Author Archives

Nick McDonell

The Targeting and Killing of a Helmandi Combatant

Main Sail / iStock + Getty

Nick McDonell | An excerpt adapted from The Bodies in Person: An Account of Civilian Casualties in American Wars | Blue Rider Press | September 2018 | 25 minutes (6,786 words)

In the tactical operations center the general and I are watching out for innocent people like you, very closely, on-screen. We’re in southern Afghanistan still, a short helicopter ride from OP Shamalan, but most proper nouns inside the room are classified, and in exchange for entry I have agreed to leave my phones and recorders outside, so what I will describe comes from my notes and memory, can be verified only by those who were present. It is not necessarily their mission to tell the truth, but eventually I interview and record all of them separately outside that room, too, and without exception they believe themselves to be doing the right thing.

The operations captain, John, keeps dice on his desk and shakes them in his fist while he coordinates airstrikes. There is, on my arrival, much talk of how we don’t joke, we don’t cheer when we hit ’em, but soon everyone loosens up — like I’m cool with Hiroshima and You can’t say that shit in front of the reporter! And the word for a man who has escaped an airstrike and is running for his life on-screen is squirter. How could they not banter? Some of them are still kids, in that steel and plywood room. Not the chaplain, Sidney, though. Read more…