Thomas Wictor

The desperate denial of the doomed

The desperate denial of the doomed

Since 2003 the world has known about the inconceivable brutality of the organization that now calls itself the Islamic State. It was originally Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (Organization of Monotheism and Jihad), the group that wrote the script for jihadist beheading videos. And yet to this day, soldiers and civilians surrender to the Islamic State after being promised humane treatment. It’s a frantic denial of reality that I’ve seen firsthand.

There’s no shortage of videos and photos showing what the Islamic State does to its prisoners. Women are raped and sold as sex slaves, while men are beheaded. Yet people keep giving themselves up, hoping that this time the Islamic State will keep its word. I simply can’t understand Shi’ites thinking that the Islamic State will spare them.


Islamic State terrorists calls Shi’ites rafida or rejectors. They hate Shi’ites more than they hate Jews or Christians. The chances that a Shi’ite will survive his or her surrender to the Islamic State are zero. And yet the mass capitulations continue.

As Iraqi government troops have surrendered to the Sunni militia[sic], American weapons have also fallen into the hands of the Islamic State.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told CNN Sunday that Iraqi troops showed no will to fight in Ramadi.

“What apparently happened is the Iraqi forces just showed no will to fight,” Carter said. “They were not outnumbered; in fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force. That says to me, and I think to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL and defend themselves.”

People might think that I’m being unfair, sitting here in the safety of my house in Southern California. Well, on December 28, 1995, a man tried to murder my brother Tim and me at the bookstore where we worked. He popped out of the darkness, aimed a TEC-9 semiautomatic pistol at my face, and I immediately ran.


I knew everything there is to know about this gun. It was one of the reasons I quit my job as a field representative for a document-retrieval company in San Francisco. On July 1, 1993, a fat oinker with two TEC-9s murdered eight people and shot six more at the law firm of Pettit and Martin, 101 California Street. He then killed himself. I’d been to that office to copy legal documents. My life had completely fallen apart, but this mass murder was the last straw. I left San Francisco in August.

Two years later, a short, grinning, squealing, would-be killer shoved the same gun into my face. If it’d been any other weapon, I may not have reacted as quickly as I did, but the Pettit and Martin shootings had haunted me without letup. Mass murder-suicides have always enraged me to the point of insanity. I could never come to terms with the obscene injustice of some terminal loser taking your life because he was having a melodramatic, self-indulgent tantrum.

As the gunman chased me on the night of December 28, 1995, the whole empty street was open in front of me. Like my father, I can run like a cheetah, so I’d escaped. But then I had a vision so realistic that it was like watching a film.

I saw the man shooting Tim in the midsection. Tim’s body jerked with each shot, but he didn’t fall over. The TEC-9 spurted puffs of smoke, and the yellow muzzle blasts were as big as basketballs. Both the gunman and Tim had horror-movie backlighting.


So I turned around and ran back to die. At the time I was terrified of death. Even so, I knew I couldn’t go on living with the knowledge that I’d abandoned my brother.

Tim and I have talked about this too many time to count, so he won’t mind me admitting that I hated his guts for making me die with him. When I’d seen the car from which the gunman soon emerged, I’d grabbed Tim’s arm and said, “Look! There’s a car right there!”

He’d roughly pulled away and snapped, “Well, don’t worry about it.”

This was one of our father’s favorite expressions. It meant, “Shut up.” Hearing that sentence from Tim made me so angry that I thought, Fine. If someone jumps out of that car and kills us, it’ll be your fault. Hope you enjoy it.

A second later the guy threw open the front passenger door and came bobbing toward us, smiling.


Even though I had a paralyzing fear of death, I consciously chose to go back and die with my pigheaded brother. It wasn’t a heroic or altruistic decision. I just couldn’t leave him to experience being murdered all by himself, backlit and jerking as the bullets slammed into him. Luckily the pistol jammed, and we survived.

Twenty years later, I’m no longer afraid of death. Last night a Facebook friend asked me what would happen to my postcard collection after I die, but he deleted the question before I could answer. I asked him why he deleted it, and he said it was inappropriate.

I’m not here to tell anyone how to express themselves, but I don’t find the question inappropriate at all. My postcard, photo, and ephemera collection is going to a museum. I haven’t decided which one. It’ll be a small establishment; I want it to become the go-to place for exceptional photos of World War I flamethrower and assault troops.

Both of my parents refused to admit that they were dying. When the end came, they panicked, cried, and literally tried to run. They tried to get out of bed and flee. I won’t do that. If the Islamic State surrounds my house and demands that I lay down my weapons, I’ll say, Molon labe.

To my Facebook friend who thought it was inappropriate to ask what’ll happen to my postcard collection after I die, here’s an image of soldiers from the Czechoslovak Legion, evacuated to Japan after World War I.


When the Bolsheviks took control of Russia in November of 1917, the former Tsarist troops of the Czechoslovak Legion refused to surrender. They fought their way across Siberia, 5600 miles (9000 kilometers) to Vladivostok. These 60,000 men took control of a massive corridor that ran from the Volga River to the Pacific Ocean. Using armored trains, the Legion created a rolling city that included hospitals, bakeries, workshops, and homes for their wives and children.

Each train had an assault detachment that rode in a special car in front. If the train was forced to stop, these men attacked with machine guns and hand grenades. Here’s how many machine guns one assault detachment had.


In August of 1918, the Allies sent expeditionary forces to Russia to save the Legion. American, Canadian, British, French, Italian, and Japanese troops landed in Vladivostok, captured the city, and waited. It took the Legion a year to arrive, since it kept getting caught in the battles of the Russian Civil War. Every time the Legion was engaged, it won. After signing a truce with the communists, the last of the Czechoslovak Legion finally left for home in September of 1920. Undefeated.

Molon labe!


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