The everyman effect
Bloch used to live a quiet and peaceful life, and could not imagine that he would soon be a part of the war, which he only saw on the news and in the movies before.
Don’t let them manipulate you! Don’t let them start wars! Don’t let them destroy our planet!
Another shell blew up to the right, and Bloch flinched and lowered his head even further. He's been at the front for two whole weeks, but he still couldn't get used to the rumbling of shells exploding all around him. Submachine gun sounded from all sides, but Bloch didn't fire because his platoon was waiting for orders from the commanding officer. Finally hissing sounded from the earpiece and Bloch heard his commander's voice.
Sergeant: Okay, guys, we've got a mission. We need to come around the enemy from the flank, from the factory side. The Bravo platoon will provide fire cover, we'll move towards the plant by bounds, through the gas station. Our mission is to take up a position in the car service building, knock the enemy out of there, and continue the offensive from the flank, squeezing them out of the city into the forest. Everyone, check your weapons, we’ll move towards the gas station on my command. Over and out.
Bloch detached the magazine case, checked the cartridges, yanked the shutter and made sure the safety was released. When he heard the "Forward" command in his earpiece, he darted off from his spot and ran along with the rest of the soldiers.
He had merely fifty meters to run to the car service building. The projectile blew up just meters away from him. The shock wave threw him off to the side and, already unconscious, he rolled down the road embankment into a small ravine.
When he started coming to his senses and tried to open his eyes, he saw a vague silhouette of a man hunched over him and apparently trying to tell him something.
Oscar: Are you alive? Can you hear? Can you hear me?
Bloch’s vision fully returned to him, and he was able to make out the man. It was a dirty-faced young man in a military uniform, clearly a soldier. Bloch's eyes fixed on the chevron on his sleeve. In the next moment Bloch began to fumble around trying to find his submachine gun. The soldier in front of him was his enemy. He straightened up and pointed the muzzle of his submachine gun at Bloch.
Oscar: No fooling around, buddy. I'm not gonna touch you, you hear me? I'm saying you've got nothing to fear, you see? Do you understand me?
Oscar: Alright then.
Oscar withdrew his weapon and hung it on his shoulder.
Bloch: Who are you?
Oscar: What do you think?
Bloch: Where are your... I mean, our…?
Oscar: The fight ended right here. I figure that you walked smack into a counter-attack on this flank. Your men were driven away from the factory and to the south.
Bloch wanted to get up, but gasped instead, feeling a sharp pain in his legs.
Oscar: Hey, bro, looks like you're hurt. See, both of your legs are bloodied. Did a frag nick you?
Bloch: I think so... I don't really remember what happened.
Oscar: I see... I've got a first aid kit here. Let's see what your feet look like.
Oscar put his machine gun on the ground, removed his rucksack from his back and got the first aid kit out. He cut through Bloch's dirty blood-soaked pants and began to examine his wounds.
Oscar: You got seriously hit, man. But you're lucky. The frags tore your muscles and tendons, but the bone seems to be intact. I'll dress the wounds now, it's gonna hurt a bit.
While Oscar was bandaging, Bloch noticed that Oscar himself was injured. The sleeve of his jacket was soaked in blood.
Bloch: Hey, look, seems like you're hurt too, your sleeve is all wet.
Oscar: It's fine. That's yesterday's wound. Nothing serious.
When Oscar finished up with Bloch's feet, he took off his jacket and started working on his own hand.
Bloch: Why are you doing this?
Oscar: Doing what?
Bloch: Why are you helping me? Won't you be punished for this? We're something like enemies, aren't we?
Oscar: “Something like,” that's the whole point...
Oscar got up, put on his jacket and put his first aid kit away.
Oscar: It's getting dark already. We need a place for the night. There's a good spot inside the factory. We can cook something there and spend the night safely. Can you try to stand up?
Bloch made another attempt to get up. Somehow, he managed to do it, overcoming pain and weakness. He then tried to make a move, but his feet refused to obey and he ended up on the ground again.
Oscar: Okay, that's clear.
Oscar put on his backpack, hung his submachine gun on his shoulder and approached Bloch, who once again desperately tried to get up on his feet.
Oscar: Alright, come on, grab my hand... like that... the second hand goes here... so, let's just go, easy.
It was already getting dark when Oscar somehow managed to drag the almost helpless Bloch up to the factory. Oscar sat him down with his back against the wall, and began to rummage through his own backpack. Soon a small sooty pot came out of it.
Oscar: I’ve got grits and crackers. At least we won't starve.
Bloch: Aren't you afraid the bonfire will attract the patrol?
Oscar: No. I spent last night here. It's all quiet. Now I'll make a bonfire and get us some water. We’ll make some porridge.
Bloch: Where's the water from?
Oscar: Over there is the factory’s administrative building. There are a few water coolers left. And we'll use the furniture from there for firewood. Too bad, sure, but what can we do. How do you feel?
Bloch: Fine. Listen, thank you...
Less than an hour later, the pot was already hanging over the bonfire with water boiling inside. Bloch and Oscar sat nearby and chewed on the field ration crackers.
Bloch: We never introduced ourselves. My name is Bloch. (He extended his hand to Oscar)
Oscar: I'm Oscar.
They shook each other's hands.
Bloch: You never told me why you hadn't killed me or taken me to your unit. Why did you help me?
Oscar: Do you think we're just beasts? Propaganda really works, doesn't it? If I acted strictly on orders, I wouldn't have had to kill you. I would have had to take you prisoner and bring you to the appropriate place where you'd have been fed and provided with medical assistance. But the problem is that I don't obey my commander's orders. I'm on my own.
Bloch: How is that? Are you some special secret agent?
Oscar: (smirking) You can say that. I'm a deserter.
Bloch nodded with understanding.
Bloch: You could have dumped me there in the ravine, but you didn't.
Oscar: Any sane person would do exactly the same. Although judging by what's happening, there are very few sane people left on the planet.
Bloch sighed. Oscar took out a bag of grits, poured it into the pot and started stirring it with a spoon.
Oscar: So, Bloch, what the hell are you doing here?
Bloch: (shrugs) No idea. Defending my country, probably...
Oscar: (chuckles) Do you seriously believe that? Well, if you do, you can be proud of yourself. Now you'll be handicapped (he nodded at Bloch's feet). You'll get a certificate of honor for your service to the country and a meager pension, so that you do not forget for what you'd fought.
Bloch: Yes, I understand all of that. I wasn’t planning on going to war. I've got a wife and two kids at home. I was living a calm and measured life, making a career for myself, watching football on the weekends, paying my bills and minding my own business. I couldn't imagine I'd find myself in this hell... in the very first week half of the guys in my platoon were dead. It was a miracle I survived.
Oscar: You didn't expect your government to introduce mandatory conscription in no time and to send all men between the ages of 18 and 40 to war, did you?
Bloch: No one expected that. One could imagine that in your country, but not ours. You’ve always had mandatory conscription, right?
Oscar: Yes. But to be honest, I'm even glad it happened that way.
Bloch: In what sense?
Oscar: In the sense that at last the everyman will reflect on what's going on around him. But he lives in his little world, with no desire to stick his chin out, and certain people take advantage of it to achieve their goals. And now they've been pulled from their warm little burrows and their noses have been rubbed in reality.
Bloch: And what kind of reality is that?
Oscar: The reality, Bloch, is that everymen are now dying by the million for someone's self-serving interests. Neither you, me, nor our nations need this war. Right? It's those people up there fighting for power, influence and resources among themselves. They are the ones with problems that can now only be solved by war.
Bloch: We were told that you wanted to attack us. So, we decided to attack first.
Oscar: Yeah, we were told pretty much the same thing. And the everyman believed.
Oscar stuck a spoon in the pot and carefully mixed the contents.
Oscar: And it’s all because the people in our world only think about themselves. They have a very narrow range of interests, generally limited to their family and personal lives. They are particularly disinterested in global events. They don't give a damn where our civilization is heading and what major political bosses and corporate executives decide.
Bloch: It's exactly what my life is like. Never particularly interested in politics and all these global things. I always thought they'd manage without me. There are smart people up there...
Oscar: Yeah, these smart people have done so much good that the future generation will need several lifetimes to deal with all this crap. The problem is that people at the top are mostly concerned with their interests. So, it’s all set up in a way that even if someone reaches the top with good intentions to make the world a better place, they rarely do. The swamp of power and money sucks them in and makes them play by different rules, you know?
Oscar: People in our world are too busy with their personal affairs, careers, success and making money. They don't have any social responsibility. Every man for himself. That’s what they think: children are starving somewhere in Africa, that’s very sad, but what I can do, it's their fault for choosing a bad government. Or, lo and behold, the Amazon forests are on the verge of extinction – that's bad, but it really has no effect on my life. Right?
Bloch nodded in accord.
Oscar: Well, it seems to people that the events and processes happening somewhere in the distance will never affect them. As we like to say in our country — don't worry, it’s enough for our lifetime. Ten years ago, I wrote about the upcoming wars in Africa due of the lack of food and water. I warned people. But all they said to me was, “What are you worried about? It's not happening here. It's somewhere out there in Africa. These are their problems...”. And this is where it has led.
Bloch: Are you a writer?
Oscar: A journalist. Not an especially popular one, understandably.
Bloch: How did you end up here?
Oscar: How? Just like everyone else in our country. They announced nationwide mobilization. I wanted to go live in the woods, but got caught and sent to the front. And I don't want to shed any blood for these idiots who staged this war. Regular people don't need it. Only those up at the top do. Tell me, if you knew how things would turn out, would you have supported this war?
Bloch: No, of course not. Whatever it is, it's not worth the horrors I've seen here in these last two weeks.
Oscar: By the way, there were lots of people who opposed the war in your country. A lot more than we had. You've had rallies and demonstrations. Did you ever hear about that?
Bloch: Yeah, I heard something like that on TV. But I didn't attach any importance to it then. Which, apparently, I am paying for...
Oscar: I’ve tried everything, used all kinds of arguments to prove a simple truth to the people: if they don't care about what's going on around them, if they don't follow what happens “up there,” if they don't expand their sphere of interests, it will lead to trouble sooner or later. It will touch their personal lives at some point.
Oscar: Take ecology, for example. I often write articles on the subject. People just can't come to an understanding that the destruction of forests, pollution of the ocean, extermination of animals — all of this directly affects their personal lives. Their future well-being, not to mention the well-being of their children, depends on it. So, every person must devote some of their time and energy to these problems.
Bloch: To be honest, I too have always thought that all those zoo-eco-activists are nutjobs and freaks. But now it looks like I'll be changing my mind if I survive this war.
Oscar: You can take my word for it, even if we manage to end this war somehow, even bigger cataclysms lie ahead. It's payback for our stupidity and selfishness, for our limitations and ignorance. It's high time for humanity to grow up and take control of its destiny, instead of entrusting it to a bunch of corrupt politicians and their billionaire friends.
Bloch: You're right, but how do we do that? How do we bring the fate of civilization under control? Our political system is supposed to be based on the right principles — democratic elections and all that... But it turns out that it's not working.
Oscar: So, we need to change the system – and come up with another one, a better one... otherwise we'll just remain expendable cannon fodder for those at the top. God, what are we talking about! We should have conquered the outer space and flown to the stars a long time ago, but instead we are forced to tear at each other's throats for someone's contrived interests and fears.
Oscar stirred the porridge in the pot.
Oscar: The porridge is ready. Hold the spoon.
Oscar took the pot off the fire and put it on the ground, so that it would be comfortable for both of them to eat. The hungry soldiers tore into their food.
Bloch: I wonder why our government never asked us whether we wanted this war or not?
Oscar: A reasonable question. But the result would be the same.
Bloch: Why do you think that?
Oscar: Because the system is set up in a way that allows them to easily manipulate public opinion. They could have detonated some sort of nuclear bomb in their country and destroyed a small town or a part of the city, so that tens of thousands of people would have died. And then blame it on us. Then you'd probably be the first one at the volunteer conscription point. Right?
Bloch: Yeah, probably. So, we really need to change the system.
Oscar wanted to say something, but he suddenly saw a flashlight beam close by
Oscar: Put out the bonfire!
Oscar threw his spoon onto the ground and darted towards the water bottle, but it was too late. Two more beams appeared from behind the corner of the building. They quickly approached the bonfire.
Soldier: Stand up! Don't move!
Oscar heard a familiar language. He turned around and saw that their small camp was surrounded by three soldiers with submachine guns.
Oscar: OK, alright, no need to shoot.
Soldier: Who are you? What are you doing here?
Oscar: We are friendlies. There was a fight nearby this afternoon. We came under fire, got wounded, and fell behind. His legs are broken. Can't walk. We decided to spend the night here.
The soldier pointed his flashlight at Bloch, who was laying on the ground, stunned.
Soldier: Why is he wearing an enemy uniform?!
There was no response.
Soldier: I'm asking why he is wearing an enemy uniform?! Answer me! You bastard, you stinking deserter, they bombed a school today, several hundred children died, and you, you rotten scum, have run off and are helping our enemy! In the name of the court martial, according to the commander-in-chief's decree No. 43 “On Desertion and Aiding the Enemy,” I, as a senior officer, sentence you to death! Sentence to be carried out immediately!
Oscar: Look guys, that's not how it happened...
The soldier shouldered his gun and fired a burst. Oscar tumbled dead to the ground. Bloch screamed something unintelligible and rolled over, trying to grab the submachine gun that lay nearby. One of the soldiers managed to react to his unexpected maneuver and knocked the gun from Bloch’s hands with his foot. Bloch lay on his back, breathing heavily. The last thing he saw before the shot was fired was the muzzle of the gun and the soldier's hate-distorted face illuminated by fire.
That's when Bloch woke up. He was in his own bedroom. His wife lay by his side. It was early morning.
Bloch: Whew! God, what a dream.
Bloch sat up on his bed trying to come to his senses after the nightmare. His wife, who also woke up, started stirring behind him.
Laura: What is it, seven already?
Bloch looked at the alarm clock.
Bloch: No, it’s quarter to.
Laura: Why are you up so early?
Bloch: Oh, no big deal, just a stupid dream.
Fifteen minutes later, Bloch was sitting in the living room watching the morning news on TV, while Laura was making breakfast.
Announcer: ...for the third day in a row, activists have been rallying outside the Brazilian Embassy. Protesters are demanding to end the destruction of Amazon forests, which has accelerated again on the back of the Brazilian president's announcement: the country wants to double beef production in the next five years. But Brazil no longer has the required pasture space, so a decision was made to resort to logging again. The President of Brazil also said that this decision was a hard one, but he had to do it to ensure the needed economy growth rate...
Bloch: What a bastard! What goddamn economy growth?! Shit, he's just afraid of losing his seat as president! He thinks more about the numbers for his campaign than the real issues.
Laura looked at her husband in surprise, and Bloch noticed it.
Laura: Strange, you've never been interested in things like this.
Bloch: The strange thing is that I wasn't interested in them. There's something obviously wrong with our world.
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