What now seems a lifetime ago, after having returned from military service during the American war in Vietnam, I was living in Canarsie, an Italian ghetto in Brooklyn, where I was born and raised. First-generation Italian Americans seldom moved away from their familial roots (at least right away), but instead, build an extension on the home where the tomato garden had been. It was like living in the country, at least early on, but “progress” brought paved streets and three-story homes in the vacant lot where my baseball field had been.

I was content living there, despite so much construction going on nearby, and the fact that displaced rats would inevitably seek refuge in my home. And these rats were big, so big in fact that on one occasion, a particularly bold one dragged away an entire sleeve of Oreo cookies from the box I left lying on the kitchen table. Now I have nothing against any life form; we all have a right to live. But a rat, a big rat in my home and one that had the audacity to steal my Oreos, was intolerable and required a response.

Incensed at having to share my cherished snack with rodents, I set a rattrap, of the kill variety. Not long afterward, in the middle of the night, I heard the trap snap. Unfortunately for me (and I am sure more so for the rat) it did not die immediately. So, for the remainder of the night, as I laid in bed listening to it scream in pain, humanlike until it finally succumbed hours later, I was transported to another place and time, a time of killing to survive and of listening helplessly as comrades suffered and died. Rats, I learned that night, not unlike human beings, do not die quickly, quietly, peacefully, like Sergeant Stryker charging gallantly up Mount Suribachi. As I covered my ears hoping to muffle the pitiful cries, I wondered, perhaps irrationally, if they too screamed for their mothers, whether they also implored a God to let them live, soon to plead for death to end their suffering. I wondered whether the rat would be missed by others—family members, offspring perhaps—who were anxiously awaiting its return.

“I am become death,” I thought, “the destroyer of worlds.”

After that torturous night, I disposed of the kill traps, and acquired the capture variety instead. Those rats I subsequently caught I would release in the cemetery down the street. Though I had not made the connection before, as I look back now, I think it was at that point when I lost my desire for Oreo cookies. A lot to do penance for I guess.

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Camillo ‘Mac’ Bica, Ph.D. is a philosopher, author, activist, a former Marine Corps officer, member of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and the coordinator of the Long Island Chapter of Veterans for Peace. His work has been published in a variety of venues including Truthout, Common Dreams, AlterNet, the International Journal of Applied Philosophy, the Journal of Social Philosophy, Public Affairs Quarterly, the Peace Review, and The Humanist.  His most recent books include “Worthy of Gratitude: Why Veterans May Not Want to be Thanked For Their ‘Service’ in War” (Gnosis Press, 2015), “Beyond PTSD: The Moral Casualties of War” (Gnosis Press, 2016), “There Are No Flowers in a War Zone” (Gnosis Press, 2019), and Morality and Military Service (Gnosis Press, 2020). Mac has been teaching philosophy at the School of Visual Arts for thirty years.