Jack spoke with the calm, even cadence of a man who knew that he had a thousand soldiers at his back. The officers, who were beginning to think that they just might be former officers, had no choice but to listen to Jack’s speech, tied as they were to the supply wagons facing Jack and the other deserters.
“It’s easy enough to get people to fight for their homes. That’s what your grandparents did to our grandparents.” Jack watched the men and women who had been his superior officers until a few minutes ago adjust to the new reality. They looked scared. Good, Jack thought to himself, let’s keep them that way.
“Perhaps it’s true that our grandparents were fighting for their home, the home that they knew and loved and remembered as they fought and bled and died in these god forsaken mountains. But our parents were born here, not in the fabled home of our grandparents.”
Jack looked the Colonel in his eyes as he spoke. The Colonel, only brave when others’ lives were at risk, looked down and shifted his weight from foot to foot.
“And then, having been raised in this war themselves, our parents bore us, a second generation conceived in a war for a home we’ve never seen.” Jack’s voice grew louder and faster as he spoke, spooking one of the younger horses hitched to a wagon. The soldier responsible for the wagon calmed the beast, but not before the officer lashed to the back was drug ten feet along the mountain pass.
“Our parents trained us to fight for you, telling us that the fight was ours, for a homeland we had never seen. And you, the children and grandchildren of the first officers, ordered us into battle after battle to die for a home we’ve never seen, for a promise never fulfilled.”
“If the promise fails, it will be because of cowards like you!” The Colonel shouted the words because he knew that he was supposed to say something, to be an example to his officers and to perhaps plant a seed of doubt in some of his former troops. From the laughter in the ranks he used to command, he had sown little doubt.
Jack walked slowly past the Colonel to the driver perched on the wagon. “Friend,” he said, “I think that we need to get these supplies on their way to our new home.” With a nod and the crack of a whip, the driver got her wagon under way at a trot, the old Colonel flopping along behind.
Jack returned to look at the other officers, some of the younger ones now in tears. He looked at them in a long silence as the Colonel’s screams echoed off of the mountainside. Then he spoke to them again, with the voice of a man certain.
“We will be making a new home in a peaceful valley. The journey is not a short one, but it will be worth it for those who survive it.” He paused for another long moment, meeting the eyes of each officer brave enough to look at him.
“The question for each of you, ladies and gentlemen, is how you intend to travel to our new home and what kind of condition you expect to be in once you get there. You have no choice in whether you go, merely how you go. Now is the time for choosing whether you’re going to die for a home you’ve never seen or live for a home you yet may have.”
Jack turned around to face the soldiers in formation around him. “We march in fifteen minutes,” he told them. Then he faced the former officers one final time.
“Choose quickly,” he told them.