self respect and pride in our regiment. And we got him stripped and we got him up, and we did it as soldiers, trained for the job.
And the tradition was that whatever he had was shared, and I saw that it was done that way, looking after my men. And the camera’s caught that too - a group of soldiers squatting, holding their rifles, helmets pushed back, sorting through his stuff, some of it quite good.
And you can still see it, if you want too; what the video caught, in the heat and the dust, showing the lads grouped around the cross; but you don’t see a lot of him then; just his bare legs and his feet on the rest, and every now and then a flex, as he took his weight. But I never watched the later stuff, not even the bit where I said what I felt.
It was a long time ago; and now I sit on my terrace in the Alps, with a glass of cold wine, remembering so much. That day the world changed, but we didn’t know it then; just another execution; but people watched the video and so it began; and what I later said, well, they still come up here to ask me again. But no, I won’t speak now: an innocent man died – as if that weren’t enough.
© D G Moody 2022
Poetry by D G Moody
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Written on 2022-04-15 at 18:45
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