By the time I stepped outside, the leaves were on fire. I was on the receiving end of a cruel ambush by the enemy insurgents. My squad and I had been sent into Armenia in early June to settle the conflict with Azerbaijan. We hadn’t seen much action until October. The leaves had transformed into brilliant, vibrant colors, but now they were burning like a box of matches. I was reading a book about a boy journeying to find a powerful red apple to a class full of children at the local school near our base when the explosions went off. I had the teacher and the children take cover underneath their desks and sprinted outside to find many of the leaves in the schoolyard already consumed by red fire. My squad had already formed a defensive perimeter around the school, and my commanding officer ordered me to lead a counter ambush against the hostile enemies. I remember him yelling, “Butler, we can not allow them to infiltrate the school!” Taking the lead, we performed a successful counter ambush against the insurgents and returned to rendezvous with the rest of the squad still at the school. The noxious smell of smoke hung in the air all around us. I went back into the school to confirm that everyone had been evacuated, and when I came out the scorched leaves caught my eye again. It was as if something deep within my spirit wanted me to pay close attention to these leaves. I realized that leaves are the manifestation of hope. A seed is planted within the soil. Once it has matured successfully, it will grow leaves as a sign of its perseverance and strength. Though the leaves appear small at first, they will eventually grow, multiply, transform, die, but will come back stronger soon thereafter. Leaves overcome death, providing the observant student with hope. The fire that consumed the leaves taught me something as well. The color red is perhaps the strangest color in the universe. Red symbolizes love, passion, determination, and kindness. However, this peculiar color also symbolizes hatred, destruction, death, and pride. It is appropriate that our blood appears to be red. I wondered how people could bring themselves to attack a school over a silly conflict. For there is no conflict nor impetus that can justify the potential killing of innocent children. The answer almost escaped from my grasp that day, but the red fire revealed it to me. Many things within our world contain seemingly contradictory qualities about them.
When I was a child, I thought that everything is black and white. I thought that the good guys are green, and the bad guys are red. It really wasn’t until this ambush that I have come to realize that people are much more complex than this. For example, the people who attacked us had reasons which they justified that made them feel as though it is their duty to kill us. They were doing what they thought was right. However, we were doing what we thought was right simultaneously. Most people would condemn the actions of the insurgents and justify our defense of the school. But it’s more complicated than this.
The most likely reason for this particular Armenian school being attacked by Azerbaijani nationalists is that we, foreign soldiers, happened to be visiting it to win over the support of the Armenian locals. If we had not been there, it most likely would not have been attacked. So the children in the school became guilty by association because of our presence. I am in no way attempting to defend the actions of the insurgents; all I’m saying is that they, from their perspective, were doing the right thing. They attacked foreign invaders in order to secure land that they believe belongs to them. Love for their land caused them to do something which many people will find reprehensible. We fought back because we love our country, and we had a duty to protect the Armenians. How is it that love can cause death— the complete opposite of what it embodies?
This is the wrong question. Love, like any other thought or emotion, only pushes a person in a particular direction. Ultimately, the good attributes associated with the color red can be taken much too far. The insurgents loved their land (and subsequently their pride) so much that they were willing to kill innocent children to take what they thought belonged to them. Actually, what the insurgents possessed is lust, not love. This lustful and proud attitude blinded them from seeing what is actually just. Although they had seemingly evil motives (which were justified in their sight), we were not exactly innocent either.
We knew beforehand that on this particular day the insurgents were amassing not very far from the school. Instead of monitoring them, we decided this would be the appropriate time and place for some public relations exercises with the locals. This was a bad idea in hindsight. Though we were all surprised when we were attacked, we shouldn’t have been at all. We allowed our pride and ego to get in the way of doing the right thing. We always have to be the good guys in every single situation. God forbid that we do the sensible thing and put our reputation in jeopardy. So we were just playing a silly game by trying to get the Armenians to like us. By doing so, we ourselves became the catalyst which caused the enemies to attack that school. So even though we may not have directly attacked a sanctified place such as this school, we are still guilty of bringing this curse on those children. The bright red fire consuming those leaves brought me into the real world.
The real world is complicated and can be cruel. Sometimes people do things that make me wonder if there is any hope for us at all. Here’s the good news: whatever you look for, you will certainly find. Focus on the evil aspects of the color red, and you will find people everywhere who exhibit evil. However, focusing on the good aspects of red will reveal the light in everyone. Moreover, I can’t control what anyone else does nor do I want to, but I can control what I do. Even though I have done bad things, each day is a great opportunity to do good things. Also, remember that even when fire consumes leaves, they will always return in due time.