From my old journals. A vivid dream of Wednesday, October 22, 1997.
I'm in the military once again, and it's toward the end of a terrible war, with huge numbers of people dead and wounded on both sides. Suddenly I’m captured by enemy soldiers and one of their officers is about to shoot me. But somehow I manage to take away his pistol, a .22 version of a German Luger. I aim, pull the trigger. The gun does not fire. I pull out the clip and see that it’s reversible, so I turn it around and re-insert it. Then I pull the trigger, and I feel the kick.
But the bullets are of such a small caliber that they hardly penetrate, and the officer does not fall. I keep shooting, this time directly into his face. But, like Rasputin one winter night in Petrograd in 1917, he remains standing. I continue to fire shot after shot, but the evil bastard just won’t go down.
Later I give this wounded, bleeding officer a stack of $20 bills that I have confiscated, and quietly apologize. I give him the money and the apology because I know he is about to die from the wounds that I have just inflicted upon him.
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Analysis: This blood-drenched dream comes from my viewing last night of the PBS Frontline documentary, "Behind the Mask," which is about Sinn Fein and the Provisional Irish Republican Army. Now, in the dream my being unable to kill my enemy, even though I repeatedly shoot him point blank, is an allegory of my lifelong struggle to break free of the toxic legacy of my father.
Giving the officer a stack of confiscated $20 bills—even though as a wartime victor I'm fully entitled to it—may be an illustration of my need to fulfill an important moral obligation. To finally put aside all forms of cruelty and dishonesty and selfishness, and instead live a truly honorable life.
Now as I watched that PBS documentary, and those Orange Protestant zealots in their arrogant banner-waving and drum beating marches through the Catholic section of Londonderry, I expected to feel a surge of patriotism, given my Irish ancestry. But no, I did not. Rather I felt great contempt for BOTH sides of that awful endless conflict, the whole sorry lot of them.
And those pathetic IRA recruits bawling at the grave of one of their murdered school mates. Their histrionic outbursts reminded me of my state of mind as a boy. I see now that at some deep level I actually got twisted pleasure out of being an innocent victim. You know what they say: “Undeserved suffering is always redemptive.” Well, aside from redemption (in my young mind much too abstract a notion), did not victimhood give me license to seek reparation and revenge?
I believed I had the absolute right to take back all that had been stolen from me, and I also had the right to punish my tormentor. And if my tormentor was beyond my reach, I was entitled to punish whoever happened to be available. Like my wife. My friends. My editors.
Was that legitimate? No, absolutely not. But at the time I just didn’t care.