Vive la différence


JAN 2020 UPDATE: DW reports Iranian General who planned Benghazi vaporised.

It is 11 September 2019 FWIW, so I have written a poem to mark the day.

Not intended to be exemplary verse or anything, just the first ever example of what I am calling Swamp Poetry in our sorry era of fake news. It is a modern lyrical homage to brave individuals swept up in other people’s wars.

Seven years ago, on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, the worldwide media had trouble reporting that Ansar al-Sharia, an Al Qaeda offshoot, which stormed a small US outpost in Benghazi, Libya, murdering the US Ambassador and three staff. A CIA team nearby was told to stand down either from above, in Washington, through a supervisor’s pride or because of a monumental management screw-up. People held up on the sidelines that night also made a film called 13 Hours about it.

The day after, some amateur YouTube video director nobody knew was arrested by US authorities and bundled away in a blanket into a car never to be mentioned again. Yet Benghazi was an act of inconvenient terrorism and everybody knew it. One could lie callously; one could keep ‘leading from behind’ or ‘manage the decline’ but reality has a really annoying habit of intruding

The congressional hearings that followed revealed the existence of an unauthorised email server.

As an aside, in Ancient Greece, ‘Libya’ was a word used for Africa as a whole, and later on the Romans also used it synonymously for Africa, and more specifically the coastal area of Carthage (Tunisia/Libya). According to Max Gluckman, a social anthropologist of the 1950-60s, the town of Benghazi on the Mediterranean Sea (first settled in the 6th c.) is one of only two 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. The first section of the poem below is from the POV, not of the ambassador, but of a desk dude standing on a roof as a violent attack takes place and no one comes to help.

I have long believed, perhaps wrongly it seems, that the US of A always comes back for its own. But somewhere up the chain that evening, no one took the call and no one came. The day after, state department staff moved in media lockstep with an implausible lie because by 2012, the US administration already knew it could 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 wish to forget. The second element of the poem is narrated from that decidedly less honourable POV, and delivered in teleprompter style.

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.




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