Don Williams
Photo by Justin Williams

Don Williams is a prize-winning columnist, blogger, fiction writer, sometime TV commentator, and is the founder and editor emeritus of New Millennium Writings, an annual anthology of stories, essays and poems. His awards include a National Endowment for the Humanities Journalism Fellowship at the University of Michigan, a Golden Presscard Award from Sigma Delta Chi Society of Professional Journalists, a best Commentary Award from SDC, Best Feature Writing from the Associated Press Tennessee Managing Editors, the Malcolm Law Journalism Prize from the Associated Press, Best Non-Deadline Reporting from the United Press International, Best Novel Excerpt from the Knoxville Writers Guild, a Peacemaker Award from the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, five Writer of the Month Awards from the Scripps Howard Newspaper chain, and many others. In 2011 he was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame. His 2005 book of journalism, Heroes, Sheroes and Zeroes is under revision for a second printing, and he is at work on a novel and a book of journalism. His columns appear at and have been featured at many other well-known websites. To run his column, gratis, at your website, post this link to a dedicated spot: Need a speaker, panelist, tv commentator or teacher for your group or to lead a writing workshop, in your town? Email

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Darker Provinces of the Night
(Copyright by Don Williams, All rights reserved   08/25/2006)

Wake up to the reality facing a Sweetwater, TN, man and three other soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division--men now in Iraq awaiting word as to whether they'll face court martial for murder, according to the Associated Press. In their own defense, the soldiers have pointed to one or more commanding officers who allegedly ordered them "to kill all military-aged males" on an island near the town of Samarra, about 60 miles north of Baghdad.

If you're not angry, sad, ashamed or so jaded by now that all such emotions feel tired, used up, even absurd—maybe you've been living a dream. Could be you've dressed it up in yellow ribbons and patriotic bunting, but it's likely only a dream of war.

Raymond L. Girouard, Corey R. Clagett, William B. Hunsaker and Juston R. Graber are living the reality. Investigators have accused the soldiers of taking three Iraqi men from a house in Samarra, Iraq, on May 9 and killing them. The soldiers allegedly blindfolded the Iraqis, put their hands behind their backs, bound them with plastic straps, talked among themselves and with headquarters, via radio, then shot the men to death. They allegedly fabricated a story to cover the killings.

The AP reports that the soldiers said the Iraqis were trying to escape. And yet there's that curious Old Testament sounding directive allegedly uttered by at least one commanding officer: “Kill all military-aged men” on the island. The heartbreak of this story comes home in words like these from Girouard's sister, Joy Oakes:

"We were shocked because we know Ray, and even as a little boy he was such a compassionate person for other people and their feelings. It's very hard to think he is charged with murder."

Things like this happen in war. That's why beheadings, roadside bombings, kidnappings, rape, murder and cities reduced to rubble may shock and disorient us, but they really don't surprise anyone who's bothered to study war.

Some tried to awaken us to this reality before the invasion of Iraq four years ago, even as our communities held rallies and banged the drums and followed our fearless leaders into their “shock and awe” campaign against Iraq. Now we're facing reality the hard way.

As a nation, as a community, we've been led to a very dark place by a president and vice-president who most certainly will take us to darker places yet—places as dark as their limited imaginations, strapped capabilities and perverse appetites can afford. The same cynical process they employed to rally us to invade Iraq is now being applied to Iran. On Tuesday, a senior general told Congress that Iran is the major supplier and instigator of violence in Iraq. Hmmm. Not so long ago, the demon was Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Before that, it was Saddam Hussein. And before that, the ever-present, ever-elusive Osama bin Laden. Now it's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran. Maybe our own president should worry us as much as Iran's. The recent bloodletting between Israel and Lebanon, a war so poorly managed it now threatens to bring down the leadership of Israel, is only the most recent consequence of our leaders' sad and unimaginative “stay the course” policy. The sectarian massacres in Iraq, loss of American soldiers, expenditure of half a trillion dollars, reduced flow of oil, and a reduction of safeguards for our civil liberties are others.

President Bush has blamed the war between Israel and Lebanon on Iran, and Bush says Iran is concealing a nuclear weapons program.

Yet most experts say Iran is at least four years away from building a bomb. Meanwhile, we've signed a deal to supply India with nuclear fuel that could be used to make bombs in a volatile region. We're planning to build new generations of nuclear weapons as well. And we should listen when Seymour Hersh, writing in New Yorker magazine, reports that our top leaders have expressed desires to nuke Iran, possibly by year's end.

In almost every situation in which Bush-Cheney face a choice to wage peace or bang the drums for war, they've chosen that louder but blacker path. Hersh writes in the current issue of the New Yorker that an Israeli delegation went to Washington months ago seeking approval for invading Lebanon. That they visited Cheney first and got his OK. After that, getting Bush to sign on was easy. That's why, even as the world pleaded for a halt to the hostilities, we were treated to pictures of a smiling Condoleezza Rice exchanging compliments with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Rice repeatedly deflected calls for ceasefires in order to give Israel more time to try and finish the job of taking out Hezbollah. We provided weapons to Israel even as the conflict ensued.

Looking back at all the carnage our president has led the world to, I'm reminded of a quote from an old Cormac McCarthy novel. “Were there darker provinces of the night, he would have found them.” Trust me when I tell you, there are darker provinces of the night.