This post is a response to a question posed by jilldennison in a reply to a comment I made on one of her articles. I felt it was a little too long for a comment there hence this post. You can view the original thread by visiting here. The following is a story originally told to me by my father on the rare occasions he opened up about his experiences of war.
My father was a platoon sergeant at a time when the front line was moving favourably for the allies. In an early morning patrol my father’s platoon stumbled across some 50 – 100 enemy soldiers who had taken over a school in which to spend the previous night. It was evident that they were unaware of how much the front line had moved, as most of the soldiers were in various states of undress and conducting morning ablutions in a stream that bordered one side of the school. Their weapons and helmets were neatly lined up against one of the school rooms and were actually closer to my father’s platoon than to most of the enemy. The lieutenant commanding the platoon ordered the platoon to advance to a slightly more advantageous position then on the command of my father to open fire.
My father ordered the platoon to stay put and under no circumstances to open fire. He made it clear to his men and the lieutenant that such an action was not only unnecessary, it was immoral. The enemy were clearly unarmed, and in no position to resist. Their best chances would have been to try to escape across the stream, but an embankment on the other side would have made them easy targets as they clambered up it. The morale of the enemy at that point of the war was very low, and often they viewed surrender as the best possible outcome regardless of any military advantage they might have.
The lieutenant and my father got into a heated (but whispered) argument which didn’t end even after my father was relieved of his command. My father never revealed what happened next apart from the final outcome where he paraphrased the official report of the incident, but it was clear that it didn’t go well for the enemy. The official report recorded that “heavy casualties” were inflicted on the enemy, and eleven combatants were captured. When asked on what happened to the rest, all my father would say was that a few crossed the stream and “one or two” escaped. Even when pressed he refused to say what happened to the rest. When I put it to him that they had all been killed, he refused to look at me and didn’t respond. Even I, as an autistic, was able to grasp the significance of his (lack of) response.
My question is: was the lieutenant and those soldiers who opened fire evil (a few, like my father refused)? If you say no, they were in a war situation, does that justify the slaughtering of up to 100 unarmed men, who, as my father described, “were sons, husbands, fathers, lovers, labourers, professionals, and most probably honest, decent people first and foremost”? If you excuse their action, then surely those who kill for different, but in their mind equally valid reasons, must also be excused. If, as in the case of the Christchurch mosque shooting or the Sandy Hook shooting, you consider them acts of pure evil, and therefore the persons committing them also evil, then surely the same applies to those who my father witnessed kill unarmed defenceless men.
If you believe one act was evil, but another not (and it doesn’t matter which you consider evil and which not) are you not justifying the event based on the premise that one group of perpetrators are “friends” while you regard the others as “enemy”. Do you not think that those who support the “enemy” might have the same mindset?
My father first relayed that story to me when he was in his mid to late seventies, some 55 years, perhaps a few more, after the event, and I heard it retold two or three times before his death at 90 years of age. There were minor discrepancies in the description of the locale between each telling, but not what happened, and as I last heard it perhaps 15 years ago, I can’t be sure I have remembered with absolute accuracy. However I am confident that the essential elements of the story are true.
In case you’re wondering, the lieutenant mentioned above was commended for his deeds that day. My father was court marshalled.