There are times when it’s appropriate to freak out. When, in fact, it’s downright weird and unhealthy and wrong not to flip your lid. For example, when you get diagnosed with a terrible disease. When someone you love dies … the “Keep Calm and Carry On” Meme is not an appeal to dignity and calm reserve; rather it’s Shut the F*** Up — Ted Rall
Olivia Manning uses a kitten as a symbol. This is the story of a real cat, Koshka, rescued from Afghanistan. Fully contextualized (whence the Gorey cartoon):
We all know how we are now all under constant surveillance by agencies in the US Gov’t (see James Bamford, “They Know Much More Than you Think,” NYBR, 60:13, 2013) and how telling about this or the various atrocities committed around the globe as part of the new perpetual war brings on fierce punishment; we also know how the working and middle class of the US are being ground down to poverty city by city (food stamps threatened — starve ’em out!), with the latest hit voting rights themselves. How jobs are gotten only through who you know: jobs here are defined as occupations with salaries which pay your rent and buy your food, with a little left over for things like clothes, transportation, access to what’s going on in the world.
Across the ocean chaos and hell in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen: the killing goes on (Stephen Holmes, “What’s in it for Obama, LRB, 34:14, 2013). Rebellions in Brazil, Turkey, Egypt. In the US (after what we saw done to the Occupy groups), what can one person do? Not be entrapped into playing a role? Easier said than done. It seems to me this morning Gorey’s image is us, the 99%.
Context for the following story a good friend sent me to put on my blog this Sunday about one of these young adults partly driven into the US armed services (many I know from experience as a college teacher driven there for lack of any other jobs): he adopted a homeless cat he found had been abused by the people the poor creature found itself among:
Jesse Knott was a decorated Staff Sergeant, with front-line experience with US forces in Iraq. Within a day or two of being deployed to southern Afghanistan in June 2010, he came across a young stray cat who wandered in and out of the camp, and started to befriend him. At first quite amenable, a little later the cat began showing signs of being abused and fearful: a couple of times Jesse saw paint in his coat and on another occasion fur on his back had been shaved so close there were skin cuts. Then he showed up with a badly bleeding paw-pad and a possible hip injury. Jesse treated the wounds and the pair bonded — he decided he had to adopt the little fellow, and named him Koshka (Russian for ‘cat’).
Soldiers are not allowed pets, but for this deployment Jesse had been assigned a base job rather than usual infantry duties, and consequently had a tiny office where he found space for Koshka — and the authorities turned a bit of a blind eye. In the middle of fighting a war, Jesse said the cat was a reminder of his life back home in Oregon City. ‘You lose faith in a lot,’ he said, ‘but sometimes it’s the smallest things that bring you back.’
However, the moment Koshka truly became ‘family’ was when a suicide bomb attack took the lives of two of Jesse’s platoon friends and injured others in December 2010. ‘I was so devastated that I lost all hope. Two of my friends were violently taken away,’ he said. He was in tears in his office when Koshka came over and crawled onto his lap. ‘I had tears in my eyes; he locked eyes with me, reached out with his paw and pressed it to my lips, then climbed down into my lap, curled up and shared the moment with me. I’d lost hope in myself; I’d lost faith. Then all of a sudden this cat came over and it was like, “Hey, you’re you”.’ In that moment, Jesse said, he realised the cat could not stay in Afghanistan in the war zone, and his determination to keep Koshka safe was absolute. ‘He pulled me out of one of my darkest times, so I had to pull him out of one of his darkest places.’ It was an urgent requirement, as Knott was due to be redeployed and time was fast running out before he would have to leave Koshka behind at the camp and lose any control over his fate.
After a number of calls and emails he had eventually found the Afghan Stray Animals League (ASAL), who would take Koshka in and then arrange his trip to America, but first he had to get the cat to their shelter in the capital city of Kabul, halfway across the country to the north. It was not possible to get him on a military convoy but, with only about a week to go before Jesse was due to leave the camp, a local interpreter bravely said he’d take Koshka to Kabul where he was taking a short spell of leave. If the Taliban had caught the Afghan at one of their innumerable checkpoints, doing a favour for an American, it could have meant death for both him and the cat. ‘The risk to him [the interpreter] was immense,’ Jesse said. ‘The cat was wearing a bright purple harness and was in an American-made cat carrier.’
It took days without news before he heard that eventually Koshka had made it safely to Kabul, and it was about a month in all before the cat arrived in the States. At the ASAL shelter he was neutered and given his shots, and his papers and travel arrangements were organised. From Kabul he was flown to Islamabad in Pakistan, then via Europe to New York, and finally on to Portland, Oregon. The cost was almost 3000 dollars (nearly £2000 in 2013), raised by Jesse’s parents, family and friends. For them, it was money well spent; there was no question for the family that their newest addition was worth the cost. ‘He was my saving grace,’ Jesse said. ‘He kept me alive through that tour.’
Staff Sergeant Knott was stationed in Washington state in early 2013, going home to Oregon City to see Koshka whenever he could; and was due to leave the military before long, after eight years’ service.
The Oregon Humane Society’s Diamond Collar Hero Award recognises ‘both pets and people for remarkable achievements’. At the end of February 2013 Koshka and Jesse received the award for their ‘selflessness and courage’ (right): the OHS have posted a touching video clip at YouTube. As they comment near the end, ‘Sometimes we save an animal. Sometimes, an animal saves us.’
Let us hope that Staff Sergeant Knott escapes the deaths his close friends have suffered and makes it home whole to Koshka.
Reading two novels this week: Anthony Trollope’s Macdermots of Ballycloran where he makes understandable how Irish people in the 1830s were driven to violent acts by the laws and behavior of the occupying British; Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy I find myself compelled to read on because Manning’s depiction of the political powerful class as seen through Harriet’s eyes is just what we see in front of us today whenever a wikileak or other bit of information gets out about why a particular politician or group is doing what it’s doing and the outcome. At her best she’s Swiftian with the inference that of the King of Brobdingnag — what vermin are this. Swift was equally bleak — though to give him credit in his letters from Ireland he kept exposing what was happening — the famous “Modest Proposal” does of course.
Now Manning (like Doris Lessing, another women political novelist, see her On Cats) wrote a masterpiece Extraordinary Cats which I hope to make my Christmas present this year.