Excuse my handwriting, for I am in an uncomfortable position as I write this. Please take the time to decipher what I have penned down because it is of the utmost importance. You see, Ella, I am cowering in a foxhole. Every few seconds, a shell will land and spray me with dirt and shrapnel. I cannot hear anything but the earth-shaking thunder of explosions, and I cannot see anything because my head is pressed close to the dirt, for fear that a stray chunk of rock or mud will take out my eye. I am waiting to die, you see, just like everyone else in this God-forsaken country. Waiting for that mortar round with my name on it to whistle down from the sky, fall into my little trench and blow me to kingdom come. There is nothing to do, but wait. Wait for that shell.
I wish I could tell you I am brave. I wish I could tell you I am fighting for my country. But I am not. I am not a savior, or a liberator, or a symbol of freedom. To the people of this country, I am the representative of the fat, bloated arrogant creature that has turned their land into a field of death, razed the forests with napalm and littered bodies all over the countryside and the padi fields. I have destroyed this country. I am an instrument of violence and cruelty. Whereas you, Ella, you are the poster girl for peace, the one who took part in anti-war marches, and cried your eyes out when you heard I had been drafted. It was your staunchest belief that this war was wrong, and when you learnt that I was going, I suppose I too, became 'wrong' in your eyes. That's why you did it, I think. Consider this, though, dearest Ella.
You will never know what it is like to cower in a foxhole like mine, so scared that you piss your pants, so scared that pissing your pants is a common occurrence, perfectly understandable, as normal as flinching from a baseball thrown hard at you. You will also never know what it is like to see a sweet, cheerful Tennessee boy whom you were sharing food with the previous night explode in a shower of red gristle and gore. You will never know how much blood the human body contains, and how it simply pours out of an open wound. You will never know how to watch the trees; albeit fearfully, jumping at shadows, an inch away from panic, nor know how to set up an ambush, waiting quietly with the full intent of killing someone, nor know the terrible toll it takes on the human mind.
Nor will you know what it feels like to pull a trigger, to feel the rifle kick against your shoulder as panic fills your veins, as a single overwhelming instinct claws at your brain: Survive. Shoot him before he shoots you. You will never know the angry, sing-song cries of a man who hates you with all his heart, just like you will never know his wailing as he realises that he is bleeding out on the red dirt road from a bullet wound that you yourself put in him. Neither will you know what it is like to crawl through one of the VC tunnels, rats scrambling past your face, dirt walls pressing in on either side, claustrophobia strangling you until you scream and you scream and you scream because you can't breathe and you can't see and there are enemy in the tunnels all around you, ready to stick razor thin knives into your side or poke gun barrels through little peepholes and pump you full of rounds. You will never uncover mass graves, nor disturb a black cloud of flies from a body, nor pick up the pieces of a ten year old girl who detonated a grenade in the middle of a group of your friends.
I know all these things.
I went because I was called. I went because I had to. I fought because people told me to. I have done and seen things that will haunt me till I am old, but I have never, ever, ever wanted to comply. I am a changed, empty man compared to the one I was before, but I have kept my morals and kept my values; I have raped no women, killed no children and shot no unarmed men. I do not want to be here. I do not enjoy what I am doing. I do not know why you cannot understand that. I do not know why you have decided to leave me at this time. I do not know who you left me for, and frankly I do not care. I have decided not to wait for the shell any longer, for my rifle will do the job just as well. When you read my letter back in the World, I suppose you will not feel sad. But it is my sincerest hope that you die very early, Ella, because I cannot wait to see you again in Hell.