The Silent Sons of Propaganda

by Victor D Sandiego | Published: Oct 17, 2023

When the people of Allentown stepped from the corners of their uncertain fear, the president promised in a voice that weaved a silken tapestry that he would bring an end to their world of distress, that he would free their world of its inscrutable pestilence. He only needed their help.

One young man stood quiet and still. His town, with its beautiful brickwork and iron railings, had become a part of him over the years, every curve and corner. Each tree and street had multiplied him.

Still, he knew what he must do. He stood with his throat full of birds on the edge of departure, a leaving to fulfill his duty. Despite the expectant swelling of his tongue, he bore no words but: goodbye.

Goodbye. The smooth sounds of assurance had persuaded him. Young men such as himself must carry a conflict to a faraway desert before those who stood outside his faith brought a battle to their own shores.

He had learned at an early age to accept the offered truth. It started with a father who brought the razor strap down where his spine shimmered bone and progressed through a series of ministers and teachers who at first begged, and later ordered him, to forsake his childish ideas of autonomy.

We are not our own masters, they said. We serve wiser guides.

The train carried him to the coast where a thousand other young men stood in loose lines waiting to board ships. All carried the same face, a face that a thousand clerics with a thousand rubrics had engraved with the hot threat of damnation. On each face an anxiety sat hunched and clearly visible in the dark lines that ran from the corners of their eyes into the folds of their mouths.

The young man turned. My name is…, he started to say to the boy who stood behind him, but an elder with stripes on his sleeves and a cross around his neck cut off his speech with a sharp rod on the wrist that cracked the morning into two divisions of silence and astonishment. The elder told him that names grew attachments and attachments beget questions and questions looked for answers where none were needed, or desired. The young man’s mouth fell into muteness and he exhaled a single long breath of assent.

An old man climbed a platform and raised his arms. When each eye of each young face turned toward him, he lowered them. Across this sea, he said, kneel hoards of men who fell from grace and, if given a chance, would rip yours from your breast with long knives. To save ourselves and all the decency we represent, you must go to them.

For weeks the ships slow glided over gray seas. Meals below decks passed in silence as elders watched, and with their sharp rods struck each nascent word or question that formed a bubble on a lip. Aborted, sounds fell to the metal floors unspoken.

When they arrived, all the young men of a thousand fathers from a thousand towns stepped forward into the desert sun where their duty thickpressed them and imprinted its demands on their skin that pulsed raw and red as if from a beating.

The young man of Allentown who had left his home to join the crusade,looked around. Sand and sun marched, as they would march, over rows of dunes. Over there, he thought, somewhere far off still, sat foreign boys with foreign tongues who split their version of the sky with the same question:

Who am I? he asked.

But the question rose as Icarus toward the furnace of the sun and melted. Even if he had an answer, he had no way of knowing if he was right or wrong. The distinctions themselves lay convicted of treason in the unlit lower dungeons of his heart.

A horn blew. And another. Diesel engines rumbled to life. On the horizon fires burned. Every young man turned every young head with every young face to the east where their destiny sat surrounded by tombstones. The day of their days stood upon them.

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