Some soldiers are meant to join the elite forces, become spies, and swing through windows shouting and shooting. Some aren’t. That we’re all equal is one of the greatest lies ever told. Kids are told they can become anything they want to, and then they learn the hard way that they most definitely cannot.
Daniel James wanted to be a spy. He’d been the right-hand man to the head of the British Army in Afghanistan as a translator. But he wanted more. He invited the general out for salsa dancing. The general said no. He demanded a promotion. The Army said no. He used black magic to protect soldiers. They called him crazy.
Daniel James, whose real name is Esmail Mohammed Beigi Gamasai, decided to teach the Army a lesson. He contacted the Iranians while serving in Afghanistan to hand over sensitive information. He left messages telling them he was at their service and made up code words. The Iranians may have thought it a trap.
Doing specialist work in the military has its allure. I was attracted myself and learned what it takes. Specifically, I learned I don’t have what it takes.
I’d been in the regular military for a while and wanted more of a challenge, so I applied to do what’s called “arduous work.” A muscular black guy who looked like Mike Tyson’s bigger, angrier brother stood in my way. Let’s call him Jack, against whom I’d be “milling.” The military describes milling as “60 seconds of ‘controlled physical aggression’ against an opponent of similar height and weight.”
We were told this was definitely not boxing. There would be no ducking and weaving, and only blows to the head were allowed. Up until that point, Jack had been a friend of mine. We’d helped each other out. We’d laughed and joked together, but now it was make-or-break time. He had a very matter-of-fact look on his face. The instructors liked that. He looked like he would tear me apart. I thought it was funny. Jack was meant to be “of similar height and weight,” and he was—to a truck. The referee brought us into the middle of a makeshift ring as baying soldiers sat on benches all around. I looked Jack straight in the eye and saw nothing; he had glazed over and was ready to kill me. To start the one-minute bout and to start the audience roaring helpful tips such as “fucking kill him” or “rip his head off,” the training officer would ring a bell.
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