Order Out of Chaos

"EVERYBODY PAY ATTENTION to instruction!" the chinaman called to gain attention of the prisoners. This third communist speaker of the morning promised to be more interesting than the first two, for he held papers in his hand that looked very much like loading lists.

"You must each answer to your name when called and repeat to us your serial number so we know is correct. After this, you go to back of truck we tell you, and wait. Do not get on truck until we say. After all passengers for one truck are ready, then we will say, Ďget on.í Now everíbody attention and quiet while names are called."

This was all a bit more orderly than normal. The Chinese up to now had seemed to follow no system in loading or moving the prisoners, or in much of anything. But the apparent lack of system had a purpose; one could be certain of a purpose in almost everything the communists did.

Consider the assortment of prisoners assembled here. There were strong men and weaklings, belligerent hold-outs and sim- pering "pinkies," signers of false confessions, and quiet, courageous men who had taken the same abuse and laughed in the enemyís face. There was a crazy one, too, and an exuberant kid who acted as if he were going to a fair. No order, no system at all.

But it was a system! When youíd come to know these commu- nists, you saw in all this a pattern of disorder, aimed at creating confusion, disunity, and distrust. Mix a few "proís" in with a truck-load of "right guys" and cast suspicion on the whole lot. Americans are accustomed to cataloging and orderliness—the grading and sorting of merchandise and men. Leave a couple of rotten apples where they show and the whole basketful looks bad. Every American crossing the line to freedom could expect to meet with suspicion, simply because some deserved it, and because now the sob-sisters in the American press were moaning, "Our poor boys have all been brainwashed!" This communist strategy had worked beautifully, from the communist viewpoint, during "Little Switch," and probably it still would now. The order of disorder!

Two trucks had been loaded before Wolfeís name was called. He answered "Heah" to his name and stood by the tailgate of the third truck. As the others were called up, he registered them automatically. A lot of things became automatic when a fellowíd been in the service as long as he had. Knocking around the world, in and out of a couple of wars—at least almost out of this last one—a fellow developed habits and reflexes. Perhaps he came to know and understand a good many things a fellow ordinarily didnít get a chance to learn about. Sometimes he didnít realize heíd learned the things he had, until he found himself in a situation where he needed all he knew and more.

The first prisoner up behind Wolfe was Lieutenant Colonel Wendon. Wendon had to repeat his serial number to the chinaman twice, because he didnít speak loudly. The second time he moved over close to the chinaman and then proceeded to the back of the truck. Few prisoners had met Wendon personally, up to now. The enemy had kept him mostly isolated. About six months after he was captured, he had submitted to the enemyís demands and made a false confession to germ warfare. After that, most everybody saw his picture in the communist magazines that made up the prison libraries. The colonel didnít look good at all.

Next in line was Lieutenant Kert. The Sergeant had talked with him one evening in the tent camp outside Kaesong where they waited their turn for repatriation. Theyíd both gone up on a low ridge in the camp area to catch a bit of breeze and watch the sunset. Kert was off his rocker—no question about that. But it was a crazy kind of crazy—not at all like the ones you might see in a psycho ward and feel sorry for. You didnít have to feel sorry for Kert because you somehow knew heíd be all right. He wasnít crazy because he was weak in the head; he was that way because he was strong. Yes—a crazy kind of crazy!

Corporal Frye was next. In his eagerness, the young man stum- bled over a couple of other prisoners still seated on the ground. The others laughed, perhaps at Fryeís excitement. An exuberant kid on the way to a fair. A very lucky kid!

Lieutenant Shiller came next. The Sergeant would as soon not be going on the same truck with him. Could you entirely blame some of the younger ones who lost faith when there were people like Shiller giving them good reason to believe the communist line?

Captain Ghant! It was good to be on the same truck with him—good to be anywhere with a man like that. A big man, gaunted during these preceding months; the calmness of his features belied the pressures he had recently endured. Until just a few days ago, weeks after the war had ended, the communists had been demanding from this Marine Corps officer a confession to bacteriological warfare. They didnít get it, and the calmness could tell you why.

Next was Corporal Jowal. There was one of the first-line "progressives." Quite a few men were out to get him, and with good reason. Heíd made his choice, though. He could have stayed like the twenty-some who were refusing repatriation. Jowal had considered and decided against it. Probably he figured life in an American prison would be better than "freedom" in communist China.

Lieutenant Bender—another reason why you might not blame some of the younger men for folding. A "bug war" confessor, one of the first, Benderís lectures had sounded pretty convincing to some of the younger men. It hadnít taken him long to break. Many said he volunteered.

Bowmar: The gangling young medic waved almost awkwardly, as he caught the Sergeantís eye. Funny how the smile on that freckled face still seemed shy, when you considered all he had been through. And the smile had always been there, even in the worst of times.

Corporal Lettle: The Sergeant had just heard about him from Ghant. Lettle had been in a camp with a lot of progressives and pinkies. He was bitter and vengeful, you could see that in his face. If he should get the chance before it wore off, heíd be at some collaboratorís throat. That made a bad situation; for Lettle and Jowal had been in the same camp.

Lieutenant Merke—"super jet jockey"—hadnít been a prisoner very long, less than a year. The chinks were starting to show some concern for the prisoners by the time he was capturedófatten them up for the exchange. Hell, Merke was still sweating out Tokyo whiskey, when he stirred himself enough to work up a sweat. Most of the time he spent making like "Charles C. Charles" of the comic strip, or dreaming up the war story he wanted to sell when he got out.

Emmett, the Navy lieutenant—another one it was nice to have along. Not many sailors in the camps. If the Navy had selected some one to represent them, he would have been a good choice.

Sergeant Wolfe moved up into the truck when the order was given to load. A ladder had been placed against the tailgate. One of the chinamen stood by the ladder cautioning the prisoners to "take care" and steadied each with a hand on the elbow. The Sergeant recalled when heíd worked with a fellow who drove a stock truck—how careful they were with the loading, to be certain the stock was in best possible condition at the market. He could think of no other reason why the chinamen should be showing so much concern.

Inside the truck were three benches. On either side, the truck box itself would serve as a back rest for the passengers. The third bench, lengthwise in the center of the truck, had its own back and was positioned so that the occupants faced the right side.

Sergeant Wolfe moved to the right front corner of the truck. Wendon sat down beside the Sergeant, bent forward with his face between his hands and stared at his feet. Kert, following Wendon, moved past the colonel to take a seat on the center bench facing Wolfe. The Sergeant returned Kertís smile of greeting, pleased to note that the lieutenant remembered him from their brief con- versation in the tent camp—another sign this mind wasnít in as bad shape as it seemed.

Frye scooted in beside Kert. The young man glanced at Wen- donís dejected figure, then struck up a bright conversation with Kert.

Shiller, moving into the seat beside Wendon, avoided the Sergeantís cool appraisal. Ghant, following Shiller, raised a hand and smiled in greeting to the Sergeant, then took the rearmost spot on the bench, beside Shiller. This would leave him a clear view out the back of the truck—a welcome thing after the interminable days of seeing nothing but the four walls of a small, windowless room.

Jowal, glancing furtively about at the other occupants, took a seat beside Frye. Bender avoided looking at anyone as he took the last seat on the center bench, facing Ghant.

Bowmar, moving to the front-left corner of the truck, laid a hand on Fryeís shoulder as he passed, and spoke cheerily to him. He greeted the Sergeant with a quick glance and smile. In answer- ing the greeting, Wolfe fficked his eyes to Kert and back to Bowmar. It was fortunate Bowmar would be so near to Kert. Bow- marís presence could be therapy in itself.

Jowal was watchful of the next prisoner to come in. As Lettle sat down beside Bowmar, Jowal turned his face toward Frye and his back toward Bender. From this position he could see Lettle readily. Jowal didnít want that fellow behind his back. As for Lettle, though he made no effort to conceal his contempt of the "pro," still he knew this was neither the time or place to do any- thing about it.

Merke sat down on the end of the last bench, intending for Emmett to climb past him to get to the remaining space. Apparently Merke wished to be at the back of the truck, perhaps so he could see out more readily, since the tarp covering restricted the view. Emmett paused at the top of the ladder and waited until Merke glanced up, took the hint, and slid over to his proper place next to Lettle.

As Emmett seated himself, Merke called out in a stage whisper: "Hey fellas, Ií got an idea!" All but Wendon looked his way. Their attention gained, Merke continued. "When we get close to the exchange point, letís all rip off everything but shorts and shoes. Give the commies a taste of their own propaganda!"

"Damn right!" Jowal agreed quickly.

"Good idea," Frye said enthusiastically. "They let us wear rags until the war ends, then give us new stuff to make a big show and a bunch of propaganda."

"Yeah!" Merke continued. "The exchange will be covered for newsreel and stuff, so a lot of people would get to see it!"

"Thatís right, they will, wonít they?" Frye was exuberant.

"Donít you think that would be just a bit dramatic?" Emmett usked. He was being polite, though he didnít really want to be.

"Why?" Merke was almost belligerent.

"Seems a bit juvenile to me."

"Whatís the matter?" Merke asked. "Havenít you got any fighting spirit left? Címon, Lieutenant, donít be so serious. Itís over! Live it up!" He slapped Emmett on the back—but not hard.

Emmett restrained himself, resenting both the remarks and the back-slapping. Captain Ghant didnít restrain himself however.

"Go ahead and make a complete ass of yourself," he said to Merke. "The rest of us prefer to conduct ourselves as men and soldiers." He glanced at Frye as he spoke the last.

"It would be kinda kid stuff at that, wouldnít it?" Frye asked Shiller, thoughtfully. Shiller agreed that it would.

Tsaiís arrival at that moment cut off further discussion. The "congenial little chinaman" came up the steps at the back of the truck and slipped in on the end of the bench beside Ghant, much to the Captainís disgust. Tsai didnít require much room—the biggest thing about him was his grin.

What little space Tsai did require was made up for by the fact that Wendon had leaned forward as soon as he was seated. Now as the truck moved out, Wendon sat just about the same, his face held between loose fists. He was looking at Fryeís knees in front of him, but probably not seeing them.

The colonel had much on his mind. Thereíd be considerable explaining for him to do at the end of the ride. With the Sergeant things were different. Wolfe hadnít been pressed on any of the germ-war propaganda—for which he was grateful. Heíd been subjected to some trying times; very few hadnít been. But heíd managed through so there wasnít anything preying on his conscience. For that he was grateful, too.

Having a clean conscience was mighty important, just to survive. Of course, some survived without it, but what was ahead for them? One of the worst torments for a fellow who couldnít live with himself was to be alone. And a fellow could be alone in a crowd as well as in a dingy cell some place. Like Wendon right nowóall alone, with eleven other Americans in the truck.

It was best if you could keep your head up and see what was going on about you. Such as noticing which way the truck turned just that moment and knowing you were headed toward the exchange point and home, instead of somewhere back in the other direction.

The Sergeant swept a glance at the back of the truck. Merke was talking with Tsai. There was nothing wrong in that; certainly it didnít mean Merke was turning "progressive." In fact, a reverse project was underway. Merke was trying to convince Tsai that he should come along across the line, instead of going back to China. Merke was telling Tsai the good time theyíd have when they reached Tokyo. Tsai, not without some difficulty, treated this as the joke that it was. Merke mentioned that with the fighting ended, the "volunteers" would go back to China and wouldnít receive any more of the special rations theyíd become accustomed to. One of the friendly guards had explained that to the prisoners. As "volunteers" in Korea the chinamen received the best of food and cigarettes. Back home they did not fare so well. When you considered what the best they received in Korea amounted to, you could understand why Tsai seemed uncomfortable.

Emmett was smiling at Tsaiís discomfiture, which wouldnít have been unusual if it werenít for the way the Navy lieutenant felt about Merke. Granting that Merkeís present antics were humorous, his overall performance as a prisoner was quite the opposite— especially from Emmettís point of view.

As one of the senior officers in the group, Emmett had shoul- dered a considerable amount of the responsibility in maintaining discipline and morale. The problems brought on by the enemyís shrewd tactics, tough as they were, at least were to be expected. But the additional problems caused by Merke and others like him really should never have been.

For Merke to avoid completely the responsibility of his rank was in itself reprehensible. Beyond that, Merke actually fostered insubordination in some of the less reliable enlisted men. Perhaps it inflated the jet jockeyís ego to set himself up as "champion of the downtrodden," since his following consisted of petty gripers— Corporal Hack and some of his clique.

Under the circumstances, it was extremely difficult to deal with insubordination, as was evidenced by what had happened to the Major when he tried to keep the insubordinate prisoner in line and was taken away to that final stretch of solitary. After that, the handicap to authority was quite clear. Emmett inherited the Majorís burdens and a position that was undermined.

Hack realized the position Emmett was in and took advantage of it, just as he had done with Sergeant Wolfe. Knowing that the senior officers and non-corns dared not assert their authority in view of the enemy gave Hack an excellent opportunity to impress the members of his clique. He might not actually stoop to "ratting" to the Chinese, but he was aware of the power the possibility gave him.

So Hack would complain, sometimes for the mere sake of argu- ment. He seemed to have a persecution complex. There was hardly an order or instruction given that he didnít gripe about. One bitter complaint was about the assignment of work details.

Mostly, such details were minor—cleaning the quarters, carrying water and the like—and were rotated among all occupants of a building. There was an exception in Emmettís group. Gus, because he worked in the kitchen, was excluded from most of the small details that others did in turn. Hack didnít think it fair. He complained about it one night as the prisoners prepared for bed.

"Iíd like to know why one guy gets out of all the work details, and the rest of us hafta take turns!" Hack said loudly for Emmett to hear. "Seems to me everíone oughtta do his share."

"Who do you think isnít doing his share?" Emmett asked. Gus had not returned from his nightly cleanup of the kitchen.

"Gus hasnít done a bit of cleanup in the quarters or been assigned any other job for over a month."

"Well, good god, Hack!" Emmett exclaimed. "Donít you think he does enough work in the kitchen to make up for it?"

"That ainít got nothiní to do with it. We all live here—everíbody oughtta do his share."

"Hungachi!í" someone said. "ĎEverybody same-sameí—that what you mean, Hack?"

"Well, everíbody should be the same," Hack retorted.

"When it comes to doiní things thatís for the good of the group."

"Donít you think the work Gus does at the kitchen is for everybodyís benefit?" Emmett asked him.

"He gets paid good enough for what he does over there," Hack sneered.

"What do you mean, Ďhe gets paidí?"

"All the extra chow he gets, aní better than the rest of us. I know how those guys work it over in the kitchen. Remember, I worked there for a while myself."

"Until Pete kicked you out because he found you were over there just to feed your face instead of work." The voice came across the room.

"Who thí hell said that?" Hack demanded belligerently.

"I did." The soft reply came from a stocky young Army officer.

"Nobody can tell me the guys there now ainít helpiní themselves to a lot of extra chow," Hack said, no longer belligerent.

"Of course not," the other retorted. "You couldnít understand someone going over to the kitchen to improve things. You couldnít because you have to judge by yourself. But the chow has damn sure improved since Pete got rid of you, and Gus went to work there."

"Pete didnít kick me out." Hack argued. "But that ainít what we was talkiní about anyhow." Hack didnít want to argue with the young officer. Arguing with Emmett was safe because the senior officer wouldnít resort to physical action, and Hack knew it; but he wasnít so sure about the younger one. "I still want to know why Gus gets out of all the work details," he said to Emmett.

Emmett was exasperated. "Hack, a man doesnít get a cleaning detail, or any of these little jobs except about once a week. Most assignments then are only a few minutesí work. Do you honestly feel that youíre being hurt because Gus doesnít take a turn on those? That what he does for everyoneís benefit, including your own, doesnít make up for it?"

"Well, it ainít that," Hack hedged. "Itís the principle."

"Principles! You talk about principles!" the Army lieutenant said with derision.

"Besides," Emmett continued, "every man in the kitchen crew does more work in a day than the average of the rest do in a month. I canít see any basis whatever for your complaint, Hack."

"All right," Hack said. "Say we did agree that he should get out of the regular details. Say everíbody agrees thatís okay. Thereís still the other workóthe dirty jobs. Thatís the ones I donít think he should get out of."

"What jobs do you mean?" Emmett asked. "We usually have enough volunteers for wood Ďchogiesí and stuff like that." "I mean the dirty jobs," Hack insisted. "Like cleaniní the latrine. Shouldnít nobody get out of that—Gus, or anybody else that works in the ldtchen."

"Do you want me to do it before I cook breakfast, or while Iím cooking it?" Gus asked. He had come in just in time to hear the last remark.

"There will be no change in the assignment of work details at the present time," Emmett announced to prevent further argument. "Anybody who still doesnít think itís right, as is, can see me privately tomorrow."

Hack grumbled something about "putting it to vote" to his clique. Conversation in general was slight.

"Hey, Hack!" Merke called from across the room, loud enough to attract everybodyís attention.


"You gotta take into account—one sailorís gonna look after another."

"Yeah." There was a nasty laugh. "I didnít think about that."

"Lieutenant Merke," Emmett called quietly but distinctly.

"Yeah?" Merke answered.

"You know better than that. I certainly didnít expect you to stab me in the back like this. Iíd advise you to mind your conduct."

Silence dominated the room. Several minutes passed before the normal murmur of low conversations began.

The following day, only one person sought out Emmett for a private discussion. Emmett was scrubbing clothes when Merke came up to him.

"Could I speak with you for a moment here, in private?" Merke asked.


"Itís about our little conversation last night," Merke said. Emmett felt some gratification that the other was man enough to come around and apologize.

"Yes?" the Navy lieutenant said.

"I canít help but resent the way you rebuked me in public last night," Merke told him. "I realize you outrank me, but you know as well as I do itís highly improper for you to criticize another officer publicly, especially in the presence of enlisted men."

Emmett felt an intense desire to smash Merke in the face. What good were words against such brash illogic? He had a feeling akin to the frustration heíd felt when heíd tried to argue politics with a communist indoctrinator. With considerable effort, he contained his anger. "Apparently you see nothing at all wrong in what you said just before that?"

"You mean what I said about sailors lookiní out for each other?"

"What else?"

"Well," Merke forced a light laugh. "If you canít take a little good-natured ribbing—"

"Thereís no point in discussing it further," Emmett said. "When you display such complete lack of judgment, I feel no call to afford you the respect due another officer." He closed the issue by turning back to his laundry. Shortly after Merke left, Emmett broke his "washing stick."


Smiling in recollection of the broken "washing stick," which Emmett had once told him about, the Sergeant looked again toward the rear of the truck. Merke was now engaged in conver- sation with Bender. Emmett, after a distasteful glance at both Bender and Merke, turned his head away to watch the scenery passing behind.

Even as he talked with Merke, Bender kept his eyes averted. Yet he showed no sign of remorse for the things he had done while a prisoner of the communists. Rather it seemed that Bender was merely ill at ease in the presence of others. Certainly his attitude was much different than his "fellow-confessor" Wendon, who still sat in utter dejection.

Perhaps, Wolfe thought, the stories he had heard about Bender were really so. He was reported to have said that "anyone who let himself be tortured was a fool," that the thing to do was "whatever the enemy wanted." Apparently Bender didnít believe in standing up to the enemy for any reason. "Interrogation neednít be resisted," he maintained, "because one person doesnít have enough information to do the enemy any good anyway." As to propaganda and false confessions—"Nobody of importance would believe that stuff anyway, so what matter?"

Did Bender truly believe that way, the Sergeant wondered, or was he only rationalizing to find excuses for his conduct? Such a belief was really a belief in nothing except in doing whatever seemed best for himself.

If that were the case, then quite likely Bender did volunteer, as some who knew him claimed. Perhaps his first act for the enemy wasnít brought about without some coercion; but after his first one, like other collaborators, heíd soon learned to volunteer his services in order to continue receiving the enemyís gratuities.

So one might call Bender an "opportunist." But no matter what you might call him, it was shameful to think an American would stoop for so little—especially an educated one like Bender. Of course, America was often called the "land of opportunity," but the phrase didnít mean the kind of opportunity that Bender had seized. Yet what kind did it mean? Perhaps if you looked at America as she was, you might find some answers, the Sergeant thought. If you had the guts to really look.

America was a young land that had grown rapidly. The glorious history of frontier days was still so fresh, Americans liked to think of themselves as pioneers. But they were no longer that, except perhaps in a very few fields of endeavor. As inevitably happens following successful development of a new enterprise, in the wake of the pioneer had come the profiteer. And so, to some, opportunity in America meant the furthering of personal interests regardless of consequence to fellow-man or country. Put any one of those in Benderís shoes and ask yourself—Would they act differently than he did?

The communists wished the world to believe that America is dominated by such opportunists. That, like all the communist line, was false; and yet, like much of the communist line, it had in it a seed of bitter truth, however small, that made it difficult to refute in the minds of simple people. The Kremlin in its strategy relied on the blind antipathy of the profound communist-haters in America who vehemently denied the existence of even the seed of truth inside the lie. Their denial, especially in influential places, prevented us from grubbing from the good American soil the evil seed—which, the communists hoped, would sprout and grow into a noxious spread

ing weedóno longer a seed of truth, but truth itself.

Communist victories in the battle for the minds of men depend on the weakness of the opposition, rather than the strength of com- munism. So we had to admit the presence of the Benders in our American society. Allowed to flourish, they can become as great a threat as communism itself. For their goal, too, was the achievement of irrevocable advantage over their fellow-men. And as their aims were the same as the communistsí, so were their tactics similar. If anyone accused the occasional power-mad politician or labor leader or profiteer of abusing the privileges and freedoms of America to further his own selfish aims, he would point a finger at his accuser and bawl, "COMMUNIST!" No, thought Wolfe, it was not only communism that constituted the threat, but its evil parent, materialism, whose children included both the communists and these others, of whom America had its share.

America still was a land of opportunity—no question about that. But it was foolish to kid yourself that it was a land of completely equal opportunity. That too changed with the passing of the frontier. For while pioneering demands, and often gets, the best for leadership, the growth of a complex society inevitably created areas of favored position. It was easier for the politicianís son to be a successful politician, or the generalís son to become a general, than for the farmerís son or the laborerís son to become either politician or general. Unfortunately, then, it was not always the most sincere and capable who found themselves in high positions of responsibility and control. But the farmerís son could become a general, or a president, or even both; and if he did, he was a better man for the uphill struggle. And as long as every man was free to strive and some had the ambition to do so, those in the favored positions were forced to merit their places, lest they be unseated.

The communists and the lazy decried this freedom as "inequality of opportunity"—the communists in blasphemy, the lazy as an excuse for their own lack of achievement—and the communists claimed there was no such inequality in their own lands. Even in that lay a twisted seed of truth. Among the ruling class, the opportunity was equal; may the better cut-throat win! Among the masses equality of opportunity lay in its absolute lack.

Recognizing these things, perhaps you could better see the purpose and object in the communist treatment of the American prisoners, mused the Sergeant. The enemy learned quickly that the American youth wasnít gullible enough to swallow the com- munist line outright. And if he did, of what value, really, was such a stupid fellow? For the communist purpose, the services of intel- ligent collaborators were needed—not to strengthen the communist forces, but to weaken the opposition. And Bender served them well.

Bender had been heard to boast of his own shrewdness in phras- ing his initial false confession. Certain times and dates heíd used could be readily proven untrue by his family or friends in the States. Certainly then, since he was so shrewd, Bender was not, as the press was calling it, "brainwashed." Then, too, as he explained it, Bender had made the confession so preposterous that even the least discerning of readers would "surely" see its absurdity. He didnít consider or care that some readers couldnít "discern" at all, or might not have the chance to do so.

The written confession was by no means Benderís only contribu- tion to the communist project. Following that came the broadcast; then the movie. The frequent articles he wrote for the camp propaganda sheet were written almost incidentally. By far his most effective contribution was his lecture:

"I am an American officer. Acting on orders of our government, I took part in bacteriological warfare. As pilot of an American airplane, I dropped bombs containing deadly bacteria where they could infect innocent women and children. The use of germ war- fare is inhuman. It was wrong for our government to order me to do this. It was wrong for me to do it even though I was ordered to do so. I must work to atone for the wrong I did. We must all work to atone for the crimes of our country. When the war ends and we are permitted to return to our loved ones, through the generosity of the lenient policy of the ĎChinese Peopleís Volunteers,í we must root out the evil in our government. We must all work for Peace!"

If Bender was truly unaware of the effect of his acts on the morale and well-being of other prisoners, then by what criteria was he ever commissioned as an officer supposed to be deeply concerned with the morale and well-being of his men? If he actually thought, "Surely anyone who hears this will know itís false," he should have heard Frye asking Sergeant Wolfe: "How about this Ďgerm-warí business, Sarge? That Lieutenant Benderís story looks mighty straight to me." After explaining to Frye, the Sergeant hoped to the young manís satisfaction, Sergeant Wolfe had sat and pondered—What of all the ĎFryesí in other camps, who have no one to go to and ask, "How about this, Sarge; is it true?"

All things considered, Bender must have known the things he did were wrong. It seemed inconceivable that a man of his educa- tion and training could fail to see at least some of the damage such acts could do. Was it then simple cowardice, along with a self-centered nature, that brought about Benderís submission? Bender had told his reason for writing the phony confession to another prisoner only a few days before. He said he did it because the enemy threatened to kill him. Did he think the enemy hadnít threatened to do the same thing to others? But Bender had gone on to explain that in his case he "felt certain the enemy meant it"! A lot of other men who didnít break felt certain the enemy meant it, too.

Were those other men heroes then? None of them seemed to think so; or at least were unconcerned about the question. Didnít they fear death? Trace their course as prisoners and you could learn how they felt about that. Take any one of them, for though they came from diverse elements of society, in the chain of events that befell them after capture, all had passed through the same crossroads, taken very much the same courses, and arrived at a common philosophy.

Consider the feelings of each man immediately after capture, which might be called a minor crossroad. No doubt each one had the sensation of impending death, but there were different reac- tions. Some dropped their heads and wept or moaned, "I guess theyíll kill us now." Others would experience a strange sadness, assuaged by pleasant memories which seemed to fill the void of momentary hopelesness. Many a man would remember with gratitude an intangible strength he couldnít call his own, which kept his mind clear and alert to what went on about him.

After a time, he knew the enemy didnít intend killing him—just yet, anyhow. That was logical enough; why capture a man just to kill him? There would be interrogation. That was the next cross- road.

"If you expect to be treated as an ordinary prisoner of war, you must cooperate with us," the enemy said. They threatened and harrassed him and coaxed him and pleaded with him. They let him go without food or water, or questioned him for hours or days without let-up. Even when he was left alone, perhaps he would be so cold he didnít dare to go to sleep for fear of freezing to death. All this could go on for him for days or weeks or months, depending on his reaction, or on how important it was to the enemy to break him down.

But in any case, the enemy would press him to the point where he had to make his decision—to cooperate or not. It didnít matter too much whether he reached the point of decision on the first day or the fiftieth—the sooner the better. For not until he reached his decision and made the enemy aware of it would they take the pressure off. If he decided to cooperate, his release was only temporary. He found he couldnít be just a little bit of a collaborator. If the enemy wanted something more, theyíd be back after him, and the pressure was on again.

No, the decision had to be against the enemyís wishes, if you wanted to continue on the right road. So then it didnít really matter if you were a private or a general, because what you decided was that you were ready to accept whatever was in store—even death—rather than collaborate.

But even if you took the proper turn at that crossroad, you had still another to go through—a crossroad not devised by the enemy but by your own decision to resist, come what might. The wrong turn at the new crossroad led to resignation to death, to that state of despair and self-pity in which so many wasted themselves away to oblivion. Your right course here was to adopt the philosophy so clearly followed by the men at the slave camp:

Except as you might be useful to them, the communists were not greatly concerned if you lived or died. Even if you made yourself useful for a time, they would cast you away when your usefulness was over. Accepting the likelihood of death, you must make every effort to stay alive—to keep your head and be alert for the ways and means of survival and even escape—strengthened always by the thought, if it came to that, facing sure death made you free again, not only from the enemy but to try to take him with you.

Only if you took all those proper turns in the course of events as a prisoner of the communists could you expect to attain the philosophy now shared by Emmett, Ghant, and so many others the Sergeant held in high regard. Only if you attained that philosophy could you come to know, as they all did: When man faces mortal enemies at overwhelming odds, death is a kindly, kindred spirit and nothing at all to fear.

© 2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman; used by permission of the author, Duane Thorin.