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— Shortly after I left, I read in the paper where two guys in Beirut got into an argument over a parking space. Very quickly it escalated to the point that they went back to their cars, got their AKs, and hosed each other down in the middle of the street.

On the other hand, when it's over, it's over. When I met Sam he was fighting the Palestinians in Lebanon and allied with the Israelis. Now, his sympathy is totally with the Palestinians.

Wars in the Middle East are cruel in ways that seem almost incomprehensible to Americans.

And before I proceed, let me point out that Middle Easterners feel pretty much the same way about strategic bombing. Americans seem to feel that if you can kill a whole bunch of people from 30,000 feet, where you can't see them, that it's just some sort of snazzy video game. This view is not shared by those underneath.

On the other hand, personal torture is common. All sides insist the other side started it.

The very first Lebanese Forces agent I met in Cyprus, going into Beirut, told me, "Once we captured a Syrian. I tied him behind my jeep and drove him all over East Beirut. When I stopped there was no more left of him than this." We were having dinner at the time, and he held up his plate, a half-eaten seafood dinner. Couldn't have been more graphic. He went on, "I don't like to think I could have ever been like that. When I go home now, I don't even like the boys to tell me their stories." I'm sure he didn't. He was a nice kid with an engineering degree from Oklahoma State.

I once knew a mercenary named Bob. When he was trying to put together a merc op, I'd get wonderful cryptic letters from him, in the elliptical language used as code by mercs and dope smugglers. He'd say things like, "We've got a contract to go down there and do some things. I need a few guys with skills. Know anybody who might be interested?"

I was supposed to know where "down there" was and what "some things" meant. Sometimes I did. Last I heard he had escaped from prison in Brazil after having been busted in Venezuela with a boatload of arms he was taking to Ghana. Somehow -- actually I know how, but I ain't talkin' -- he escaped through Brasilia to Paraguay.

At one point Bob went to Beirut, looking for work. While he was there a Lebanese Christian girl got a crush on him. "She was attractive enough, but too giggly and silly," he said. That was his first assessment.

One night he was prowling the building, looking for her brother, who was his contact. He inadvertently opened the wrong door. Inside he saw a Palestinian militiaman chained to the wall, surrounded by several Lebanese Christians. Bob's giggly schoolgirl was cutting his fingers off with bolt cutters.

Bob left Beirut shortly after that.

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