At a recent speaking event in Michigan I met a man with tears tattooed at the corner of his eyes. I knew what they meant. Each tear stood for a life that he had violently taken. He introduced himself as Manuel. He was 38 years old, in his eleventh month away from prison. I listened to his story. He was conceived through the rape of his 15 year old mother. His father, the perpetrator, was never caught, his name unknown. Manuel grew up rejected by his aunts and uncles, referred to as “the bastard” by his grandparents and neighbors. His step-father resented him, refused to call him son, and frequently beat him. Wounded by the cruelty and rejection of those around him, at age twelve he joined a gang, sold drugs, committed robberies, and at sixteen became a killer. “My heart was a heart of stone,” he confessed to me. “I couldn’t feel any more.”
In West Virginia, in an underground office owned by the Pentagon, Daniel Sumpter served as a Strategic Target Analyst in the second war in Iraq. Each day he and a small group of other STA’s would plan specific bombing raids within Iraq. After identifiying suspected enemies, Daniel and his colleagues would review various streams of military intellegince, assess the building or landscape where the targeted person was located and then decide on a particular method of attack. Depending on the target, they would choose a variety of weaponry that could be either dropped from planes, launched from ships hundreds of miles away, or carried by radio or computer controlled drones. No matter how carefully they planned, there were always a number of civilian deaths.
After the bombing missions were planned and ordered, Daniel and his colleagues would gather in their Pentagon office and watch the bombing take place in streaming black and white satellite images. Although these bombings often killed and maimed innocent civilians, Daniel and his friends watched the bombings with a sense of celebration. They’d drink beer, make bets on casualties and eat pizza while the buildings exploded and tumbled on the screen in front of them. One time Daniel and his colleagues watched as an unsuspecting man walked in front of a building that was about to be hit. Daniel recalls that he and his colleagues joked and pointed as they watched the unsuspecting civilian walk closer and closer to the targeted residence. When the bomb hit the man’s body flew like a rag doll hundreds of feet into the air. Daniel and his friends erupted in cheers then made bets as to how many times the body would spin in the air before striking the earth.
Three years later Daniel made a visit to Iraq. He was shocked, at first, to find that the country, the town, and the people he had studied and watched from his computer screen were all in vibrant color. He was used to seeing them in black and white. He visited the neighborhoods where he had planned and ordered bombings. He listened as people wept and talked about the families, the friends, the many people who had died or lost limbs as a result of Daniels work. Little by little, Daniel began to feel how removed he was (physically and emotionally) from the pain he had caused.
With a strange curiosity Daniel went to visit the residence where he had laughed and made bets as a man was blasted hundreds of feet into the air. He talked to people who described the innocent family that was killed that day (the targeted enemy had been somewhere else). Daniel learned that the man whose death he had found humorous was a father had daughters, just like Daniel. He then learned that these two girls were similar ages to his own daughters. Both had died along with their father. Daniel walked over to the bomb site, he looked into the crater, there at the bottom of torn earth he spotted a small stuffed bunny. It was an exact replica of a bunny he had bought for his own daughters just before he had traveled to Iraq. He tightened his face, turned his head, and walked away.