My name is Shaun McDaniels. I used to be a proud lieutenant in the US military, back when we had one. Now I am just one more prisoner in a concentration camp looking into the night, waiting for my last sunrise.
I am about to be executed for my participation in the greatest social crime ever committed in the US. Greater than slavery, greater than the mostly accidental genocide of the Native Americans, an atrocity perpetrated with malice and considerable forethought.
Sitting in my cell for the past year, I might even consider the entire event to have been psychologically created with this as the end result. As a prisoner I have a lot of time on my hands, conspiracy theories abound.
In the end, it doesn’t change the fact. Every Black or brown face in America, no matter what their creed, ethnicity, culture or religion is now dead. Rumors talk about an underground but we were very thorough and our orders were very specific.
Kill them all.
I know I can’t use the excuse I was following orders. Some orders are simply not meant to be followed.
But I was afraid. Afraid of what was being asked. And knowing that to participate was wrong, but to not participate was to die, right then. I watched them kill my commanding officer, rabid troops eager to participate in this, a crazed Southern fantasy, the rabid dream the South would rise again. They killed anyone who wouldn’t lead them to the slaughter.
When they asked me, I agreed reluctantly. In my heart I was always a coward and knew it. Rank hath its privilege. One of them is never having to admit you’re afraid. I chose to do wrong. Out of fear. Fear for my life.
And in that moment, I understood how everyone who died felt, all their lives. Who now I see, chose to die. In those days that followed, they chose to die rather than live one more day in fear. They knew that one day, someone was going to show up at their door, armed with both, a gun and the law; a piece of paper justifying the end of their lives.
There would be no ceremony or ritual of justice, no pretence of fairness, no illusion of a jury or justice. Just a brutal murder by a person with a glint of ‘it needed to be done’ shining in their eyes. The only justice they had ever known.
And if you had told me, five years ago that this would have happened, I would have laughed, went back to drinking with my buddies, some of whom were Black and never give it another thought.
A different time to be sure.
The Purge started like every other one in my twelve years in the service. With one difference. A series of murders of Black men, across the country in different locations, at nearly the same time were being sensationalized by the news-hungry media. Predictably, not a single White defendant was convicted. Sixteen murders, sixteen acquittals.
That same afternoon, every Black soldier was relieved of duty and confined to quarters, under guard. I assured my friends, it would pass. Nothing to be worried about. They told me I knew nothing about the burden of being Black. At the time, I didn’t know anything about burdens. I had never known one.
Privileged, I joined the military because my father was a senator. A well-paid one whose lobbying connections ensured my family was rich beyond ninety-nine percent of Americans. Secretly I hated him and joined the military because it was the one thing he hated more than anything, except maybe Blacks.
So my friends were mostly Black, my wife too. As a southern senator of the great state of Virginia, I was the greatest shame he ever knew. As far as he was concerned I was a burden and one no god-fearing man should have to bear.
He knew nothing of burdens. Fat, wealthy, and in the pocket of corporations, he had no care in the world he did not bring on himself. He had never had to contend with the knowledge your life means nothing to the people who are all around you, who have the power to control every aspect of your life, like it or not, to wake up with the knowledge that tomorrow on your way to work or from it, obeying every law, in the end, someone may kill them, without warning, without explanation, without trial, without recourse.
I know how that feels now.
The Purge was preceded by riots. Everywhere across the South, cities burned. There was no looting, only killing. It seemed an underground composed of Black criminals had gathered together and decided there would never be peace between Blacks and Whites. They had no proof but I realize now, it was because Whites wanted it that way.
These young criminals, forbidden to work, poorly taught in school, educated in the penitentiary, made more violent by living on the street, Darwinistically-conditioned to one day realize they were becoming extinct.
On this particular summer day, when temperatures flared across the country, no relief from the outer heat, nor the inner one, Black people walked out of their jobs. Went home, made themselves a cup of coffee, tea, or strong drink and armed themselves with whatever was at hand.
And they killed every White person they came across, rearming, again and again. Unapologetically killing every man woman and child until the streets ran red with blood. Until there was a wave of devastation across the South as tempers flared and militia groups responded. Militias who had, in their way perpetuated the vilification of Blacks and were only too happy to respond to this orgy of violence with what they considered justified violence.
Too bad, so many of them didn’t understand that fifty percent of the military was at any time, composed of Black soldiers, trained to kill in a way no militia could ever train for. This event was not led by criminals, it was lead by disenfranchised soldiers. Crippled, homeless, veterans of wars for wealth, they never earned.
The militia stockpiles became the property of this invisible, forgotten army in a matter of hours. They passed out arms, military grade arms to anyone who could be taught to use them. Most already knew. God bless America.
The army stormed its way through the south, indiscriminately killing everyone who was not brown. And everyone who was quickly realized this was no longer a spectator sport. It was join or die. Brown faces joined and their rage, stoked by decades of hidden and invisible oppression, said not to exist by anyone who wasn’t brown, came forth.
And it could not be assuaged, it could not be reasoned with. The time for reason was past.
The police never had a chance, killed in their beds before most could even make it to their stations. Oppressing people means they know where you live. Now they had nothing left to lose. In twenty hours the South was ablaze and no one was safe.
The military responded. I was an objector. After watching most of my commanding officers die, I decided it didn’t matter. This event was going to happen and nothing I could do would stop it. We were told to stop this uprising with extreme prejudice.
I wondered as I got in with my tank crew if that wasn’t part of the problem…
And we did. With systematic efficiency. Tanks and planes made the difference. But it didn’t matter. They fought until the very last man, woman and child was dead. We swept through the South and within a few tens of days only tiny pockets of resistance remained.
I participated in the last documented event of the Purge. At a plantation in Alabama, a relatively tiny group fought and held the territory for three days. There were no planes or tanks available and trying to take it on foot had proven to be impossible. We were the closest tank crew and leading a group of infantrymen, we took the plantation with minimal losses.
It was only at the end did I understand the enormity of what we had done. A young child crawled from underneath what could have been her father and started walking toward the men who were having a cigarette and laughing about how much better the country was going to be now that the niggers were gone.
She approached them, slowly, covered in blood, dirty with her arms outstretched. She was within ten feet before anyone realized she was there. They turned and most leveled their rifles or pistols but there was a moment of hesitation. I knew that feeling, when you see a child someplace it simply shouldn’t be, you instinctive reaction is to reach out and comfort it.
They froze. She blew up killing them all. I saw her father’s smile of triumph as he dropped the detonator. She killed thirty men. A perfect ending to an atrocity. A man who willingly sacrificed his child, on his terms, to never have to suffer this indignity again. A year ago, if she had been raped, or stolen or grown up to become a statistic, none of these men would have cared.
They still don’t. I survived with only the horror of what we’d done to scar me.
What I didn’t know was we were not an isolated event. Concentration camps had been set up in every city that was not in the South and people of color were gathered at gunpoint and taken away. Any resistance was fatal.
These brown people, no matter their home of origin and anyone who defended them were taken and within the year, shot to death. Without exception. A few tried to escape to Mexico but the new border fence became a killing field, where thousands fell trying to escape back to the land of their birth. The bodies were piled and burned, and burned and burned. The nation was awash with the stink of death.
Casinos were burned down, ghettos blown up, entire sections of cities where people of color lived, reduced to dust. Books rewritten, music burned, newscasters tortured for reporting anything other than the mandated truth. A virulent plague was the cover story, attacking all melanin-bearing citizens.
But we all knew better. There was a plague. But it was one of madness not a sickness of the body, but of the spirit of our nation. A disease with a cure found at the end of a gun. The real reason we couldn’t get responsible gun laws. This agenda was always there. Radicals in the sixties and seventies mentioned it.
No one believed it would or could ever be done. Now it’s over.
One hundred million Americans died in a span of a year. No war since World War two had ever claimed as many lives. The world stood in horror. Films of the horrors were sent overseas before internet connections were shut down. Protests and riots were sparked in every country on Earth. National outrage was palpable. This was the example to the world? This was the end result of democracy? This was the shining example? A nation completely willing to sacrifice its own men, women and children because they were a different color?
Every nation began to ask itself, what about us? Were we next?
Their protest didn’t matter as the American government, its corporate masters and its spin doctors reminded them, this was an internal civil dispute and to mind their own damn business. Our six hundred military bases and largest military in the free world appeared to give us carte blanche to handle this problem any way we wanted.
The last I heard, no one was happy with the state of affairs and had decided to challenge the US directly. Or so we thought. But for all their bluster, nothing happened. And then the snake began to eat its own tail.
Sympathizers were found in every town. Small riots were breaking out across the country. I simply refused to go out and shoot anyone else, no matter what I was told. Collaborators or sympathizers were placed in the recently emptied camps. Three years after the Purge, anyone who was an objector was gathered up and was being executed. I watched as my Black military friends and wife preceded my execution by a week. They were shot in front of my eyes in the courtyard below.
I screamed myself hoarse and cried every day after that. Mostly I slept as I waited my turn.
A mosquito bit me as I sat in my cell and as I smacked it, there was so much blood. Who knew such a tiny body could hold so much? The blood made me truly realize, tomorrow I die with the blood of thousands on my hands. Could I have made a difference? Could I have chosen differently? Was there a point where all of this could have been stopped? Was there an injustice that I personally could have fixed?
No. I was part of the problem. Even if I didn’t perpetuate any of what happened, I never saw it as my problem. I think we never do. The best way to control people is to manipulate their self interest. Selfish people never look out the door and say we, they say I. They never vote collectively, they vote economically, as if money mattered more than people. For some of us, money did matter more than people.
I wiped my hands on my jumpsuit. The blood stain stood out against the orange of my prison jumpsuit even in the dim light of dawn. I looked out the window waiting for the sun. It wouldn’t be long now. What I wouldn’t give for one last cigarette.
Staring into the morning, I see a streak of light falling from the heavens near the horizon. Soon it is followed by many, many others.
A few minutes later a flash of light in the distance let me know I just got a stay of execution. Until I see one of those lights heading this way.
Being executed for treason has now become the least of my problems. I sit down and stare at the bloodstain in my lap and await the cleansing fire of my redemption.
An Uncivil War in America © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved
Thaddeus Howze is a writer, essayist, author and professional storyteller for mysterious beings who exist in non-Euclidean realms beyond our understanding. Since they insist on constant entertainment and can’t subscribe to cable, Thaddeus writes a variety of forms of speculative fiction to appease their hunger for new entertainment.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies:Awesome Allshorts: Last Days and Lost Ways (Australia, 2014), The Future is Short(2014), Visions of Leaving Earth (2014), Mothership: Tales of Afrofuturism and Beyond (2014), Genesis Science Fiction (2013), Scraps (UK, 2012), and Possibilities (2012).