The Sergeant felt a strange mixture of emotions as he looked at the dejected figure sitting beside him in the truck. He was ashamed, ashamed of Wendon because he was broken. Still it was more than just being ashamed of him, it was also being ashamed for him. For Wendon was an American, and a military man as well. His failure was a reflection on both service and country. You had the same feeling when you saw one of the enemy looking with disdain on a sniveling "pinky," or a weak character like Seakie. It didnít matter who it was or what the reason, when you saw a fellow American groveling before the enemy you shared his shame. And well one shouldall America should!
You could rightfully say that Wendon had failed, in many ways. And thinking of that, perhaps you wondered why. There were many reasons. Heíd neglected to notice a lot of little things that might have warned him in time. He didnít recognize the falsity in Wangís story of being a "professor" until he noticed the fellow standing in the background to witness the signing of the phony confession. Too often Wendon had assumed good faith in some of the enemy. That was always a mistake when dealing with a communist. Because the colonel didnít foresee the enemyís end-purpose and the futility of his own course of action, he tried to argue with them. He thought he was experienced enough and smart enough to beat any and all of them. He might have bested them in fair debate, if it were an issue to be settled on basis of fact and logic. But his logic had no effect on them. With the communists this debate was not an attempt to reach honest understanding, but simply a means to a predetermined end.
It was Wendonís attempt to convince the enemy that led him into their trap. By distortion of his words and twisting of his statements, they "proved" he had contradicted himself. Nor could he be certain always that he hadnít. For combined with the constant harassing and his uncomfortable circumstance, the enemy tactics brought his mind to such a state, sometimes he was uncertain what he said even as he spoke.
When they first asked for a "confession," Wendon recognized that their aims went farther than that. But as they continued to harass him, the picture clouded. He came to see less and less of the end-purpose of the enemy and thought only about the issue of the moment. So he had come to feel it would be all right to give in to them on this one thing. A "simple falsehood" was all they were after. They assured him that was all. "What else could there be?" he asked himself. "And if he wrote in a fashion so certain people could see it was false"
But of course that wasnít the end. They came back, again and again, wanting something more. He should make a broadcast. There should be movies of him signing. He should write something for some of the magazines in communist countries. When he said he couldnít do that because he wasnít a writer, they had an answer.. He was introduced to Burchette, the communist "ace reporter," who not only helped write Wendonís article, but did a "biograph- ical sketch" as well.
Wendon suffered terribly when they left him alone. Relieved of the pressures from without, he became troubled within. Once rested from the torments of the enemy, his mind was plagued by remorse. While the communists harassed him and his mind was confused, he could "rationalize" and find reasons for doing as they asked. They even helped him. But when the enemy was gone, all the reasons why he should have resisted came back to haunt him. No doubt they were haunting him now as he rode toward freedom and home. Wendon had recognized too late what Kert had foreseen: You couldnít be just a little bit of a collaborator.
Besides the sense of guilt and shame the Sergeant felt with Wendon, he also had a feeling of pity for him. Not for what the enemy had done to him; many others had endured the same. The pity was for what Wendon had done to himself. For although he had failed both some of his fellow-prisoners and his obligation to service, most of all he had failed himself. For that, you might pity him; but you could not help him. All the sympathy in the world, all the good wishes of friends and family, could never remove the acid of remorse that eroded the soul of man when he failed himself.
Soothe his wound as he might with other ointments, from only one Source could Wendon hope to get the balm that could heal. And perhaps he would find it difficult, now, to seek it there. For it could be that he now felt that his God had forsaken him, too. Could be, he was thinking his prayer had gone unanswered. That was not so. "Deliverance" was what he had asked; "delivered" he was. If he had had the Faith to ask for strength instead, might not that have been granted him as well?
But how should America look upon this man? Some other pris- oners might justly look upon him with disdain, for the magnitude of his failure to them ranked second only to his failure to himself. But America, in judging him and others who failed, must see in them reflection of herself. To say to the weak "Forgiven" would be to brand all others "Fools." To call her wayward sons blameless would be to deny fault or weakness within herself. America must see her reflection clearly, that the blemishes, rather than being denied, might be corrected.
© 2002, 2003 by Lynn Waterman; used by permission of the author, Duane Thorin.