A nihilistic roman a clef about five retired Army sergeants who spark an insurrection in the basket case province of Darfur, Sudan, briefly imposing a tenuous order.
Revolt of the Sergeants. Balding ex-rankers tame, briefly, an African cesspool of disease and blood. The methods aren't pretty. Amusing in a noir way. The book is available for e-readers at Smashwords, Kindle, Nook, and the other e-platforms.
Revolt of the Sergeants
By Philip Garlington
Smashwords Edition Copyright 2011 By Philip Garlington
Col. Pepper Andrews (USA Ret.)
The Andrews Institute
Langley, VA. 10173
Literistical Assets Inc.
Number Nine Yankee Plaza, Melville Suite
New York, NY 01012
I hesitate to pass this along. I can’t recommend it. As you may know, ”Revolt of the Sergeants: An American Insurgency in Sudan” has had sporadic, surreptitious printings, and a smuggled, back alley life that befits its character. Yet the work, dealing as it does with Darfur, the janjaweed, American mercenaries, famine, and egregious misrule seems pertinent still, and for that the institute has put it on its site, for the benefit of scholarly interests, one hopes, rather than for prurient ones. Whether it would ever find a wider audience I leave to your judgment. Personally I wish no further traffic with the project. Since the author, Mr. Auckless, has disappeared into the government’s witness protection program, any inquiry must go to his factor, Mr. Garlington.
Very best regards,
Revolt of the SergeantsAn American Insurgency in Sudan
By Dexter Auckless
With a foreword by Lt. Col. Gatling Fellows (USA-Ret)
Praise for Revolt of the Sergeants
“The Whizzer of the book obviously is none other than the certified world traveler Barry Demolay, known to all on the sub-Saharan hippie trail for his ingenuity in finding a bed and meal for nothing. I remember coming across him recovering from a bad bout of malaria and a superficial bullet wound at the Magadi Black Bear hostel in Nairobi, I assume very shortly after the events related in the book. A few weeks later I caught a glimpse of him boarding a mammy wagon on Kuna Street, and looking fit except for a slight limp. So I can report that he escaped the plateau.”
”Hurtle to the point! Hurtle to the point! The amazing deal here is that half a dozen white ex-Army lifer non-coms managed to take over an entire province of Sudan. That’s the story! We don’t need all this long-winded crap about some mindless floozy or some dickhead language professor. Get to the point!
MSgt. Edward Keen
Fort Bliss, TX
“Revolt of the Sergeants is a story that nobody needs to know about, and it’s too bad it had to be published, even underground. A lot of us are still around who remember the real ‘Mac’ and went to some of the meetings of the old Sergeants’ Book Club at Fort Benning. Some of the guys who went to the Jebba are alive, and this book might well relight some of the old bad feelings, particularly in Khartoum. They probably still would like to get their mitts on the Yanks who chased the government out of Darfur.”
MSgt. Harvey Cotton, (USA-Ret.)
San Angelo, TX
“Many of the ex-pats here refuse to believe that the sergeants didn’t have some ulterior motive for their usurpation in Darfur. As one of the few former members of the delegation who ever visited Rembec (as a guest of missionaries) I can tell you, there ain’t nothin’ worth havin’. The people are dirt-poor, diseased, and constantly involved in bloody squabbles. The land is barren, waterless, and without resources. I think it’s true that the sergeants’ presence there was meant as a test of whether their severe methods could bring about some semblance of order.”
Patrick Duncan Fife
US Foreign Service, Ret.
“The sergeants are revolting.”
Los Angeles Times
Revolt of the Sergeants: An American Insurgency in Sudan,” as the blowzy title may suggest, is a roman a clef based on an amateurish and ill-fated paramilitary scheme carried out in the impoverished Darfur region of Sudan in the spring of (date deleted). In a word, five retired US Army soldiers, animated by quixotic fantasy and in my view by some sort of overt pathology, entered southwestern Sudan in stolen aircraft and routed the ragtag government garrison from the provincial capital of Rembec. Sharking up a militia, they became for a few months the de facto government of the province, repelling government counterattacks and briefly curbing some of the endemic banditry. Inevitably and quickly, their unsupported insurrection collapsed and the province returned to its usual anarchy
Apparently these balding ex-rankers were not soldiers of fortune. There is no fortune in Darfur, which then and now is an arid, isolated, disease-ridden, economically prostrate running sore of misery. The superannuated quintet had not been hired, nor did they expect to find compensation for their risky enterprise. The Americans financed their low-budget rebellion solely through the sale of captured weapons. Consistently describing themselves (satirically, one hopes) as “students,” they claimed they were merely undertaking “an experiment” that looked into methods for stabilizing anarchistic societies. The charismatic leader (the “McDonald” of the book), alleges the sole motive for annexing a remote and forbidding African basket case, at gunpoint and at great trouble, was to test “management ideas” discussed earlier at a book club meeting at Fort Benning, Georgia. One’s eyebrow must rise. At the same time, no other motive is apparent.
According to this account, the sergeants briefly achieved a measure of security in lawless Darfur, and altruistically provided some basic services. But if by their own lights they were not self-interested mercenaries, neither were they missionaries. Their methods as described here were Draconian and sadistic.
When our publisher broached the idea of my editing this book I initially demurred. I had spoken against the publication of the manuscript.
In my view the work has many elements that are repugnant. A leitmotiv of sadism and misogyny runs through it. Most of the characters, even in part the main narrator (the medic Doc), are unredeemed by compassion or morality. The events described are paltry, and occur in a venue of no significance. While others saw noir humor, I did not. One of the characters (Bashir Nasr) is in my opinion one of the most repellent creatures ever to ooze across the written page. Throughout, the writing frequently descends to vulgarity. Much of what we see is ugly. The book’s stance, if that is the word, is one of uncompromising nihilism. One sees many manuscripts drop over the transom here. Most, as most biological species, are slated for quick oblivion. This one seemed to me an excellent candidate for Darwinian suppression.
Others prevailed. Had I been given a choice, I would have begun by excising several chapters, particularly the appalling final one. My mandate, however, simply has been to clarify through reorganization. I have taken several steps that may appear drastic. In the original manuscript, the story begins with a physical overview of prostrate Darfur (called the “Jebel Marra” here). I have chosen instead to start on a lighter note, with the book’s one humane chapter, a description of McDonald’s boyhood in Arkansas. The enigmatic McDonald, who launches this strange enterprise, remains opaque, and only this allusion to his origins offers any insight into the springs of his character.
And rather boldly, I have moved the foreword from Col. Fellows to the middle of the book, where it sits immediately prior to the events it helps elucidate. Several other chapters have been shuffled in a way I hope will make the story a little more lucid.
One might ask, as I did, why this is presented as quasi-fiction. Many of the actors still live, I am told, and might be subject to prosecution or reprisal. Thus, the retiring author doesn’t wish to mention names. Apparently other practical reasons preclude a direct telling. In any case, I have done what I can with this, given my charge, and hope my assistance will help the book reach whatever audience there is for it.
Senior Acquisitions Editor
(Publisher’s note: Ms. Sharp has been overruled; the manuscript stands as written, with the exception of the placing of Col. Gatling Fellows’ foreword.)
The Jebel Marra plateau in southwestern Sudan doesn't see many visitors. A US State Department advisory in effect for two decades cites the civil war as a disincentive to travel. In any season banditry and clan strife are normal on the plateau. Even absent the chronic turmoil, the rigors of the terrain and a pestilential climate would limit the Jebel to the more nonchalant of wanderers.
East of the plateau stretches parched savanna, a shimmering road-less Sahel of stunted acacia trees. It escapes being classified as desert on a technicality: the annual three or four inches of rain, which falls all at once during the September monsoon. For eleven months the wasteland east of the plateau presents nothing but sand, rock and a parched throat to the presumptuous nomad who lacks tribal connections. The few known seeps are guarded by reed-slim gunmen in caftans. To a kinsman, they grudgingly dole out a liter of living green fluid in gourds or a goatskin bag. Strangers are never welcome.
This arid savanna, sparsely populated by the cattle-raising Dinka, the Fau, the ferocious Nuer, is hemmed on the north by the Sudd, a vast, weed-choked bog through which the White Nile meanders between ill-defined banks. Inside the Sudd’s malarial embrace it is impossible to leave the main course of the river except on flimsy reed boats, shaped like saucers, that, when poled by expert Murrini, can skim like beetles over the undulating wet mass of water hyacinth. For such a passage the native traveler must encase himself in a crust of mud, to thwart the fog of mosquitoes that envelop any warm-blooded creature like a living mantle.
Descending from the plateau's western escarpment is true desert. The westering monsoon has been squeezed dry, and the scorching breath of the hatmatta, blowing off the Red Sea, brings no relief to an empty waste. Here rise the rounded volcanic plugs of the Jebel Marra Mountains, the highest ground in the Sudan. No usable pass divides the range, whose slopes are indented by steep ravines choked with jumbled rock.
This mountain chain forms a sort of boundary with two other benighted states, Chad and the Central African Republic, although the actual frontiers have never been surveyed. Lawlessness and violence have always prevailed here. Renegade Arabs, the janjaweed, surviving in the infertile heights on goat milk and the slave trade, raid against the more settled Nilotic tribes. In the foothills, roving gangs of bandits, often mutineers or the residue of defeated tribal armies, plunder the wayfarer with impunity.
Across the hypothetical border, in the capitals of N'djamena and Bangui, a semblance of order is enforced by the presence of several battalions of French Legionnaires. But the desert country west of the plateau has known naught but anarchy.
To the south of the plateau lie the forested plains of Zaire. Once a free and easy commerce flowed between Oguooma and the principal southern Sudanese city of Juba. Traders pushed their bicycles laden with cheap radios, flashlight batteries and khat across a porous border.
But beginning with the rise of the maniacal Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, a long night of terror settled over the south. The border with Zaire closed. Sudanese traders who ventured south of Juba were murdered or robbed. Even with Amin deposed, the borders remained sealed, since none of the succeeding chieftains wielded sufficient power to quell the violence raging among competing files of teenage thugs.
To add one more disincentive to Zairian travel, another killer reappeared. Tsetse fly, temporarily controlled during British rule in Uganda, took advantage of the chaos to reemerge. Once again trypanosomiasis began depopulating the villages skirting the southern forests.
Thus, fenced about by mountain, desert, swamp, pestilence and amok bandits, the Jebel Marra plateau remains sealed to the world.
This cannot be completely true. A competent pilot at the controls of a reliable machine could reach the plateau in a day's flight from the Kenyan border. No established airfield exists on the plateau, and gasoline is scarce. It is illegal to enter Sudan this way. Then again, much of the land atop the plateau is flat. Gasoline can be found for a price. No troops patrol the frontier.
An attempt to reach the Jebel plateau overland would be dangerous and very arduous. The traveler would have to reach Juba somehow, even though this ancient city is garrisoned by fanatical, ill-disciplined mujhadeen on permanent jihad. These ill-sorted levies, in turn, are surrounded by roving files of khat-intoxicated rebels, who have learned to treat travelers as their commissary. If successful in reaching Juba, the would-be visitor to the Jebel must join one of the bicycle caravans sent out periodically by the city's Chinese merchants. The traders push sturdy Chinese-made bicycles, draped with wicker baskets, across 200 miles of bush. Following waddies and climbing knobs, the clunky, heavily-laden bicycles slowly wend from one village to the next, dispensing flashlight batteries, needles, lamp wicks, candy, aspirin, knives and tinny radios.
Sometimes, if a rebel column finds them, or if the janjaweed are raiding, the Juba merchants lose everything. Other times the caravan guards, armed with antique Enfields, manage to beat off an attack. Then the Chinese bicycles roll through Bat and Al Ovan and Kash and a dozen other squalid settlements of mud huts along the rim of the plateau.
Travel to the Jebel Marra is difficult. Few wish to go. The climate is unpleasant. Although a thousand feet above sea level, the equatorial plateau is an inferno during the ten-month summer. Afternoon temperatures can reach 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Drought and famine are normal. Disease is epidemic, varied, and horrific. Medical facilities hardly exist.
Once there had been a doctor at the Rembec Christian mission on the plateau. But he had been murdered many months before.
Returning to the Rembec mission late in the afternoon the mechanic Brevold had tumbled into his cot exhausted. That morning a highland Dinka had come in, a herdsman from one of the outlying camps. The nomad was tall, emaciated, jet-black. Like all of them, he wore mission castoffs: a green pair of swim trunks and a bright red tee shirt with the Nike logo. Cocked on his head was a beaded taboosh. An assegi and a bundle of toy-like spears were slung across his shoulder. He had come from Government Well Five. It was the usual story. A child was sick and the Dinka wanted the white doctor.
Brevold had explained. The doctor was dead. The nearest medical help was in Wau, a hundred miles to the north. Brevold knew it was vain. The herdsman squatted on his heels and smiled serenely. Imauy. The nomad pointed his finger. You. You must come.
Already the word was spreading in the bush. Following the murder of Dr. Reisenflaus, Brevold had been seen working in the clinic. It didn’t matter that Brevold had no medical training, that he was merely a mechanic temporarily assigned by the synod to repair water pumps and gasoline engines. He had been seen setting bones and taking temperatures, re-hydrating babies and probing bullet wounds. It didn’t matter what he said. He was d’maa dacta. The white doctor.
From what the Dinka had been saying, in the clicking hill dialect that Bevold still had trouble understanding, the child back at Well Five already had lapsed into a coma. It was his throat. The Dinka man pulled at the folds of skin on his neck and gasped loudly.
Wearily, sickened by the hopelessness of it, Brevold had followed the man for five miles on a narrow trail through the scrubby, goat-bitten thorn trees to the old well sunk by Chinese engineers back in the Socialist days. The well had silted in from neglect. But the Dinka, by assiduous priming and tinkering, managed to coax a trickle from the iron pipe that emerged from the concrete sump cover. The trickle was just enough to water several hundred cattle and a patch or two of yams and scraggly tobacco.
From a mile away Brevold could pick out the camp. A pall of yellow smoke drifted over the huts and brush corrals from smoldering dung fires, lit to temper the attacks of mosquitoes and biting flies. The narrow track took them through a small copse of Doleib palms and baboob trees, planted by enthusiastic troops of Solidarity Cadre in the Socialist heyday. Ruefully, Brevold saw that all the trees were dying, the bark gnawed away by goats. For the nomadic Dinka, the cattle herds, if kept in check, were their staff of life. The goats were unalloyed evil.
In the encampment Brevold saw that the families had set up the usual flimsy huts, a skeleton of twigs and branches covered over with cow hides and a motley of rags from the mission rag bag. Some calves, still too young to make the trek to grass, were tethered near the fires, watched over by prepubescent boys with fly whisks. Women, thin-armed, with drooping dugs, bent in the scant shade of the huts, grinding the daily manioc. Brevold noticed to his dismay that many of the women were coughing, spitting the collected phlegm into the stone mortars. Tuberculosis already had turned up at the clinic among the lowland refugees. It wouldn’t be long before it swept through the hill tribes.
Brevold followed the man into a hut and saluted his wife, who was squatting over a small bundle of rags. The woman, still young, wore the usual copper bracelets. The usual pounded copper saucers dangled from her ear lobes. She gazed at the bundle of rags with a stoic mask but her body slumped despondently.
Peeling away a strip of rag, Brevold could see the child was unconscious. The tiny creature didn’t seem to be breathing at all. But fingering the tiny wrist he detected a faint pulse. The delineation of the child’s neck had disappeared under a collar of spongy flesh. It was nothing unusual. A typical viral respiratory infection gone amok because of malnutrition and an immune system compromised by malaria. It was hopeless. Thousands of kids were dying like this all over the Jebel Marra plateau. It was the drought. There was nothing he could do about it.
The parents had squatted on their heels and were waiting patiently. Brevold opened the canvas bag, the legacy of the late Dr. Reisenflaus, and rummaged through the contents. He had the doctor's instrument case, a bottle of carbolic, a few sutures. Of course he hadn’t any anesthesia, no antibiotics, not even an aspirin. There hadn’t been anything like that in Rembec for months. It was hopeless. The infant was gong to slowly strangle from the edema. The only chance would be a tracheotomy to open the windpipe, then a prayer that the kid had enough fight left to throw off the inevitable infections.
Brevold knew it would be better to let the baby die. He should say to the parents, “It’s in God’s hands now.” But the parents, rocking on their heels, watched his every move intently, expectantly, for the miracle that would come out of the cheap canvas bag. What did God want of him? Brevold used to think he knew what God wanted of him. He didn’t anymore. The chance of a successful operation in this filth, with no antibiotic, no anesthesia, approached the vanishing point. Yet, in truth, he had seen among these resilient people amazing recoveries. It was wrong to underestimate the toughness of these hill tribesmen. Perhaps it was no accident that he was here now. Perhaps God wished him to try everything to preserve this human life.
Brevold had decided to open the trachea. Two other Dinka men came in to help the father hold the child while Brevold cut into the swollen throat. Suddenly the infant’s eyes shot open, the mouth yawned in a silent scream, revealing an engorged mass of red tissue. Pus squirted everywhere, all over Brevold’s shirt, and he had to twist to avoid getting fluid in his eyes.
The child was gasping, breathing again, through the hole in his windpipe, making strangling noises as he choked on the pus and blood. Fully conscious now, the child began a horrible gagging kind of screaming, writhing under the hard hands of the Dinka men. Brevold then had crudely cauterized the incision with a heavy needle turned red hot with the flame of a butane cigarette lighter. He had no tubing of course. At least he knew the Dinka words for “bird” and “bone.” He had cut a two inch quill, dipped it in carbolic, and then pushed it into the incision. Maybe the hollow bone would keep the incision open. The father would have to bind the child’s hands and take turns with the other men holding him. But Brevold knew it was hopeless.
In the darkness of his shuttered room Brevold twisted on his narrow cot, leaden with fatigue but wide awake. He had no business doing this. He had never even taken first aid. This had all been forced on him, when Obo’s men had killed Dr. Reisenflaus, and he had been abandoned. Every space at the mission clinic had been filled with victims of the famine. There was no one else. He had looked at the books in the cabinet, he had tried to learn.
The boy would soon die, that was certain. The infection had been too advanced. So what purpose, then, the numbing ten-mile walk in the flaming sun, the clumsy surgery, the child’s horrible pain? The child would suffer a few more hours or days. The grass around Government Five was exhausted. The Dinka and their cattle had to move. Tomorrow the child and his family would be miles out on the plateau. If he had left the child alone it would have died quietly tonight. Now everyone would go on suffering
Brevold hadn’t expected to sleep, but as he lay in semi-consciousness in the stifling room, he gradually perceived that the screaming was not coming from a dream. He wasn’t replaying in his head the gagging shrieks of an infant boy. This was high-pitched, feminine. A screaming woman.
Groggily, Brevold swung his legs over the side of the cot and listened. The screaming had stopped, but now from far away he heard shouting voices and then, unmistakably, the staccato tap of gunfire.
Brevold cracked open the shutter. The late-afternoon sun, palpable with dust, slanted across the room and illuminated the small writing desk in a corner. Brevold, aware of the putrid odor form his soiled shirt, found his hat where he’d flung it, and ducked out the doorway.
He could sense immediately that something had stirred the village. The shaded meeting area under the acacia trees, where the women usually gathered at this hour to pound sorghum, was empty, although bowls and wooden pestles, and mounds of grain, were set in rows along the fire pit.
To his right Brevold heard another gun go off. Tucking his shirt as he walked, Brevold headed toward the sound of voices, along the narrow, hard-packed earthen path that separated the wattle huts. Obviously taking fright at something, the people had scuttled inside, and from an oval-shaped doorway he could see faces peeping at him.
Rounding a turn in the path between the huts Brevold almost stumbled over the corpse of a young woman. She lay sprawled in the path with her skirt pulled over her head. Clotted blood matted her pubic hair. Her thighs, spread wide, had been slashed so deeply that Brevold could see the yellow layers of fat inside the wounds.
Brevold kneeled and pulled her skirt down from her face. She had been shot once through the temple. The entrance wound was neat and round, surrounded by granulated powder burns. But the impact had blown a gaping hole in the back of her skull, creating behind her head an alluvial fan of bloody cortex and bone fragments.
Despite the woman’s contorted face, Brevold recognized her as one of the aides at the school. He had seen her daily pounding sorghum under the frond awning across from his room, her infant children capering around her knees. Brevold thought about replacing the skirt over her head. But instead he roughly pulled it down over her hips, before rolling her over on her face.
At the corner of a hut Brevold stopped. Across an open patch of ground he could see teenage boys in khaki shirts and baggy parachute pants clustered on the steps of the mission hospital. Peals of childish laughter reached him as one of the boys methodically knocked out the front window panes with the butt of his rifle. Brevold, putting his hand against the side of a daub and wattle hut, tried to compose himself. He was shivering violently, and felt dizzy. My father in heaven, hallowed be thy name….
Aware of his sharp intakes of breath, Brevold made an effort to control his shaking. He stood up straight. There was another crash and the tinkling of broken glass. As Brevold walked toward the hospital, the teenagers on the steps kicked open the door and rushed inside. Brevold heard shouts and a rifle shot.
Inside, Mr. Murchin, the mission’s elderly caretaker, lay dead in the aisle, blood still welling into an expanding pool under his body. The ineffectual bamboo cane he had raised in defense of the hospital lay by his elbow. A handful of patients, all children, cowered on their cots; others lay too sick with fever to be roused
At the end of the aisle the teenage vandals had gathered around the steel cabinet that contained the clinic’s meager supply of medicines. One of the youths, glancing around, saw Brevold standing in the doorway. At first his mouth dropped, but then, grinning, he prodded his fellows, who turned and pointed their Chinese rifles, with the ungainly banana-shaped cartridge clips. ”D'maa dacta, ” shouted the boys. The white doctor.