SOUTH AFRICA: Poet, artist, activist, Martin Lochner

“Fucking Marine! I am a fucking Marine!” The new recruit with the gelled hair is chanting and I tell him to shut his trap.

We have entered the contact area and everywhere the stench of burning flesh, both livestock and humans. Dismembered men and limbs strewn about. Mortar attack on the village during the night.  

The boy who is much too pretty for any of this, the boy who should be safe at home sandwiched between two smiling girls at a homecoming dance, is screaming and pissing his pants.

I smack him. “Restrain yourself or die today, boy.“

But it is too late. Our cover blown.

Like a flash flood, the enemy is upon us, and what a macabre scene: freedom-fighting guerillas in woman’s clothing, faces concealed behind primitive death masks.

Our machine gunner cleans five belts of ammunition, killing nearly a score of cannibal soldiers; but the adversary total is only increasing. I instruct bayonets to be fixed for a fight to the death.  

They shoot brother John through the skull, Staff Sergeant Willis through the mouth, and one by one our totals reduce in a carpet of bloody waste.

The boy is still screaming, and we are starting to lose the left flank. With gritted teeth and muscles tense I yank him in front of my own body. We collapse as one, he on top, taking the hail of bullets intended for me.        

~excerpt from Wolfmen of the Congo: memoirs of a killer for hire,
Martin Lochner

Ten years ago, Martin Lochner, barely twenty, was going down fast. “It was still when Kabila and his son ravaged this country called Congo [DRC],” Lochner tells me in an interview. “I was running away from my workers class life and the [government-initiated] reduction of employment opportunities for whites.”

But most of all, Lochner was desperate to escape the combat wounds of his childhood, inflicted by a woman whom he felt had never forgiven him for coming into the world when she was still a child herself.  “I crushed her teenage hopes. She was sixteen when she had me and blamed me for that. We are now excommunicated because every achievement of mine is injury to her. I am her guilt now.” Lochner pauses. “Maybe I went to war to get killed so that she could continue her life.”

Although “not a born killer,” Lochner signed up as a mercenary soldier for the Congolese army. Before long, Martin, who speaks Afrikaans, Dutch and now English, began specializing in escort work and the extractions of diplomats. “I was just a stupid kid running away from his circumstances.”

What young Martin would soon discover, however, was that there was no running away. Only an exchanging of one hell for another. “I, without thinking, brought war to me and not vice versa.”

In his soon-to-completed memoir, Wolfmen of the Congo, Martin writes:

 “We were fighting the rebels deep in the jungles, but after months in the bush, we discovered an even more terrifying adversary: the gradual creeping in of madness.”

Martin continues:

“Speak to any colonial French veteran and he may tell you what happens in those forests. We became murderers. We killed indiscriminately and became predators, animals without convictions or hope, no Geneva Convention, no mission… Our senses heightened and we lived from the jungle. We were not men anymore; we were stray wolves when they found us. Missing soldiers turned rabid and wild.”

The true horror of war, asserts Lochner, is more than the fact that killing occurs, but that how easily it comes to us. To have fought in a war means to have learned the terrible truth that every man–regardless of his religious or moral convictions–has inside him a killer’s heart. Accept that, and suddenly coming home is no longer escape. Indeed, from the taunting inside one’s mind there is no respite.

Lochner writes:

“Coming home everyone is superficial and suspect: Your mother, the priest, the quiet old lady down the street: all insurgents. Informants. Cannibals. The protective veneer is gone. Everything is dirty and evil.”

He continues:

“This becomes your new meta-reality and you wander in the twilight and they in the sun. You understand how fragile and weak you all are.”

Yet, says Martin, who for many years afterward was suicidal but now writes passionately about what he has seen and what he has experienced, what can save us in the end is the urge to make amends. And so, this book of memoirs.

“Its simply a matter of the conscience…One must keep a vigil over the dead and the darkness. I myself died many years ago. I will never be that boy who played in the vineyard at home. But I can write. I write to survive and survive to write.”

~Deanna Elaine Piowaty is a free-lance writer based in Portland, Oregon, USA,
working with Martin Lochner on writing his book of memoirs,

    Wolfmen of the Congo: memoirs of a killer for hire.