Archive for July 11th, 2019

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Ernest Gordon (31 May 1916 – 16 January 2002) was the former Presbyterian dean of the chapel at Princeton University. Gordon spent three years in a Japanese prisoner of war (POW) camp during the Second World War. He chronicled his experiences on the Death Railway in his book Through the Valley of the Kwai. In this excerpt from his book, the Allied POWs were on a Japanese prison train in desperate conditions.  Prior to this, in a prison camp with unrelenting brutality by their captors, a spiritual revival spread through that camp.  Christ had changed these prisoners. Now in this prison train, they come to a stop.  At this stop, there were trainloads of Japanese wounded, “…on their own and without medical care”:

They were in a shocking state. I have never seen men filthier. Uniforms were encrusted with mud, blood, and excrement. Their wounds, sorely inflamed and full of pus, crawled with maggots. The maggots, however, in eating the putrefying flesh, probably prevented gangrene.

It was apparent why the Japanese were so cruel to their prisoners. If they didn’t care a tinker’s dam for their own, why should they care for us?

The wounded men looked at us forlornly as they sat with their heads resting against the carriages, waiting for death. They had been discarded as expendable, the refuse of war. These were the enemy. They were more cowed and defeated than we had ever been.

Without a word most of the officers in my section unbuckled their packs, took out part of their ration and a rag or two, and, with water canteens in their hands, went over to the Japanese train.

Our guards tried to prevent us, bawling, “No goodka! No goodka!” But we ignored them and knelt down by the enemy to give water and food, to clean and bind up their wounds. Grateful cries of “Aragatto!” (“Thank you!” ) followed us when we left.

An Allied officer from another section of the train had been taking it all in.

“What bloody fools you are!” he said to me.

“Have you never heard the story of the man who was going from Jerusalem to Jericho?” I asked him. He gave me a blank look, so I continued,

“He was attacked by thugs, stripped of everything, and left to die. Along came a priest who passed him by. Then came a lawyer, a man of high principles; he passed by as well. Next came a Samaritan, a half-caste, a heretic, an enemy. But he didn’t pass by; he stopped. Kneeling down, he poured some wine through the unconscious man’s lips, cleaned and dressed his wounds, then took him to an inn where he had him cared for at his own expense.”

“But that’s different!” the officer protested angrily. “That’s in the Bible. These are the swine who have starved us and beaten us. These are our enemies.”

“Who is mine enemy?” I demanded. “Isn’t he my neighbor? God makes neighbors; we make enemies. That is where we excel. Mine enemy may be anyone who threatens my privileges —or my security—or my person—as well as those poor wretches who know no better. If they don’t, we, at least, should. Whether we like it or not we are the ones who make the enemy and lose the neighbor. Mine enemy is my neighbor!”

He gave me a scornful glance and, turning his back, left me to my fulminations against society.

I regarded my comrades with wonder. Eighteen months ago they would have joined readily in the destruction of our captors had they fallen into their hands. Now these same officers were dressing the enemy’s wounds.

We had experienced a moment of grace, there in those blood-stained railway cars. God had broken through the barriers of our prejudice and had given us the will to obey His command, “Thou shalt love.”…

God, in finding us, had enabled us to find our brother.

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