What I saw was youth itself bleeding out and dying in front of me. I was watching the moment of the death of all that bright promise. For this one young man. My brother. Yours, too.
And, yes, that is hell.
And there is plenty of it here, as there is every time we human beings do this thing called war to each other.
There is a special purgatory for the Libyans, though, in this war. It consists of the waiting, the suspension of the whole people -- the free Libyans and those still locked in Gadhafi's surreal prison -- all of them hanging fire of uncertainty and evasions of the no-fly zone.
They cannot free themselves.
They cannot defeat Gadhafi's mercenary troops with their pickup trucks and jerry-built rocket launchers and high-spirited shabab racing toward the gunfire.
But they cannot go back. They have reached a point of no return.
In the roar of NATO jets far overhead, in the thunderous air strikes, and especially in the statements of President Obama and other Western leaders, they hear a promise: We will help you get rid of Gadhafi, they hear. We will help you win this war.
Now, that is not exactly what NATO is saying, is it?
NATO claims to be bombing this country only to protect civilians, in keeping with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, which authorized the no-fly zone.
Always with an eye to making sure Gadhafi can't win; but so far, not with sufficient force to defeat Gadhafi's tyranny. It's a militarily awkward and deeply conflicted approach to the hell of war.
President Obama has been very specific in his pronouncements. "It's time for Gadhafi to go," he has said. And: "Gadhafi has lost the legitimacy to rule and should leave power."
Those are very carefully worded statements. Read them closely. They actually express only a sentiment, an opinion, not a firm policy commitment. To many Libyan ears, however, it almost sounds as if President Obama will use the full resources and power of the United States to free the Libyan people.
That is highly unlikely to happen, given the politics in Washington, the position of the Pentagon, and the mood of the American people. But the Libyans don't know that.
I'm not saying the U.S. should topple Gadhafi. I'm not saying we shouldn't. I am reporting from the ground here that the president's statements and (some of) NATO's actions have raised hopes sky-high among ordinary Libyans.
And so they wait. In the purgatory of the no-fly zone.
And the young men throw themselves into battle, and the hell of war feeds on their beautiful youth.