It is 11 September 2019, FWIW.
Seven years ago, on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, the media had trouble reporting that a mob of Ansar al-Sharia, an Al Qaeda offshoot, stormed a small diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, Libya murdering the US Ambassador and three staff. A CIA team positioned nearby were told to stand down either from above, through a supervisor’s pride or because of a monumental management screw-up.
Some of the people held up on the sidelines that night made a film called 13 Hours about it. The day after, some amateur YouTube video director nobody knew was arrested, and bundled away in a blanket into a car, never to be mentioned again. But Benghazi was an act of inconvenient terrorism and everybody knew it. One could lie callously; one could keep ‘leading from behind’ and ‘managing the decline’ but reality has an annoying habit of intruding. The congressional hearings that followed also revealed the existence of an unauthorised email server.
In Ancient Greece, Libya was the word used for ‘Africa’ as a whole, and later on too the Romans used it synonymously for Africa, including specifically the coast that was Carthage (Tunisia/Libya). According to Max Gluckman, a social anthropologist writing in the 50s and 60s, the town of Benghazi on the Mediterranean Sea (first settled in the 6th c.) is also one of only two recorded places on earth where incest was once culturally acceptable. A shithole in other words. No wonder Cato exclaimed, Carthago delenda est!
Anyway, that’s a distraction from the evening of 11 September 2012. My poem below is written, at least in the first section, from the POV not of the ambassador but of a desk dude standing on the roof as a violent, coordinated attack takes place.
I have long believed, perhaps wrongly it seems, that the US of A always came back for their own. But somewhere up the chain, no one took the call. The day after, State department staff moved in media lockstep with an implausible lie because by 2012, the administration as a whole already believed that it could successfully talk and fabricate its way out of absolutely anything.
What an extraordinary, different, eye-opening, Flight 93 world we now live in, after those eight long grim, corrupt and vainglorious years that no one can quite remember and many want to forget. The second section of the poem is narrated from that earlier, decidedly less honourable POV delivered in teleprompter style.
Not posted as exemplary verse or anything – just as the first ever poem of what I will term Swamp Poetry in an epoch of fake news. A modern lyrical homage to brave individuals swept up in other people’s wars.
Lights over Benghazi Ainsley Hayes
I can see the night laid out before me
We’re looking for the planes that do not come
The evening air is thick with sound around me,
We dare not stay and yet, we do not run.
I can hear the cursing and the yelling
I wonder if we’ll all be found alive
I wonder if my tale is worth the telling,
Of the difference it would have made to have survived.
I can see Benghazi lights go out before me
I cannot see the hawks above my head
This tinder town is blowing up around me
Stateside—3 am? Oh—in bed.
Thank you for your sacrifice, uh flag and country
A director will be along to square the books
Now let us go to luncheon, and speak awhile of something
Just ignore the whispers and the looks.