Decisions Already Made

It had seemed a simple enough promise to keep, at least at the time. Anderson had never even given it a thought as he raised his right hand and spoke the oath. The time for thinking about it had already passed; if he hadnÕt already known he would be willing to give his life for his country, he wouldnÕt have applied for the job.

                   America had always provided for him. He had always had food on the table and a roof over his head, and the Land of Opportunity had always granted him a great number of options for a secure, peaceful, and happy future. She had allowed him to get an education, be successful, and earn a living. Now, in her hour of need, how could Anderson turn his back, when so many were giving their lives? It was war; it was necessary, and so he saw no choice but to go where he could best serve his country.

                   As it happened, that place was overseas, in the beating heart of the monster who plagued freedom across the globe. In Germany, strategies were being made and new technologies were being developed. Someone had to find out what they were and report them back to the United States, so Anderson had volunteered for the job. He was intelligent, he was determined, he was willing to do whatever it took to help his country, so he figured he was more than capable of being a spy.

                   It had seemed that Anderson had assessed himself correctly; for a year and a half he had discovered plans, undetected. There had been close calls, both with capture and with death: there were many lies quickly thought up on the spot, but no amount of quick thinking and talking could save him from the gunshots fired and bombs dropped. He never gave these a second thought; there was nothing he could do if a bullet struck him in the chest or a blast of shrapnel carved red ribbons across his face. He was mortal and was surrounded by dangers, but this was a truth he had already accepted. It wasnÕt worth the time wasted to think about, not any more than the promise he had made to sacrifice his life, if necessary. There was too much for him to do; Anderson didnÕt have the time to dwell on decisions that had already been made.

                   But if he had already made up his mind, then why was he staring at the cyanide pill cupped in his hand, studying it, considering it? Why couldnÕt he just toss it into the back of his mouth and swallow it, like he had been told to do? Why couldnÕt he fulfill that promise he had made, that he had thought so little of, under the assumption that it was a foregone conclusion? If he had been shot, he would die; just the same, if he was captured, he would die as well. What was the difference? The end result was the same, so if he was willing to do one, why couldnÕt he do the other?

                   Anderson knew the answer. He had known it the second the Germans had thrown him into the cell. There was nothing he could do if a bullet struck him in the chest or a blast of shrapnel carved red ribbons across his face. But there was everything he could do to prevent death from a cyanide pill; all he had to do was not take it, and all those promises fell away. It was one thing to give his life to someone else to serve his country; it was a whole different thing to take it himself. All those things Anderson had told himself, that he was intelligent, he was determined, he was willing to do whatever it took to help his country: they were nothing but hypotheses made with no evidence to back them up. He had known that he was willing to put his life in jeopardy and let fate decide if he lived or died; he hadnÕt known, as it was impossible to know until the moment befell him, whether he was willing to make that decision for himself. His oath had been meaningless; it was nothing but words, nothing but a guess based on a naive assumption that he knew who he was.

                   Anderson let the cyanide pill fall to the floor and crushed it under his boot. That was it; there was no turning back, and he didnÕt have the time to dwell on decisions that had already been made.

© Kiera Zager