soldiers’ century jon benito   Jean Etxegoien lives in "Hezur gabeko hilak" (1999), "Blackout" (2004) and "Elektrika" (2004), novels written by Xabier Montoia. If they had told me that I would live in this new century, that I would see the things that I see, read what I read in the newspapers: I would say that no, no, it isn’t possible. If they had told me that I would be in Donibane Lohitzune on a Sunday morning, at home breakfasting on the balcony overlooking the sea, I would say no. It isn’t possible. They would catch me in the crossfire somewhere, a stray bullet would pierce me. A lot of people would have gladly had me taken out of the picture. If they had told me that my skin would wrinkle up with old age, I would have said no, it just wasn’t possible. But it’s true. I’m here: on one of the last winter Sundays in Donibane Lohitzune.
If, when I was with David Mandel in the trenches in World War I, I had imagined that almost eighty years later on, my grandchildren would bring me out in my wheel chair through the streets of Biarritz, the breeze flushing my face as we proceeded along Sokoa Beach, I would strike the sand in pity. I still shout out “David, David” in my sleep. The First and Second World Wars and those that followed are here with me now. One who was surrounded by death alive still, even though I see crows circle around above my head, like angels.
I wouldn’t like to forget what I have seen.
I wouldn’t like to have been in Verdun for nothing, I would proudly state that I had known occupied Paris.
- I got out of there alive! I didn’t bow down them!
Like a chameleon, I knew how to adopt to the situations that sprung up around me. Tender when tenderness was necessary, inflexible when rigidity was required. I acted like a man, they taught me be treacherous. In my defence I’ll say that they left me no other choice. Say it proudly.
And such is the shame of the father whose son the destiny of France led to Algeria. It should be pride.
It was Indochina after Algeria. Who knows whose sons floundered there. Well, Jean Etxegoien: not me, not my son, mine yes. Many strangers will have moved in the heavens, walked the earth, with machine guns in their hands. For France. Enough just trying to get out of there alive! Some lunatics like Sergeant Cartier with bear eyes yellowed with hatred.
How many Great Wars, how many small ones. Every time I open the newspaper I see Basques. I barely pay them any attention: I have not been in those great butcheries for nothing. Two havedied. So what? We’d mercilessly wipe the enemy out in their dozens with every step we took. They tortured them? My son saw many taken by that.
So now they are waiting for peace? The fools.
I had three books delivered to me this morning: not one; not two. Don’t tell me I shouldn’t be proud of it, don’t tell me it’s not touching. One, two, three: about the son, about me, about us. Xabier Montoia’s artful trilogy on war.
Don’t tell me that the soldiers’ century we have had to live through hasn’t been frightening.
Now, children of this new century, look in my eyes and tell me what battle field you see there.