Frazier’s choice

As I have said elsewhere, in watching the Ken Burns film “The War,” I was deeply moved by Quentin Aanenson’s thoughtful comments showing how great the sacrifice soldiers make, not only in their suffering and in the danger they endure, but in their laying down their innocence. Tonight (I write this Wednesday night, after watching the re-broadcast of the final episode) I was struck by the choice Glenn Dowling Frazier had to make, and the price he paid until he was able to make it.

Frazier had been a prisoner of the Japanese from the fall of Bataan in the spring of 1942 to the very last day of the war. He and his friends had endured sadistic cruelty that could only have been matched halfway around the world in the death camps of Nazi Germany. He had survived the Bataan Death March. He had survived four different POW camps inside Japan. He had spent months expecting to be killed the moment that American troops set foot on Japanese soil.

Unexpectedly, he had survived. He had made it home. He was safe – except, then the nightmares began. He had plenty of reason for nightmares, of course, but in 1945 there was little help to be found for the scars that veterans brought home that didn’t show. Ultimately, though, what nearly destroyed his life wasn’t nightmares, but something much worse. He found himself unable to stop hating.

He hated, and he couldn’t stop hating. He had suffered too much, had seen too many others suffer too much. Perhaps some of the suffering had been unavoidable, but he well know how much of it had been deliberately inflicted by sadistic guards motivated by some combination of racism and contempt for those who had surrendered.

He hated, and he couldn’t stop hating, for years.

Then finally one day he realized that, as he put it, the Japanese didn’t care; they didn’t know he existed; they were rebuilding their lives – but the hatred was destroying him! With the help of a clergyman, he slowly learned to turn away from hatred, and finally the day dawned when he turned the corner. But he says for him the war lasted an extra 25 years.

Add that to the price soldiers may have to pay. Some die immediately, some die of injuries, some live handicapped in one way or another, some live with guilt, some live trapped in hatred.

I am not a veteran, but I do know about hatred, and I know that if love brings life, hatred is death to the soul. I am glad to hear that Frazier, having survived the shadow of death, was able to battle his way out of the shadow of hatred. But think of it! Four years as prisoner of war and 25 years more as prisoner of hatred.

Like Aanenson, like all the men interviewed for the show, Frazier paid a terrible price in a necessary war on our behalf. Those of us who are the beneficiaries of so much sacrifice would do well to remember that no matter what we may have sacrificed, for anything or anyone, it counts little next to what some of these boys sacrificed. If we cannot do anything else, we can learn from their experience. We can learn, and apply, at least the first lesson: Don’t hate.

An old saying has it that, “If you go to take revenge, dig two graves.” I’d go farther and say that you don’t even need to do anything. If you even hold hatred in your heart, you’re digging your grave. Might be something to hold in mind, this political year in this dark time.

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