TOULOUSE, France—Another normal, slow day at work, I reflect, as I board the metro to return home.
However, two stops later, a contingent of three officers of the national police and three soldiers of the ground army security force board the train. Despite growing up in the land of the second amendment, the NRA, and “CSI: NY,” I am shocked by the armed soldiers’ presence on this crowded train. They seem to be an affront to the normal pace of life. The soldiers are carrying FAMAS assault rifles.
Upon closer inspection, the two male soldiers are unnaturally tall and still, balanced on the speeding metro without effort or support. The female soldier is mostly out of my view but seems to be wearing the same staid countenance. The rifles show signs of wear: silver metal is visible behind peeling black paint. Though I doubt that they’ve ever been fired outside of training exercises, I wonder.
A noticeable pall falls over the train. The tension in the air is palpable; the conversation, smothered. A mother boards the train with her young daughter, perhaps eight years old. “We’ll just stand here. It doesn’t change anything,” says the mother as they stop just inside the door. The mother faces her daughter towards the door and places herself between the girl and the soldiers.
I can’t resist looking at the gun, its barrel hovering no more than six feet in front of me. The door to the other car is locked. The seats are plastic, and at this range, a 5.56mm NATO round can punch straight through a body with enough force to through-and-through a second person. The idea of bullets traveling near Mach 3 and fragmenting in my torso suddenly puts burst eardrums at the bottom of my list of worries.
I hope that they’re really members of the French army.
As the soldiers disembark from the train a couple stations later, muscles relax and conversation resumes. Many French citizens I’ve spoken to abhor the war in Afghanistan, a conflict that has already claimed over 70 French lives. New passengers, oblivious to the soldiers that departed a stop earlier, breathe fresh life into the train that was sobered by reminders of death and war that seemed uncomfortably close to home.
Joshua L. Wang ’14, a member of the business board, lives in Eliot House.