”War and smack: I always hope for some kind of epiphany in each to lead me out but it never happens. You think you have hit the bottom many times then always find something else to lose, till after a while what once seemed like the bottom is an altitude that you are trying to scramble back to. Even in my deepest moments of fear, retreating or withdrawing it’s all the same, when I see those flashes of hope and swear never again, promise I’ll keep away the front or stay clean tonight, I know they are just illusions, flotsam in the river I pull myself up onto just so I can catch enough breath to last me for the next dive down.”
Anthony Loyd’s family idolized their war heroes. He grew up hearing about their exploits in particular one great grandfather who was a hero of several wars. A man that basically signed up for any war he could and whichever side took him first was the one he fought for. He was bemedalled and bejewelled with war wounds and veneration. We love our war heroes even if there is this underlying hum of death and destruction resonating in some of their souls. Ultimately...they aren’t supposed to like it. Anthony or Ant as he is called by his friends is estranged from his father. His sister is anorexic. He is beginning a long, loving relationship with drug use. He decides his life is going nowhere so in the tradition of his ancestors he goes and finds a war.
He finds two in fact.
He goes to Chechnya.
He goes to Bosnia.
He doesn’t have a job. He doesn’t have a real reason for being there. ”I was delighted with most of what the war had offered me: chicks, kicks, cash and chaos; teenage punk dreams turned real and wreathed in gunsmoke. It was an environment to which I had adapted better than most, and I could really get off on it. I could leer and posture as much as anyone else, roll my shoulders and swagger through stories of megadeath, murder and mayhem; and I could get angry about the poignant tragedy of it all. But what did it amount to? Everything I had seen and experienced confirmed my views about the pointlessness of existence, the basic brutality of human life and the godlessness of the universe.”
I could understand going to war because you believe in the cause of one side or the other. I still think it is nuts, but at least I can wrap my head around it. To go and just hang out, experience a war like a cinematic experience...well... that is verging on immoral. He has this vague idea that he may get a job as a journalist or a photographer while over there, but the goal is to experience war.
The Bosnian War was over the breakup of Yugoslavia and lasted from 1992-1995. Three armies were formed along ethnic/religious grounds: the Army of Republika Srpska(VRS) or Serbs/Protestants on the one side, and the Army of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ARBiH) which was largely composed of Bosniaks/Muslims, and the Croat/Catholic forces in the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) on the other side. Loyd came there thinking he had the most sympathy for the Muslim side, but as he finds in war when one side commits an atrocity and then the other side responds with something equally horrendous it is hard to know which side is more morally right. ”You could take sides in Bosnia easily enough if you wished, but it never allowed you complete peace of mind.”
In the short span of this war which I’m sure felt very long to the residents over 100,000 people (some reports as high as 250,000) are killed, 20,000 to 50,000 women are raped, and 2.2 million people are displaced. Villages were torn apart, no one was allowed to be neutral. Sometime your name determined the army you would be forced to fight for. ”Many people found themselves carrying a gun whether they liked it or not. If you were of combat age, meaning only that you possessed the strength to fight, kill and possibly survive, then you were conscripted into whichever army represented your denomination, Muslim, Serb or Croat.”
Loyd witnessed a moment when a weeping Croat brought his Muslim neighbors to the Swiss UN troops for safety. People who have lived together in harmony for generations suddenly found themselves on opposite sides of conflict they could barely understand. When someone died there was grieving on both sides of the battle line. Everyone is trapped, but not Anthony Loyd. He knows whenever the war gets “too heavy” or he needs a break he just hops a plane back to London. ”Marko was doing his best to kill somebody for my benefit. Twenty-four years old, trilingual, well educated, he was a sniper for the HOS, the extremist Croat militia which was still managing to maintain a loose affiliation with the government army in Sarajevo. We had met in the city’s one remaining nightclub, the BB, a sweltering basement venue that afforded an outlet for easy pick-ups among Sarajevo’s youth as the war stoked desire with one hand while unbuttoning restraint with the other. “
Anybody else feel a little queasy, like watching two teenagers playing video games only we are talking about human life. I had a hard time liking Loyd. It was too much like the war was there for his entertainment and early on I wondered if I was going to be able to finish this book. ”If you stuck around long enough, the dead and wounded piled up so quickly they squeezed one another off the narrow platforms of your memory.”
Drugs are cheap and readily available in a war zone. Anthony soon develops a heroin addiction. In fact he writes rather lovingly about it. ”I sucked in the smoke greedily, and the cold wash of anaesthesia hit me. It swept over me, a wave that started at the tip of my nose, rushing across my face to encircle my head, running down my neck through my chest, crashing into a warm golden explosion in my stomach, my groin, a blissed sensation beyond the peak of orgasm and relief of nausea, as every muscle in my body relaxed and my head lolled gently on to my shoulder, every sense unwinding, unburdened of the crushing weight of pain I never even knew I had: the rush, the wave, death, heaven, completion. For hours and hours.
The hit. Sensual ultimatum. You can argue over every other aspect of heroin, but you can never dispute the hit. Get it right and you may never look back. Except in regret. As I write now, just thinking about it makes my skin crawl, and the saliva pumps into my mouth like one of Pavlov’s Dogs.”
Reading about him running around desperately looking for his next war rush; his next heroin high; his next Red Cross Nurse orgasm I realized that there is addiction and then there is Anthony Loyd addiction. With this realization I started to understand the book and more importantly to understand the writer. I don’t agree with his methods nor do I like him very much, but in the end I can’t condemn him. He didn't pull any punches. He looked at his image in the mirror and told us what he sees.