&#91FOUNTAIN&#93The choices in battle

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&#91FOUNTAIN&#93The choices in battle

“My body shakes. I feel as if there is ice buried deep within my bones. What is my army division? Last school of graduation? Hometown? Why did I become a soldier? What do I think about communism? What are my feelings toward the United States?
“I’m a platoon leader of a failed South Korean unit during the 1950-1953 Korean war. I witnessed a death of our noncommissioned officer after having infiltrated into enemy territory. I have been captured alive in a crossfire with the enemy. Having finished interrogating me, the enemy soldiers have dumped me in a trench. I will be executed soon for refusing to convert to communism.
“An hour from now they will come to take me away. The captain, after exchanging a few words, will tell me to walk straight ahead and to not look back. I will hear the snow crackle under each one of my last steps. Wait a minute. They might strip me naked because of my fatigues, which are torn but not faded U.S. military fatigues.”
The above is an excerpt from a novel titled “Delay,” written by Oh Sang-won, a post-Korean War writer.
Raw pain, deep despair, fear of cold bullets and a thin thread of hope for his life jumble in the mind of the novel’s protagonist, who has received an hour-long stay of execution from communist soldiers.
“I will take precise steps. The sound of the loading gun cuts through the air as cold as the wind ... It feels like someone is pulling me from the back of my head. I feel acute pain and shock in my back. White snow turns to gray and then disappears into darkness. The executioners gather their guns, sheepishly, and head back to headquarters as the warm sun shines on the white snow.”
The fear of a soldier is not any less than that of a civilian, just because a thin helmet encases his head. A soldier in battle has three choices: To kill, be killed or be taken as a prisoner of war.
Watching Iraqi soldiers surrender, walking wearily with hands behind their heads, their faces hardened with fatigue or terror, I wonder whether there was a cause for them to fight for to begin with.
Once the war is under way, the only surviving virtue can be one of the two: A military prowess that overpowers the enemy or a community’s values that are worth dying for.

by Chun Young-gi

The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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