LIEUTENANT COLONEL WENDON had not spoken once during the trip, nor had anyone spoken to him. It wasn’t that the others intended to ostracize the man; it was simply that his manner showed his desire to remain alone with his thoughts. That was another thing one came to do when closely confined with other prisoners. If you saw that a man wished to be left to his thoughts, you respected his wish.
When the prisoners were first loaded onto the truck, the Ser- geant had almost voiced a casual greeting as Wendon moved in beside him. He had held it back, however, because the colonel had slumped so quickly into the dejected position in which he still sat. Feeling, as most did, that the colonel had let them down, you could hardly expect anyone to try to force conversation with him.
The fact that he was so dejected was evidence that Wendon had let himself down, too. His whole appearance showed remorse. Remorse, thought the Sergeant, was something mighty hard to live with. One might well feel sorry for Colonel Wendon.
There’d been a story going around that Wendon’s assignment hadn’t required him to fly combat missions, that he’d sort of taken it on himself. It was easy enough for a man to get bored in a rear-echelon job and want at least to get up and have a look at the situation. It’s part of a military man’s natureif he didn’t have the fighting spirit and the urge to join in the fray, he wouldn’t be a good staff officer, either.
Maybe he took his flight mainly for personal reasons. Or maybe he wanted to see for himself something of what the ones who had to fly missions were encountering. It really didn’t matter much how or why he was captured. To the enemy it hadn’t mattered at all. To them he was just another prisoner, until they found out that he was of a bit higher rank than the average. Then they decided they had a use for him and set about to gain his cooperation.
Other than telling his rank and substantiating certain information about himself that the enemy gathered from the contents of his billfold, Wendon had refused to answer military questions. No doubt he was as apprehensive as anyone of what they might do to try to get information from him
"Wendon," the chinaman said, "now that you are our prisoner, there are certain things we will require from you." The interrogator was being polite and proper. Wendon didn’t answer.
"First we must ask you to make diagram of your organization, showing names and duties of all other officers with whom you work," the chinaman informed him.
"That I cannot do," Wendon replied. "It is military information."
"In accordance with the terms of the Geneva Convention" Wendon began to explain.
"You seem to forget that China was not a party to the Geneva Convention."
"It was!" the colonel insisted. "All major powers"
"You are thinking of the decadent Chinese Nationalist govern- ment of the despot Chiang Kai-shek, long since overthrown by the Chinese peoples themselves. The present government of China was not a party to the Geneva Convention." The chinaman paused, observing Wendon’s reaction.
"Still that does not mean the new government of China does not abide by international law," the interrogator continued, "or the terms of the Geneva Convention regarding prisoners of war. The fact is, our policy in dealing with the prisoner of war is even more lenient than that prescribed by your Geneva Convention. It is only with such preposterous details as saying the prisoner need not talk of military matters that we disagree. That is the purpose of taking prisoners in a warto get information. You know that is true, Colonel. Any military man knows that prisoners are taken to gain information. Field commanders send special patrols to take prisoners for such purpose. Is that not correct?"
Wendon decided it was best not to answer.
"So then, in order for the prisoner to qualify for the benefits of our lenient treatment it is necessary for him to show good faith as a prisoner. He must display willingness to cooperate. Even your Geneva Convention says the prisoner must cooperate. So you must do as I ask."
"And if I don’t?"
"Then you do not qualify as an ordinary prisoner of war to receive the good treatment guaranteed by the lenient policy of the Chinese People’s Volunteers."
"So then you execute me, is that it?" Wendon felt certain it wouldn’t be anything so simple as that.
"The humanitarian principles of the Chinese People’s Government and communism the world over would not permit such inhumane acts. We are aware that in your decadent capitalist society such would be the case, but in the true democracy of communism such things cannot happen." The interrogator watched closely for any effect these statements might have. "However," he continued, "if because of your failure to demonstrate good faith and qualify yourself for the benefits of our lenient policy you should fail to survive your imprisonment" He left it hanging there.
That’s a pretty shrewd angle the communists have, Wendon thought. They made their excuses in advance. He mulled it over in his mind, and decided there was no point in replying.
"You had best consider your position, Wendon. You are our prisoner. We have the power of life and death over you."
"I am aware of that," the colonel replied. "It makes no difference. Regulations of my service and my country do not authorize me to give military information and I will not do so." The statement was precise, proper, and sincere.
The enemy studied him for several minutes. "We shall see," he said finally.
For two weeks they proceeded to "see." Wendon could do nothing but reassert his position. With his rank he could hardly deny knowledge of all the various things they asked. His only recourse was to repeat his refusal, come what might. He expected he might be physically tortured, and though day after day passed without such treatment or even the direct threat of it, he remained apprehensive.
In the first interview, Wendon sat in a chair. That had been taken away immediately after he firmly stated his refusal. He didn’t miss it at first, finding his bedding quite as comfortable for sitting and very handy for lying down in between sessions. Later, he did come to miss the chair. It bothered him just a little that the interrogator sat higher than he did; it wasn’t a good arrangement for arguing. As for lying downhe didn’t get much chance.
The enemy didn’t deprive him of food, as he thought they might; but there were times when he felt as though he just couldn’t eat rice again, and didn’t eat very much. The most miserable part was not bathingnot even the chance to wash his hands after latrine calls. To a man normally fastidious about such matters, it was particularly repugnant to be unable to wash before meals. Still, it could be worse, he decided. There’d been no physical violence, as yet, anyhow. He tried to figure what he’d be like if the situation were reversed, and he was trying to get information from one of these fellows. Maybe he’d use different methods than they were using; then again, maybe he wouldn’t.
Toward the end of the second week, the interrogators teamed up on him. They worked in shifts, day and night, with no more than a few minutes rest in between. After the first thirty hours, Wendon was unaware of the passage of time. He vaguely remembered when he first began thinking desperate thoughts: "If they ever let me get a little rest, I’ll kill the first one that comes in alone."
From there his thoughts went on to envision possible courses of action. Maybe he could kill one and sneak away. That didn’t seem too likely; there were too many houses and guards about. Perhaps he could trick a guard, knock him out with a club or something, and get his weapon. There was a heavy stick by the latrine. With a weapon he could get one and maybe more of the enemy before they’d get him; and he’d make certain they’d have to kill him rather than recapture and perhaps torture him. The thoughts became a dream.
A hand shaking his shoulder awakened him. "Wendon! Wake up! You must not sleep while we talk with you!"
Awake, the dreams were thoughts again, unchanged. He looked at the interrogator sullenly and said nothing. He was thinking how much he’d like to kill the s.o.b. right now. There was only one now, but Wendon was too weak with fatigue. The next time he got a chance; when he was rested; if there ever was such a time
The interrogator asked a few more questions. Wendon was so engrossed in his thoughts he didn’t even notice what the questions were. His mind was dull and fogged, except for the vile thoughts of what he would like to do to the enemy. Those were quite clear. The only recognition he gave of the chinaman’s questions or presence was an occasional sullen glance. Mostly he was silent. But his silence was recognition of a sort. It meant as much or more to the interrogator than the glance.
"You may go to bed now," the chinaman said, rising from his seat. Wendon sullenly glanced at the interrogator, but had no idea what the fellow had said.
"I said you may go to bed now," the chinaman repeated.
"Ohthank you." The prisoner lay down and was asleep.
© 2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman; used by permission of the author, Duane Thorin.