21 September 2006

Bad Soldiers

My speculative and philosophical powers are out of a rather large Syrian hamster, by a particularly puny armadillo. Both these creatures are solitary, short sighted and small brained. Neither has much capacity for anticipating danger - hamsters regularly fall off tables and chairs with no visible expression of concern, and the nine banded armadillo leaps straight up into the air to avoid danger, without first looking to see if there is anything in its way. This careless manoeuvre has resulted in the untimely demise of many armadillos who have unthinkingly head butted the undersides of passing cars. My unthinking tends to work in much the same way.

In 1957 I was given a copy of “A Year of Grace” compiled by Victor Gollancz “to express a mood about God and man” - an anthology now out of print but still to be had in libraries and second-hand bookshops. It’s good brain food and I recommend it. Gollancz drew from more than 160 different sources ranging from the Upanishads to the Yorkshire Evening Post, and from Marcus Aurelius to Albert Schweitzer. I remember in the long aftermath of the sometimes bitter Peace of 1945 being much moved and provoked into thought by a report he reprinted from his own monthly, ‘Left News’. In the midst of the current maelstrom of the fanaticism, hatred and hysteria stemming from the Middle East, it resonates just as powerfully now as it did sixty two years ago.

‘November, 1944 .....an extract from a letter received from an Austrian Jew now in the British Pioneer Corps in the B.L.A. He is attached to a hospital receiving German wounded. He had been for nine months in the concentration camps of Dachau: he had been hung by the wrists to a tree and had nearly died of gangrene, Jews at that time not being allowed medical attention in concentration camps......

‘“This is being written in the solitude of a ward in which I am guarding wrecked members of the Herrenvolk. It is so strange a situation that I can hardly describe what I am feeling. Loneliness is perhaps the only word for it. These are men who set out to conquer the world, and they and their kind have done unspeakable things to me and my kind, and I am supposed to hate them with all my strength, and would be right to do so according to the recognised standards of human behaviour. But I cannot hate, or is it that in the face of suffering hatred is silent? So it happens that the guard is turned into a nurse, and if a man, from losing too much blood, goes out of his mind and stammers incoherently, I have to talk him to sleep again. And it sometimes happens that men try to hold my hand when I have helped them.....

“What shall I make of that? I can only draw one conclusion, which is that I am a terribly bad soldier and I am somehow glad about it.”’

Let us thank God for bad soldiers.

Naomi Linnell