Xu Guan very nearly knelt and kissed the ground of the San Francisco port as he disembarked from the destroyer that had imprisoned him for the last month. After thirty-six days on the ship, Xu Guan was ecstatic to once again step onto dry land.
Then, Xu Guan looked beyond the San Francisco port where his ship had docked. The city looked like the World War II pictures he had seen of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Many of the buildings were charred hulks of rubble. A haze thicker than the dust and smog in Xu Guan’s old home town of Linfen hung in the air. It appeared as if the Americans had done to themselves the same thing they had done to the helpless Japanese 70 years before.
Xu Guan laughed and then began to cough uncontrollably. The coughing eventually turned to wheezing. Xu Guan felt light-headed and dizzy.
“Form up!” Xu Guan’s platoon leader shouted and then blew three long blasts on his whistle.
Xu Guan spit a mass of bloody phlegm onto the San Francisco dock and shuffled over to his platoon’s formation.
The platoon was ordered to attention then given orders for the day. Once the orders for the day were complete, Xu Guan and his fellow soldiers were herded into an area boxed on three sides by shipping containers and ordered to strip. The soldiers dropped their grungy clothing into a pile and marched heel and toe onto a nearby dock where they were hosed down with high-pressure water pumped from the bay. Each solider was issued a bar of lye soap and instructed to scrub themselves clean.
After the scrubbing, Xu Guan stood naked and shivering with his fellow soldiers for nearly 30 minutes while the commanders decided how to proceed. Eventually, each soldier was issued a PLA battle uniform and a shiny, new light blue helmet with the English letters “UN” stenciled on both sides. Xu Guan wasn’t entirely sure that he knew what the letters on the sides of his helmet meant, but he was pretty sure the light blue color would stand out like a beacon in the fog.
“Form up!” the platoon leaders were shouting at their troops again. The shrill blasts from their whistles removed all doubt, if any remained, that the platoon leaders meant business. The troops gathered into four battalions – a total of 4800 troops – and snapped to attention.
General Wei Tung stood on top of a shipping container and shouted down at his troops through an electronic megaphone.
“Proud members of the People’s Liberation Army,” General Wei began, “we gather today knowing that we will be remembered by our countrymen as a generation of heroes. For the first time in years, we have the opportunity to seize what is rightfully ours. For the first time in decades, we will have proper payment for the wrongs committed against the great nation of China.”
The general’s voice rose as he continued, “Most of America’s resistance has been defeated. Their momentum is broken. Many of our troops have already gone home. Their achievements are a testament to their courage, selflessness and teamwork. They focused on the mission at hand and paved the way for your accomplishments.”
The general paused and his troops cheered as if on cue.
“Think about what is within our reach.” The general basked in the adulation of his troops as he continued. “Imagine what we can accomplish if we follow their example. We can return to mother China what is rightfully hers. We can control our own destiny.”
Xu Guan shuffled his feet as quietly as he could. He knew the punishment for fidgeting during a general’s speech but, in his state of illness and malnourishment, his body was protesting the rigid position of attention for such an extended duration.
“Let us remember how we got here,” General Wei lowered his voice. “Long before the American recession, our previous leaders entrusted trillions of Yuan to these stupid capitalists. At the time, our leaders had no way of knowing that the Americans would continue to spend and borrow beyond their means. The Americans knew it was wrong. They knew it was irresponsible. Yet they continued to borrow and spend. Along with the Europeans, they plunged their economy into a crisis that dragged the rest of the world down with them.”
Xu Guan was beginning to feel light-headed. His stomach felt as though it was tied in knots. He wasn’t sure if he was going to vomit or if it was merely hunger rising up in his belly.
“Shortly after the crisis, our troops came to the American shore, under the flag of the United Nations, to help them recover from the crisis they created,” General Wei was warming up, getting ready to drive his point home and motivate his troops to charge forward to accomplish their mission.
Somewhere to Xu Guan’s left, a soldier fell to the ground. Two members of the People’s Armed Police, appeared – as if from thin air – and whisked the dazed soldier back to the rear of the formation. Xu Guan could not turn his head to see what had befallen the poor man. Certainly, it was not good. The punishment for collapsing during a general’s speech was usually severe. Xu Guan blinked his eyes to clear the haze and flexed his knees, as he had been taught, to keep the blood circulating through his legs.
“The ungrateful Americans met our troops with resistance,” Wei’s ire was evident. “The American people were uncooperative and combative. Many of our troops were killed during their peaceful mission. This will not be tolerated!”
Wei was shouting now, spittle flying from his lips. Xu Guan’s dizziness seemed to rise with the general’s voice. The words were blending together in Xu Guan’s head, making no sense. Little flashes of light popped in front of Xu Guan’s eyes and translucent worms swam across his field of vision. General Wei’s speech was muffled now. Xu Guan wanted to claw at his ears to remove the offending ear muffs but he knew that he dared not move.
General Wei continued on his tirade unaffected by the fact that several of the soldiers had passed out and been drug to the rear of the formation by the military police. He had watched the Americans resist the first waves of Chinese U.N. troops. Many of those that had resisted were well-armed and well-versed in battle tactics. Wei had been surprised by their effectiveness and shocked at the number of losses he had experienced. This time would be different. This time they would utilize the element of surprise. They would shoot first and ask questions later. They would take what was rightfully theirs without waiting for approval from the U.N. This time Wei had tanks and heavy artillery. This time he would win if it meant obliterating entire cities.