THE SAND PALACE
January 1991 Baghdad
[Two soldiers are walking briskly down the corridor of an underground bunker, one in his fifties a Colonel, and one in his twenties, a Lieutenant.]
C: Hurry up Lieutenant, the Americans won’t wait for you.
L: Yes Sir!
[They enter a small room and the Colonel closes the door behind them.]
C: We have to sort through the reports and take the estimates they need back to GHQ.
[In the distance a siren or alarm is heard.]
C: Well that’s that. We’re down here for the duration now. No need to rush anymore.
L: My family’s up there. My wife’s up there. My children…
C: You heard the warning, they’ll be safe in their local shelter.
L: Yes, but they even hit the shelters. You’re not even safe underground in this war! Why don’t our air defences shoot them down?
C: Hypersonic Anti-Radiation Missiles. Don’t they teach you anything at the college. They float around up there on a parachute. As soon as we switch on our radars they home in and destroy them, so we switch them off.
L: But our air force! Why did he give our air force away?
C: They were being destroyed on the ground. I’ve seen the damage reports, you won’t have. No one below my level gets to see them. If they go up they’re shot down. If they stay on the ground they’re destroyed. They’re destroying this country piece by piece, the roads, the telephone exchanges, all government buildings. They’re destroying everything that holds this country together.
L: But why give them to Iran? They’re our enemy! We fought them for years. Thousands died in the war.
C: Hundreds of thousands, you never got to hear the whole story.
L: Why them?!
C: They haven’t got an air force really. So we gave them one.
L: Are you joking Sir?
C: You still don’t understand what this war is about. What this war is really about.
L: Well, if he hadn’t gone into Kuwait.
C: Kuwait! Kuwait! This has got nothing to do with Kuwait. This had to happen. It was just a matter of time. Those of us who are old enough to remember, old enough to understand we all knew deep in our hearts this day would come.
[They hear the deep thud of an explosion not too far way.]
L: Please God! Protect us.
C: Don’t mention God! Leave God out of this. Don’t blame God for what men do. You take all this for granted, roads, hospitals, universities, an easy job for life in the army. I bet you thought you would spend the rest of your life sitting behind a desk at some base pushing bits of paper around. You never guessed you’d die in this hole like a rat!
L: Please don’t! (He starts to pray.)
C: Stop that! God helps those who help themselves. We had to do what we all did, and I’d do it all again! I remember when there was none of this. It wasn’t long ago. Do you know how much the British paid us for the oil in those days? A shilling a barrel. They would have given us nothing except they wanted to keep that little prick of a king they made us in silk shirts. They found some nobody, some utter no one. They picked him out from somewhere. Washed him in a bathhouse, dressed him in an expensive suit and stuck him in the back of a Rolls Royce. They drove him to the palace and said “Today is your lucky day! Now you are King of Iraq!” Then they paid him a salary to rule the country for them.
They know what will be left at the end. The Kurds will fight the Arabs. The Shia will fight the Sunni, the Sunni will fight everyone. There will be a thousand vultures picking at the carcase of this nation. Then they’ll come and say we want to help you, you obviously can’t run this country, so we’ll run it for you. We’ll even, out of our generosity, run the oil wells for you. Say we pay you a shilling a barrel!
[Another explosion is heard, even closer. The lieutenant curls up on the floor. The Colonel grabs him and pulls him to his feet.]
Get up! You know what they’re saying out there? Cowardly Arabs cowering in their bolt hole, too scared to fight.
L: Sorry Sir. I’ll be alright now.
C: I’m old enough to remember what the British are like. What they are really like. They used to go on as if they owned the place. They kept themselves apart. Lazy Arabs they called us. They said we were too lazy to build anything. They said we were so lazy we’d leave the oil in the ground if they weren’t there to bring it up for us. But we showed them! Iraq was the first country to completely nationalise its oil industry. Then all the others copied us. We showed them! We did everything for ourselves. We built a great nation.
L: Why can’t they leave us alone? What has all this to do with them? Why do they come all the way out here spending too many billions to count with tanks and aircraft, bombing us? Is it just for oil?
[The Colonel grins wryly.]
C: You remind me. I remember when I was a little boy I went to stay with some relatives in the countryside. I was playing in the sand with a stick. We didn’t have any fancy toys in those days. There was a compound nearby where the oil company housed some of the British company people.
I saw a family of them come along in their shiny car. They had a little boy with them, their son I guess, only ten or eleven years old. They got out and started having a picnic, laying out a sheet, sitting on the ground. The parents tried to ignore me. The boy kept looking at me they called him away. I know what they were thinking. Keep away from the dirty Arab boy, you might catch a nasty disease.
I started to pile up the sand. I started to make a fine palace. It got bigger and grander. It had high walls, towers, and a great dome in the middle. I noticed the boy had come nearer. He kept staring at me in a strange way. I couldn’t understand his look. Then I thought I had finished. I knelt back and smiled at him, I wanted him to play with me in my sand palace. He was staring at me, then I understood. He was staring at me with rage. He stamped in the middle of the dome, he kicked down the high walls, he jumped all over my sand palace till it was just a pile of sand. I ran away. I guess his parents told him off but it doesn’t really matter if they did.
[There is another closer explosion. The Lieutenant cowers. The Colonel pulls himself up.]
C: Get up. Stand up like me and die like a man. We did what we had to do, and I would do it all again if I had too.
[The Lieutenant composes himself and stands erect. The whole scene is infused in intense white light.]