This Presentation Edition
of

BURMA DIARY

is Issued in Celebration of the
Inauguration
of

PAUL FRANCIS GEREN

as the Fifth President
of
Stetson University
January Twenty-six
Nineteen Hundred and Sixty-eight

Of an Edition Limited to One Thousand Copies
This is Copy Number 186. Each copy of This
Presentation Edition has been Autographed by the
Author.

BURMA DIARY

By

Paul Geren

 

Original Pen and Ink Drawings
by
Cyrus Leroy Baldridge

 

EVERETT/EDWARDS, inc.

DELAND, FLORIDA

1943

 

"If I make my bed in hell, behold,
thou art there."

PSALM 139:8.

 

Contents

Introduction
I. Rangoon, December, 1941 / 3
II. Rangoon, Christmas Eve, 1941 / 5
III. Rangoon, Christmas Day, 1941 / 6
IV. Mong Tung, Southern Shan States, Burma, March 8, 1942/ 11
V. Pyinmana, Burma, March 27, 1942 / 13
VI. Pyinmana, March 30, 1942 / 15
VII. Pyinmana, March 31, 1942 / 16
VIII. Pyinmana, April 2, 1942 / 21
IX. Shwemyo Bluff, Burma, April 7, 1942 / 23
X. Tatkon, Burma, April 9, 1942 / 24
XI. Tatkon, April 10, 1942 / 25
XII. Tatkon, April 11, 1942 / 27
XIII, Tatkon, April 12, 1942 / 29
XIV. Kyaukse, April 17, 1942 / 31
XV. Mandalay, April 22, 1942 / 32
XVI. Shwebo, April 24, 1942 / 34
XVII. Wunto, May 4, 1942 / 39
XVIII. Near Homalin, May 6, 1942 / 40
XIX. The Chindwin River, near Homalin, May 7, 1942/ 42
XX. On the Chin Hills, May 8, 1942 / 44
XXI. On the Chin Hills, May 9, 1942 / 45
XXII. On the Chin Hills, May 11, 1942 / 46
XXIII. On the Chin Hills, May 12, 1942 / 47
XXIV. Manipur Road, Assam, India, May 23, 1942 / 48
XXV. Gauhati, Assam, India, May 28, 1942 / 49
XXVI. Gauhati, Assam, June 2, 1942 / 53
XXVII. Gauhati, Assam, June 6, 1942 / 55
XXVIII. Gauhati, Assam, July 1, 1942 / 59
XXIX. Ramgarh, Bihar, July 25, 1942 / 1
XXX. Ramgarh, Bihar, July 30, 1942 / 62

 

INTRODUCTION

The Battle of Britain ended in the Fall of 1941. For more than a year the German Luftwaffe had crossed the Channel every evening at dusk to drop their incendiary bombs on an island people who had refused to capitulate to the Nazi juggernaut that had so decisively asserted its supremacy elsewhere in western and central Europe. During that seemingly endless year the British people---burned, bludgeoned, but unbowed---fought on alone. This was, indeed, "their finest hour."

Impatient for success and confident of victory, Hitler unleashed 150 divisions against Soviet Russia in June, 1941. At last Britain had a major ally and the Grand Alliance began to take shape; united, like all coalitions, not by common interests or values, but by a common fear of a mutual enemy. At first the German armies were as successful in eastern Europe as they had been on the western front a year earlier. But the Germans failed to win their twin objectives of Moscow and Stalingrad before they were halted by stiff Russian resistance and the bitter cold of an early winter. Victory would have to wait until Spring.

By that time the Axis forces had a third partner, Imperial Japan, and the Allies another major member, the United States. Pearl Harbor abruptly ended any American illusions that World War II could be anything less than global. The Japanese march of aggression, which had begun in Manchuria in 1931, now picked up momentum as Imperial Japan exploited its initial military advantage to carve out an empire in the East that could match her Axis partner in the West. In quick succession Hong Kong, Manila, Singapore, Bataan, and Corregidor fell. Maintaining their momentum Japanese forces pushed into Burma in a lightning move that made the entire Indian subcontinent vulnerable to conquest.

Here the Burma Diary picks up the story and makes poignant and personal the human drama of that Japanese advance and the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of Chinese, Indians, Burmese, British, and Americans to India. In this moving and meditative account war is no longer the impersonal movement of mass armies of "Allied" or "enemy" troops. Perhaps the ultimate evil of war is that it almost succeeds in depersonalizing---and thereby dehumanizing---man. But suffering and death, even as love and hatred, are experienced individually, not collectively. And yet; paradoxically, it is this universality of suffering and tragedy that can unite the family of men in their common humanity. Written from the vantage point of a refugee-missionary caught suddenly in the midst of war, the Diary catches the triumph of the human spirit and the Christian conscience --- enmeshed in the tragedy and contradictions of war.

The diarist had not planned things this way at all. He certainly had not come out to Burma to drive an ambulance or to change bloody bandages in a field hospital. In the Fall of 1941 Paul Geren, with a brand new Ph.D degree in Economics from Harvard in hand, agreed to spend two years at Judson College in Rangoon, Burma, as a short-term missionary under the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society. Here was an opportunity to fuse faith and learning as a missionary-educator. Anticipating an exciting but orderly year in his first teaching post, Dr. Geren met his first classes in Rangoon on the eve of Pearl Harbor.

December 7 abruptly changed the plans of millions of Asians and Americans, including those of the young professor at Judson. That day Japanese planes dropped leaflets on Rangoon as a warning of worse to come. The bombs followed and Judson College closed for the duration of the war. Professor Geren's classroom now became a field hospital as he offered his services as an ambulance driver to Dr. Gordon Seagrave, the famed Burma surgeon. Seagrave had mobilized his Baptist Hospital in Namkham to provide field hospitals for the Chinese soldiers who had come to Burma to fight the Japanese.

Following Pearl Harbor General Joseph W. Stilwell, the senior American military officer in Southeast Asia, took command of American forces, such as there were, in China, Burma, and India in a brave but futile effort to stem the Japanese advance. He commissioned Dr. Seagrave as a major and added him to his staff. Other Americans abroad showed their loyalty by serving with the army, but without any official ties and without any commission or pay---there was no time for formal inductions. One of these was Paul Geren. In the weeks and months that followed he ministered to Chinese soldiers, first as an ambulance driver, then as a field hospital attendant on the front lines which the Chinese were failing to hold against the Japanese.

Here amidst the days of retreat, and the even longer nights of suffering and death, emerges a hope that transcends human helplessness and a faith made existential in the giving of "a cup of water to drink" in the name of Christ. Here the reader senses an authentic faith that practiced rather than preached, that did not flee the world, but both accepted and loved the world in spite of the logic of cynicism and fatalism that such desperate conditions inspired. Such a faith became the courage to act in the arena of human need, and not merely to profess from the grandstands.

The first half of 1942 were months of retreat and defeat for the Allies everywhere. In Russia the critical battle of Stalingrad was being waged in hand-to-hand, block-to-block combat; in the desert sands of North Africa General Rommel, the "Desert Fox," and his Afrika Korps forced back the British Eighth Army; while in the Pacific Japanese landing forces were snaking from island to island enroute to Australia, and General MacArthur could only talk bravely of returning. Burma, too, had fallen to the Japanese. The Diary notation for May 4 reads, "We have begun to run. The Japanese are to the south at Kaleywa, we think they are to the north at Myitkyina and we must try to go between before they close the circle."

Within a few months the tide of battle would turn in every theater of the war---at Midway, Stalingrad, and El Alamein. But the Diary ends with no guarantee of victory or a "happy ending" for in mid-1942 there was no assurance that the tide would turn, or that even the diarist would survive the war. Actually the outcome of the war was of secondary importance; ---one lives now, if at all. Eternity applies as much to the quality as to the quantity of life. In the midst of death, life, stripped of the material bric-a-brac we accumulate, took on a new richness for the diarist on the Burma road. In that sense the reflections inscribed in the Diary are timeless since they document the paradoxes of human behavior and the response of the human spirit to adversity.

Most memorable are the incidents of individual humaneness and heroism that emerge to mute the inhumanity of war. Note the entry made on the night of March 8, 1942, after a four-day a march through dense jungle to set up a hospital station on the Thai border. That day a friendship was struck with a Chinese student-turned-soldier. Maio's home had been destroyed and his family scattered by the Japanese, but hatred had not consumed him. He still loved, even his enemies.

If some must hate in order to fight, I suppose they must hate. If some can love their enemies, yet fight them and not be overcome by the incongruity, by all means let them love. Whatever hearts can be saved from hatred, and by whatever paradoxes, let it be done.

Harold J. Schultz
Chairman, International Studies
Stetson University
1968

 

December

I. Rangoon, December, 1941

THIS morning the first bombs fell on Rangoon. Before they fell, life thronged the streets of the city. Her market places were filled with Indians faithful to their duties. (She is more an Indian than a Burmese city.) There were dock workers and rickshaw men, worn of hand by the shafts, worn of foot by the paving stones, messengers, coolies awaiting any work that might be offered. First an air-raid siren, a filling of the air with planes, attacking and defending, a rain of bombs, and fifteen hundred people, mostly these Indian workers, trapped in the streets, are dead. Twenty minutes in the dimension of time have just encompassed a thousand years in the dimension of hope and fear. Twenty minutes have seen more people die than did the heaviest all-night raid on London.

It is an exceedingly disturbing thought to contemplate what unequal progress understanding has made at different levels. The men in the streets can see the airplanes, and hear them, and they can feel any bomb shrapnel that hits them, never doubt that. Their sensory perception of bombs and planes is well-nigh perfect. But they do not perceive what is the nature of the weapons and what they must do in the best service of their own safety. They perceive only dimly now, fleeing Rangoon as Lot fled Sodom. When the people do not know at what figure to assess a terrible truth, their credulity will make it more terrible still. Some members of an ambulance unit tell me that they saw a baby killed by his parents and friends just before an air raid on a Chinese town. It was their way of hushing his crying. The terrible omniscience of those men in the bombers! Surely they could hear the hapless wail of the child and would know where to drop bombs on the people. It was one of those grotesque occasions in history which the people thought called for the sacrifice of a child.

There is an even more grave disproportion in the progress of understanding than this. The weapons and the type of warfare that burst in Rangoon today were developed, for the most part, in the West. How swiftly and well the Japanese have learned, we saw. The people in the streets learned in the final way that a man who has swallowed poison learns its efficacy. It is a lesson they did not ask for and will not have another day of life ever to apply.

 

 

II. Rangoon, Christmas Eve, 1941

YESTERDAY we were bombed and it will happen again tomorrow. The Japanese are promising a "Christmas present for the white people" over the Bangkok radio. Christmas can be occasion for much mockery. One need not believe in Christmas to manufacture and sell toys for its celebration.

Whatever came yesterday, and whatever will come tomorrow, tonight we sang Christmas carols. We were a motley choir, begotten of a day between air raids, so widely apart in size, in mind, in social status, and so variously gifted with song that one had to chuckle if ever he stood apart to make appraisal of us.

One of the carolers was an Austrian Jewess. It seems that this war always comes to its frightful worst when it confronts a Jew. She had escaped from Austria and had set up a little school in Rangoon. In yesterday's raid a bomb exploded next to her house, burned it with all her things, and left her greatly shocked. All through the singing she was crying softly.

This was the place and the thing for her and for all of us. Christmas carols are as excellent bits of defiance as we could have found to throw into the teeth of despair. And despair was pressing hard upon us.

If it seems farcical to be singing about the Prince of Peace in a time like this, consider alternatives. A man could become cynical, could hopelessly despair, but, if he did, nothing would have been accomplished. If our choice is to be forlorn on rational grounds or hopeful on grounds whose case is not conclusive logically, it ought not to be a hard decision to make. It is the best part of rationality, even, to care more for hope than for the relentless logic with which war follows war,

 

 

III. Rangoon, Christmas Day, 1941

WE HAVE dug our air-raid ditches, and many alerts have taught us the way to them. We put bamboo poles across the ditches, a sheet of tin across the bamboo, and a layer of earth on top. It is rather naive to fortify against bombs with bamboo. Almost everything is done with bamboo here. Living and dying with it, we turn to it in this crisis. As we philosophized while building, "It is protection against anything but a direct hit, and nothing is protection against that."

We prepared two ditches, since one of regulation size would not contain both us and our Indian cook with his family. Cook he is---but his name is Rajah, as if he ruled an Indian state. There is no mistaking the religion to which the generation of his sons and daughters belongs. The list of their names reads like a roll call of Bible characters: Paul, the eldest son, Peter the next, Margaret Mary, the girl (I suppose this double name was a way of accommodating the scarcity of girls to the abundance of possible Biblical names) and the youngest is Moses.

After the alert sounded and before the bombs began to fail, I went by their shelter to "make assurance double sure." They were all in. Rajah was holding Moses, and Moses was holding their little black dog. The animal had sensed the peril from the siren and from the family's frightened haste. His tail was between his legs, and his head was tucked down against his chest. He was doing for a dog just what Moses was doing for a boy. This ducking of the head seems to be a natural reaction to the expectation that something will fall from above. The dog seemed glad to be in Moses' arms who was in Rajah's arms who was in God's arms since so much love was there.

 

March

IV. Mong Tung, Southern Shan States, Burma, March 8, 1942

I AM driving an ambulance for the Chinese soldiers who have come to Burma to fight. Now I have left the ambulance behind to come four days' march through dense jungle to help set up a hospital station for a Chinese regiment posted on the Thai border. I have found a friend. His name is Maio, a twenty-three-year-old Chinese university student, secretary to the Chinese officer commanding the troops here.

The other night some of us were invited to have stew at a camp in the middle of the jungle. Our hosts were a party of British guerrillas---all young men about college age. Every man among them had a story which told like a novel. They had been at Dunkirk, Crete, Egypt, Libya; one had a bullet hole through his pants in the last raid, one had escaped out of German hands; one had been the captor of Max Schmeling in Crete; and all were participants in raids like those of Francis Marion in our revolutionary war during which they would attack an enemy force of much greater size, create havoc, destroy supplies, and as suddenly flee as they had attacked.

The captain of the group, brave, sophisticated, cruel, expounded to us his plan for a postwar world---no room in it for or Germany and Japan; he made that very clear. Later Maio and I talked alone. Taking his cue from the speech we had heard, Maio asked how I would address a company of soldiers under my charge when I sent them into battle. I said that I did not know and that I was glad I did not have that job, though I realized this was too easy an evasion of the issue. I turned the question back on him. He would say, "Men, love your enemies. But drive them from your homes which they have wrongfully taken.---This would be sufficient," he said with a certainty which must have come down in direct line from Confucius.

I do not know whether this would be sufficient for all who are charged with winning the war. But I contend that Maio's speech must be taken seriously. Maio has a right to be taken seriously. Maio has a right to be heard. His home was among the first to fall to the Japanese nearly five years ago. He has not heard a word from his family since that time. He started walking then, and he has covered eight thousand miles, putting his feet down and picking them up again, all chargeable to the Japanese account.

If some must hate in order to fight. I suppose they must hate. If some can love their enemies, yet fight them and not be overcome by the incongruity, by all means let them love. Whatever hearts can be saved from hatred, and by whatever paradoxes, let it be done.

 

 

V. Pyinmana, Burma, March 27, 1942

NOW we are on the front which the Chinese are holding against the Japanese. Camouflaged with branches of mountain trees, our trucks came down out of the mountains of the Southern Shan States onto this plain. How many times "great Birnam wood to high Dunsinane hill" has come in this war. When we hit the plain it was parching in the first month of the hot season and the sixth month of the dry season. The hot wind and sun baked the leaves serving as our camouflage, and later, when we stopped in a village, a forlorn bullock came up and gratefully chewed off the one remaining green leaf on my truck.

We arrived on a Saturday night at nine. For three hours we worked setting up the operating theater. At three o'clock that morning the cases began to come from the front. They were bleeding and groaning. Some had fresh wounds; others had wounds as old as thirty-six hours. The only way any of us here could endure the sight of so much agony was to act, act, act. I gave them water to drink. When I read in the New Testament, "Whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name . . . " I supposed it was one of those passages meaningful and beautiful for its poetry but impossible of any literal fulfillment in our time. You do not get many opportunities to offer people cups of water. They have their own. And even when you do, it is a very routine convenience---nothing you associate with the name of Christ.

Actually, much of the New Testament has taken on a relevance at the practical bread and water level of life. This is due partly to the war and partly to the East. In this time and in this place I have learned a new reverence for water. In the fighting, men who have been told to drink nothing but boiled water are driven by the heat and their maddening thirst to turn up any filthy pottery jar found in a deserted native but for the dregs it may contain.

So I gave water to drink in the name of Christ. I did not say it. I did not know the proper Chinese words, and had no confidence that the wounded soldiers would know it even if I did. But it was not really the language barrier which kept me from pronouncing a sentence over each cup. Whoever received it might think this kindness a special type of kindness not akin to all the rest of love. He might think it an act of love which had some conditions or obligations besides the ones that he needed water and I had it to give.

Nevertheless, I tried to give it in the name of Christ, knowing how unessential any inscription was to such a gift. This was to give it in the name of Christ, to say not aloud, but silently, "O Christ, thou wast plunged into a pool of all man's suffering and sin. These who suffer, suffer not alone. Thou hast suffered. Bless the water, O Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Succor the spirit of this man who drinks it, great Comforter. And accept the praise of him who gives it that he has been, like the cup, a vessel between man's need and thy compassion, thou everlasting God. Amen."

 

VI. Pyinmana, March 30, 1942

I CAN live the day, but the night is hard to bear. The fires, the thunder of the guns, and the continuous, foreboding rumble of the trucks, moving, moving, moving, taking soldiers down, bringing soldiers back---these things are disquieting enough in the day. At night they have a new and more fearful quality. This is because the night enshrouds them. In it they find their befitting color.

The Japanese bomb this town with a regularity which leaves no room for surprises. You marvel that after the place has seemingly been reduced to ashes every new bombing starts the desolate ash bin to burning again. In the day flames rise up and lick the smoke they have belched. We speculate about the wind as boys who fly kites, but our speculation is more grave. The question is whether the wind will blow the flames into this house which we use as an operating theater and burn it before we can move the patients out. At night things are not so honest and in the open. The fire smoulders and throws up into the sky a weird, eerie glow. It is that shade of gray-yellow which is the most ominous of colors. Swarming in this admixture of light and darkness, billions of particles of ashes and dust stir like restless atoms.

When a wounded man groans in the day, I go to him, see what I can do, mutter something that I hope he will understand for sympathy. When the night comes to throw a cloak about his groans, that is the time I answer groan with groan and affirm that our plight is as hopeless as it seems.

The darkness is my enemy. The irresistibility with which it puts the case for despair tells me that despair is the child of darkness. As I trust the day and not the night, I will trust hope and not despair. "If our hopes are dupes, our fears may be liars." Because here is so much power for turning fears to liars with it, I say it: Our fears have lied, but the hopes are true.

 

VII. Pyinmana, March 31, 1942

IT is life the war is hounding, and with thoroughness and system it sets on all who have life, men and animals. Tonight as I was tediously making my way in a jeep through the debris that clutters the streets of this town, I came across an old pack-of-bones, cur dog, smelling among the ashes for food. He was troubled, hungry, furtive. His master with all the other townspeople had run. Some loyalty to the old home, more durable than his master's, made him stay behind.

In Rangoon it was the cows among animals who were suffering. In the East, cows make themselves very much at home in the cities: They jostle with the crowds in Calcutta, engage in friendly shoulder-shoving with the people along the narrow paths of Lahore, and chew their cud with tranquillity in the center of the Public Treasury of Gauhati. I doubt if the news that their fellow kine are seldom seen on the streets of New York would disturb them much or change their way of living. Because they were in the streets when the Rangoon bombings came, standing there chewing on unperturbed while the people scurried for shelter, many of them were hit. The shrapnel tore holes in their stomachs and through them the intestines fell and dragged. They stood about not chewing their cuds any longer, but looking wronged, questioning, voicing a distressed lowing now and then.

On the way out of Rangoon many families were starting the journey to India in the company of their water buffalo. Their thin black hair and their affinity for mudholes makes them seem as much hog as cow. They are grim enough in ordinary times. Now that they were hot, dusty, and starved, they looked still more grim. Men and animals pushed each other about with as much good will as a trying situation would permit. They had learned one another's company before this. Boundary lines between house and cowshed are not very circumspectly drawn in the Orient. In winter, the two buffalo are sometimes taken into the one-room village house along with the six children. All of this enabled their masters and them to confront this adversity as one family of men and animals.

 

April

VIII. Pyinmana, April 2, 1942

ONE of the remarkable things that is going on inside me is a new and quickened desire to live. I say it is remarkable. Logically, you ought to be most willing to part with life when it is ugliest. In addition to that, a part of the preparation for war is to assess the perils and strike a balance with them by deciding that after all, life is not so dear. In my sophomoric way I like to think of myself as both a philosopher and a religious man. Either one of those professions should have weaned me away from an inordinate love of life. Certainly both together should accomplish it. But if religion needs to win some away from an inordinate love of life, it needs to win other dyspeptic souls to the right love of it. Perhaps it is doing this for me.

I keep saying: "I want to see this thing through. I want see whether we will make the same mistakes at the peace. I want these Chinese to see their homes and families again. I want to hear the breathing of my sweetheart, to know her presence as something more than the blessed vision that hovers over these roads and battlefields. I want to bend my head over my Mother's shoulder for a long, silent time. I want to stand over my brother's new grave on the clay hill at home and pray." I have the feeling that things have been taken up which cannot yet be put down.

This is happening partly, I suppose, on the principle that we do not learn how much we treasure a thing until we are threatened with its loss. An explanation I am more satisfied with is this: All the wrong I see is yearning to be righted, all the unloveliness to be made lovely, all the disordered to be set in order. Whoever sees this begins to plead the cause of right, loveliness, and order. He pleads with hope. Just now, hope is his sole case. St. Paul said, "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." It is true also, I think, that where desolation abounds, hope the more abounds.

Life is worthy to be loved: where she is good, loved for her goodness; where she is wrong, loved for the hope that our struggle will redeem some section of wrong and set it right. Even when she is wrong we must be carried in her arms as we hope better things for her.

Because the young Chinese soldier died today, he with the face so full of intelligence and light, I am sad. It was release from pain and into what is God's secret. Yet I believe even on the cruel terms of pain, he wanted to live.

 

IX. Shwemyo Bluff, Burma, April 7, 1942

EVERY time we begin to move a Chinese soldier from our operating theater to a hospital further back behind the lines, he begins to cry, "Wadi dungshi, wadi dun gshi". . .  my things, my things. From any Western, twentieth-century, high-standard-of-living point of view, his "things" are not worth crying for, especially if the man who must cry out is half dead and needs all his breath. His things are, usually, a water bottle, a pair of thin khaki puttees that he wraps from ankle to knee, and a shirt or a pair of shorts of some thin fabric. Though the soldiers are in great pain, they worry about this kit, they want to know where it is when they come out from under the anesthetic, and they do not care to be moved unless it is moved with them.

The reason may be that they are threatened with some severe punishment for the loss of these things. On the other hand, it may be the thing I will tell about now. I find the same, almost affectionate attachment to my things winding around me. I have a high regard for this shirt I am wearing and for a pair of yellow underwear shorts that I have. It is not the love of things that Wordsworth denounces when he accuses, "The world is too much with us." This is not that brilliant and enticing world which we are to be not of---khaki puttees and pale yellow underwear.

The affection with which we regard these things is an affection of necessity. We must be loving, and we seize on everything at hand, personifying objects---as we did when we were children. The war is here, so our spirits set about with all their ingenious resources to make a world of tenderness and love. Our spirits are doing just what our bodies do when they manufacture and release an army of agents to leap on a virus which attempts an invasion of that realm. If it is silly to go around loving a rag, that is only an extremity forced upon us by a cruel situation. The basic idea is magnificent. Our souls are set to making love.

 

X. Tatkon, Burma, April 9, 1942

THIS morning when one of our young English ambulance drivers was rummaging around in Pyinmana to get any good thing which might possibly remain in that desolation before the Japanese embrace it, he found a mechanical gramophone and some records. He brought them here to our new site of operations along with a big Buddha, a sack of sugar from the jail, and a water filter.

We have some time to rest this afternoon because the front has been quiet. The blessed leisure is being filled with music. The Boston Symphony Orchestra did not sound as splendid in Symphony Hall as this mechanical gramophone is sounding to me.

One of the few pieces we have is "The Moldau," by Smetana. It was the favorite of my brother who died while I was coming to Burma. We play it over and over again, not discontent that we have little else to play. I am caught in a strange confusion of sadness and joy. The sadness is not only for my brother, but for all the men I have seen suffer and die. The joy is for the magnificent bounty of music, joy that is part wonder that men should capture such melody from the air, and that others should cause it to sing from the strings of a violin with their hands. I listen with a lump in my throat and a warmth in the pit of my stomach, and am reminded of Shelley's line: "Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought."

Brian, who found this gramophone and the records, looks as if he is undergoing the same experience as I. In England he was a violinist in an amateur symphony orchestra. Once in a while he delicately moves his hands as if he were conducting. His face is radiant. Here is a third wonder---this transport of him who listens through aeons of time, infinities of space, universes of feelings.

Joy reasserts itself even after we had thought it swallowed and gone. Let us but see God's face, and we can look at all hell and not faint.

 

XI. Tatkon. April 10, 1942

THE problem of achieving goodness is not only to develop specific virtues, but to develop them in the right combination. It is certainly difficult to pull the covers of a virtue high enough to keep the head warm without leaving the feet uncovered. It is difficult to be brave and not scornful, self-reliant and not un-co-operative, penitent and not morbid.

The Chinese are callous to their own suffering. Their expectation is to suffer, and no evil thing comes as a surprise. When the anesthetic began to run low in Mong Tung, Maio noted the occasion by telling the story of an ancient Chinese warrior who read a tale to his friends while the surgeon extracted an arrow that lay deep in his flesh.

This splendid courage shows short on the other end in the same callousness to the sufferings of others. The Chinese soldiers do not jump to help a wounded man out of an ambulance, but wait to see what he can accomplish for himself. None seems to have the imagination to keep the flies out of the mouth of a man whose jaw has been broken. When I took a load of wounded to the hospital ship, the young Chinese officer wanted to have tea and discuss America before we took up the pressing business of getting the groaning men onto the ship.

Here is another case, very pertinent we think, because it touches us at the sensitive spot of our own safety. When the Chinese get ready to fall back in retreat, they simply do it without bothering to notify various interested parties, of whom we like to think we are one. We have been caught in the middle of a retreat with trucks and men milling about us and the consciousness that the Japanese may strike at us from the air at any moment. But the Chinese have left behind covering parties of their own fellows who will be swallowed in the Japanese advance and perhaps never heard from again, like the Grenadier Guards at Dunkirk. In being careless of us they love us just as they love themselves. That strikes us as not loving us enough, because they love themselves too little.

It takes imagination to be a saint. I have an idea that the saints achieve sainthood not so much by a systematic cultivation of specific virtues as by the acute consciousness of the presence of God.

 

XII. Tatkon, April 11, 1942

THE close of this day is full of misgiving because of the strange deaths it has added to the list. A Japanese came riding on a bicycle right into the Chinese lines in a sector where there was no firing at the moment. Somewhere he had taken the wrong direction. He may have been thinking of his family and his home---surely that which is so constantly in our minds cannot be absent from the mind of the enemy, since he, too, is away from home. He may have been whistling or humming or doing whatever is the Japanese accompaniment for the good-humored frame of mind of a man riding a bicycle. The Chinese saw him coming, trained their guns, let him come in close, and I suppose he was dead before he knew his mistake.

Late this afternoon the Chinese marched three Buddhist hypongyis (monks) past our place. Like all their fellows, their heads were shaved, their robes were a dirty saffron, and they carried prayer beads. They stood some distance away, between us and the horizon, the Chinese fired a volley of shots, and they toppled as if to remove themselves as an obstruction of the horizon. The Chinese probably pronounced their equivalent of, "So let it be with all traitors," and went back to camp.

While some Buddhist monks pray for an Allied victory and for the destruction of the Japanese invaders, others shout cheers for the Japanese bombers when they come and brandish their swords in the sun. Some in the pro-Japanese camp of hypongyis are genuine religious leaders with strong nationalist feeling and a Japanese bias. Others are political agents, criminals, and nondescripts who have donned the robes as a convenient covering for their operations. Apparently the Chinese are uninhibited by any reverence for robes, and they do not hesitate to kill any hypongyis suspected of aiding the Japanese. Along the roads we occasionally see a monk's robes lying crumpled with no monk in them---a terrifying portent.

There is one hypongyi out in the jungle near by who gives us water from the well which provides his school and monastery. The schoolboys are clean and bright of face. The yard is clean and inviting---even the dogs like to congregate there. This hypongyi has made the whole place sweet with his presence. I am glad to remove my shoes, required, before entering there. Every time I see him my mind plays uncertainly upon the tragic possibility of his robe being added to the warning signs.

My misgivings come from the helplessness with which fine sentiments face the guns. What chance have a man's whistle and his thoughts of home against the guns? What chance has kindliness that dogs sense and boys honor against the guns?

 

XIII. Tatkon, April 12, 1942

TODAY we buried three Chinese soldiers. It is not an unusual thing for them to die after they have reached us or even as we bring them here from the battlefield. Today there has been time only for the living who will die without immediate attention, and the dead are expected to bury their dead. But when we paused for our evening meal the hot wind swept into the presence of our food, bearing the stench. It came into my nostrils while we were saying grace over rice. We can charge this swift decay of the bodies to the heat. So many of our miseries can be thus charged. When grace was over we cursed the Chinese for not dispatching their duty and getting the men buried. They have as good grounds to curse us. There are great difficulties in working together, especially under circumstances of defeat. That is why allies get along better around conference tables than man-to-man in the field under less ideal conditions.

Eric, another of the English ambulance drivers, was overcome with nausea and disgust. He arose and announced his intention to see that the dead were buried even though he had to do it himself. This is the kind of resolution which will not permit onlookers any satisfaction in rest, so we arose to help him. We carried the bodies on stretchers to a grave in the middle of a rice field. The host of flies buzzing along with us were the only funeral procession. The only ceremony was the cursing for the weight and the stench. We tilted the stretchers, and the bloated bodies hit the bottom with a sound that belongs to the grave. It was when this was done and I backed away to escape the stench that I raised my eyes and saw the sun setting, half of it left above the horizon. The world turned from vexation to solemnity. The stench, the weariness, the heat, the flies were about to obscure the eternal in this. Three men had stood on the threshold that separates the life we hold in our hands from the mystery concerning which we wonder and hope. Three men had stepped across it.

I remembered my first awareness of death. The man about to die was our neighbor. We had a special prayer for him at Wednesday prayer meeting in a small Texas town and went home in silence without the usual handshaking and loud talk. We tiptoed about our house and spoke softly while we waited for him to die.

All this could not make so much difference to the dead, though the hush and the tiptoeing must mean something to a man as he dies. It seems that the living must bury the dead for the living's sake. In the presence of death, life has touched eternity, like earth touching sky at the horizon. Therefore we hush and tread softly. So I made in the silence and to myself a funeral service. "The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God. The souls of the righteous are in the hands of God. Here we have buried three Chinese soldiers far from home and the familiar. Are these the righteous---three Chinese coolies turned soldier? However that may be, their souls are in the hands of God. To his hands we commit them. To the realization of more peace and loveliness for their brothers than they had for themselves, we commit ourselves. For his mercy and grace on the living and on the dead, we pray God. Amen."

 

XIV. Kyaukse, April 17, 1942

THERE was a storm today. It began with a wild wind. In a short time the air was filled with dust so that breathing itself became oppressive. The pall which covered the earth was weird and disquieting to see.

In the earlier part of the storm a tree blew down on the road just as a company of British soldiers were passing in a truck. One was killed outright. Five of the wounded were brought to our operating theater since the accident occurred close by. We brought out the few sheets we had and made clean beds to receive the soldiers from the operating table.

We never put the Chinese soldiers on beds with fresh linen. There are several things to be said in our defense. We do not have as many sheets as we have Chinese patients and we have fewer beds. The Chinese soldiers seem not to have the requisite tradition for the appreciation of beds.

I have seen them get down to the more familiar bed of floor or earth in their intense pain.

Nevertheless, the Chinese boys in our unit made a quiet protest to one another against this discrimination. As I see it, the Negroes, the Indians, the Chinese count this kind of thing a more grievous charge against the white man than all the economic exploitation and all the injustice that operates through less personal institutions. It is to be treated as men, to receive the acts of kindness and love which white men accord to one another---that is what they want.

Whatever may have been the necessities of this particular case, we stand condemned by the protest. The white man cannot mock the Orient's lesser achievements in comfort and push his own well-fed face among these hungry ones. Such disproportion can be preserved in isolation, but if people are to breathe the same air and look into one another's faces, they must do so on something like the same terms of life. This does not mean that the solution lies in the direction of the British soldiers going without sheets, though there is a place for that on the part of those who are determined to share until the basic economic conditions which decree poverty can be altered. While our hearts share for the love and the community in it, our minds and hands must work in the direction of sheets for everybody.

 

XV. Mandalay. April 22, 1942

A KAREN captain, a Christian, told me of a narrow escape he recently experienced. Two soldiers were standing by a well. They shouted to him to come from where he was and take a drink of water. He started to go, then changed his mind. In the number of seconds it would have taken him to walk to the well, a shell landed there and killed the two men. The captain saw in this a special providence insuring his safety.

I would never reprove a man for being grateful for his life. Not to be grateful would reveal a great ignorance of what is precious. And if a man is to be grateful for anything that is related to matter, spirit, elements, and all the universe as life is, to whom shall he be grateful but to God? Much of our gratitude for safety is not as gross as it first appears.

However, this sentiment is certainly complicated in cases like this one by the contrary sentiment on the behalf of those whose good fortune fails them. Those eighteen on whom the Tower of Siloam fell were not sinners above other men in Israel. While the shell did not fall on the Karen captain, a bomb killed Thra San Ba, the great Karen Christian in Bassein.

Yet I find myself saying to people, "God keep you." Others say this to me and I reply to those whom I love, "God will keep me." What I mean by this is that God will keep us from the ultimate evil. That ultimate evil is not death. If I were hit by a bomb or a shell, I as I died and they who loved me must not think of it as God's failure to keep me. To be kept by God means to be in his love whether living or dying, being hit or escaping. "Neither death, nor life .... nor principalities, nor powers ... nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God." The ultimate evil would be the absence of love. A life outside it would be more evil than a death in it. While we may not be delivered from evils, if God keeps us we shall be delivered from Evil.

 

XVI. Swebo, April 24, 1942

EVERY company of a thousand Chinese soldiers in Burma carries a party of fifty Chinese boys between the ages ten and fourteen. Those among the Chinese who speak on this point make it clear that there is nothing immediately utilitarian in the policy. The boys do not fight. The chores they perform in connection with preparation of food could be done by the men. The reasons for bringing them along are idealistic. They want the boys to share in the war as a training for future service to the nation. They want the boys as a link between the people and the army. One can never predict, on the standard of American conventions, the consequences of the acceptances of an ideal by the Chinese. In this case it leads them almost to Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac.

I like to watch the little fellows. They go about things in a very serious way. They must be saying to themselves, though my way of putting it is a man's and not a boy's, "This is a stern business, which calls on us to put away all childishness." The miles they have done in marches mount into thousands. The time since they have seen their parents is reckoned in years. Yet they sing---with the men at evening and each to himself as he goes about his work.

The children, the children! When Christ came, Herod slaughtered them. Then the Christ, grown to a man, suffered the little children to come unto him, sad that his coming should have once been used as the reason of their slaughter. They marched in the Crusades. Looking brave and resolute, they are tramping by the thousands in the hosts of Indians fleeing from Burma to India. They are entangled in everything their elders do---especially in their sins.

But if the sins of the fathers are on the children, the beauty of the children is on the fathers. I believe that the presence of the boys has turned more men gentle than it has turned boys hard.

 

May

XVII. Wunto, May 4, 1942

BURMA has fallen to the Japanese. We have begun to run. The Japanese are to the south at Kaleywa, we think they are to the north at Myitkyina and we must try to go between before they close the circle. We proceeded this far in our trucks, driving with that sense of time escaping that turns life hectic and the mind distraught. Now that which was never a road has become less respectable than a path. There is nothing to do but leave the trucks and walk. All our carrying capacity must be reserved for food and weapons, so today we abandoned, each soul of us, our things. Some people going from Burma to India by this route have thrown even money away, judging a given weight of food more valuable than the same weight in coin.

The abandoned things were piled high. From the pile the less prosperous among us chose a change of clothing, disappeared in the bushes to reappear better dressed men, though it could well be asked what we were dressing for. Because of this redistribution the best things will go over the mountains but their ownership will be modified in the direction of equality.

A friendly Burman marched his wife to the scene, made a load of our choicest shirts and bedding to ride atop her head, and marched off, not considering the books and portable typewriters worth a burden for himself.

Our throwing things away was like a great renunciation, a rite of religion: The people march to a spot, cast all their goods into a refuse heap, and march away never to see them again. The remarkable thing was how easy this was, even for us acquisitive folk. It was an affirmation of life and our willingness to make whatever renunciations were necessary for its preservation. If it were always so apparent that both things and life could not ride, things would not be in the saddle so much of the time. We place the right evaluation on raiment only by learning how much more valuable is life than raiment. When the veneer is scraped away and the issues become clear, we do not squander our love on merchandise.

 

XVIII. Near Homalin, May 6, 1942

THE trudge has begun. The way stretches ahead of us 250 miles, first across the hot plains, then across jungle and mountains 7,000 feet high, named in a moment of miscalculation or irony the Chin "Hills." Our small company of 104 Indians, Burmese, Chinese, British, and Americans, has become part of a great and tragic flight: the flight of Indians----perhaps a quarter million of them---from their promised land. Some have lived here in Burma for generations, some for a few years, but the advent of the Japanese has shown India to be their true mother. Their flight is on the dimension of a great migration and in it go the people, and their goods, and their cattle---death reducing the first, haste and necessity the other two. They tramp resolutely on: little children for whom the excitement has worn thin and only weariness remains, mothers with babies in their arms, aged men like forlorn prophets of an exiled people, lame ones hobbling valiantly to keep up. Pots and pans, sewing machines, strongboxes ride like household gods atop the heads of those who have been able to persevere this far with them. The ill and the sleeping lie in the shade of compassionate trees by the way.

Many of them have walked the 500 miles from Lower Burma which we traversed in trucks. They are weary, ill, and faced with the prospect of no food for the journey should the Japanese overtake them and make impossible the receipt of rice from the British agencies set up along the way. They look at our party, sensing by the sturdy stride with which we overtake them and leave them behind that we have much better chances of getting through than they. Some plead to be taken, kissing their hands and touching them to our feet, begging, and even crying. While only a few do this, I think I see in the eyes of almost all the unspoken longing to go with us. I think they would leap with joy at an invitation.

Searching for an answer to the conflict between their desperate need and my own safety, I fell to thinking of St. Francis and my lost saints. Perhaps God's Troubadour would have flung his share of food and strength sufficient to carry only himself across the mountains into a pool of food and strength whose other contributors were so wretchedly poor that the whole would be meager---meager. Perhaps such a sharing would provide only a moment's betterment. But there was always the possibility that his little would multiply with his courage and hope until it was swollen enough to get both him and his brethren across. I have decided that the gamble asks too much of hope, pays too little heed to the realities of bread and distance. One should save his life for a better accounting even if it means only a more promising opportunity for sacrifice. Almost certainly this is right. But St. Francis walks at my side to trouble me.

 

XIX. The Chindwin River, near Homalin, May 7, 1942

THE white men are making this trip with less destruction, proportionate to their number, than the Indians. I mean destruction of life, though many things are being destroyed---goods, energies, hopes, illusions. Some white men are dying along the way and some will die after reaching India, but they do not fall like the Indians, cold markers for the way. This is a meat of uneasiness for all white men to chew while we walk.

My first response, an assertion, I suppose, of what the earlier psychology called the instinct of self-preservation, was to be grateful I am a white man. I put this into a prayer; it was a travesty. If in making me white, God did something for me for which I should be grateful, then he like the white man must recognize the distinction between colors of skin. Base anthropomorphism! Now that I am penitent, I begin wistfully to desire to be numbered with those of the dark skin. It is more pardonable sin than my first. I want to get off the side of the sinning and onto the side of the sinned against.

So well established is the white man's reputation for wronging the Indians, and so practiced are the wronged in resenting it, that many stories of injustice are being passed around. In our immediate party there are no overt acts of injustice to the Indians. In this crisis life recognizes an equality based on need. Loads are in proportion to strength and health, Indians and white men eat the same food, and we share the precious medicines.

The white man is faring better because he started from a past of better living which has accumulated reserves. The white man's sin being revealed in this judgment day is not so much overt acts of injustice as a sustained failure in duty over years. In a time like this, after you get beyond considerations of self-preservation (you never do, quite, but enough walking and thinking will almost do it), you resent your own fortunate heritage because your brother does not share in the estate. You resolve for white men that either we must share our good fortune more completely or else leave the East and cease to intrude the picture of our well-being into the misery which it will not alleviate. This is not the way to help a man bear his bad fortune, to show him how notoriously good yours is.

 

XX. On the Chin Hills, May 8, 1942

THE strong heart has no racial or national character. Nevertheless I heard some stories today which bear unmistakably the imprint of the British heart.

One of them has the full flavor of the Old Testament. A group of English missionaries were forced by the Japanese advance to leave their hospital in northern Burma, having too long delayed in order to help with refugees. One of the missionaries was unable to start the journey on his wounded and poisoned feet. He compelled his friends to go on without him. On the evening of the day they left, he made his way to a small deserted airfield and lay down at its edge to sleep. In the morning a British pilot flying low saw him there and made the rescue!

I heard that among certain groups of Englishmen walking from Burma to India there has silently developed a solemn compact. Whoever should find himself too ill or too lame to go farther is to drop back little by little and permit his fellows to pass beyond him, perhaps forever, without notification or the indulgence of a farewell. He is to do this in such a way that his companions will not detect his absence until it was too late to turn back. Thus they insure beforehand that the safety of the larger group shall not be imperiled by the loyalties of the members for one another. Whoever arranges that the group shall not be endangered for the sake of one, runs the risk that he may be that one.

When the last trucks to get out of Rangoon were piling up on the Prome Road, awaiting a breach to be made through Japanese lines to permit their passage, a British officer strode up and announced with the dispassion that one would announce stock prices, "There is a road block ahead, but we will have it cleared in a moment." Soon he gave the order to move, signifying that the road had been cleared. He shouted, "Cheerio" to those in the trucks and was left standing there for who can say what fate. In all this there was no request for pity, no whining, no dramatizing.

I honor this quiet, secretive suffering. Our right hands have been instructed to conceal their charity from the left. The English have shown us the companion virtue among sufferers,

 

XXI. On the Chin Hills, May 9, 1942

"WOE to them that are with child and to them that give suck in those days" was appropriately said of every flight. It was never more fittingly spoken than to the company of Indians making their way to India from Burma, and never less heeded. The Indian mother seems to be eternally with a child in her arms. Babies are born along the way, misery begetting misery and the total heightened in the process of begetting. Though I have not seen it myself, Indians tell me of babies trying to nurse at the breasts of mothers who have fallen dead along the route.

At times I set to rebuking them, silently, of course. "Why must you be ceaselessly begetting children, bringing them into the world to groan as you now groan? Why do you not exercise moral restraint?"---as if they would recognize Malthus' term!

In moments when I am not so fretted I think in a different key. Childbearing makes this march, already full of travail, more cruel, but mother and child tinge the fierce picture with a splendid symbolic beauty. Today I saw a mother and her child, high on the mountains. The mother was weary, ragged, worn. The child had the same weight of weariness loaded on his fewer years. He toddled at the mother's side, his feet scarcely able to reach the ground so that he almost dangled as one forced to walk before his time. These two, a mother and her child, were the only survivors of a large party.

 

XXII. On the Chin Hills, May 11, 1942

AT TIMES the evil and the misery of the war and of this flight mount so high that the best way out seems to be to act upon the advice of job's wife: Curse God and die. These two predicates, cursing God and dying, are things done in pairs, like running and being weary, falling and getting hurt. This is not because, as Job's wife may have thought, Jehovah will smite whoever curses him, but because if one curses God there is nothing left but to die.

We do not curse God and die, neither they who suffer so poignantly nor we who witness. They, because they find so much else to do, waiting beside the dying, devising, carrying chairs for the lame and halt---nothing is so ingenious as love in an extremity--making meals out of shoots and herbs, speaking the word of the strong heart to one another. We, because we find, even when our role is reflective, something magnificent in this tragic spectacle. Wherever there are human spirits with the power of hoping, longing, clinging, loving, helping, no engagement is a total defeat. The spirit of man is a splendid thing. Its power to contrive evil is great, but its power to suffer evil is greater still. The spirit of man is a splendid thing. It looks death in the eye and is not overcome. These our brothers have died, and that after wallowing in miseries to which death is to be preferred. Even so, they have wrought a victory for man and turned the rest of us toward God.

 

XXIII. On the Chin Hills, May 12, 1942

TOM, one of our ambulance drivers, is a Welshman with a rich bass voice that often cheers us. As we marched along today he told me of an experience he had in London during the terrible days of the Battle for Britain.

After one of the raids he came into a city block where a delayed-action bomb had fallen and exploded. He calls this the most destructive weapon of the war. It falls to the ground then shatters the area all about with devastation that rides just over the face of the earth, felling everything at its roots and foundations. There was only half a house left standing in this block where such a bomb had fallen. The lady of the house was cleaning the half that remained by pushing the dirt right out of house into non-house. The children were already back at play on a lamp post which the explosion had converted into a trapeze. As Tom drew near, the lady stood up to rest her joints weary with stooping, looked up and down the block to resurvey the damage, folded her arms and said with a touch of melancholy, "And just to think, we are probably doing the same thing to the Germans."

I believe many people are fighting the war in that spirit, and there is much to commend it. This woman granted the necessity for fighting the war---her husband and her sons were probably fighting it grimly. But ah, what a tragic necessity. Here is a spirit for those who are too sober or too sad to be stirred by the ancient phrases, and the martial music. It starts with penitence. We must fight because we have failed. It moves on with the knowledge of the suffering in which all mankind is joined. And it shows the faint stirrings of the hope that we shall somehow, somehow, under God, do a better thing when it is over.

 

XXIV. Manipur Road, Assam, India, May 23, 1942

THE walk is over. This is the moment and the place of which we have dreamed. This is El Dorado---some tents sheltering small plots of damp ground to sleep on, some stores which have nothing to sell, and a railroad. Little enough is El Dorado to the long denied.

The people are staggering in. There is a magnificent quality of tenacity in the human spirit for demands like this. Every walker, from the first moment his muscles cried out to be relieved, began to anticipate that time when he should have walked the last aching mile and be bedded down in a dry and friendly place. At times we have dwelt so lovingly on the thought that our step quickened with it. I have often thought that our combined yearning for this little place in England, that one in America, China, or India, for these beloved persons and those good things we have known would have pulled those places, people and things to us.

What kept the Indians moving until they reached India cannot be called upon to keep them moving still. For this cause many have died just as they have come home. Six have died waiting on the station platform.

I saw one man die sitting up in an ambulance. He had refused to the last to lie down lest this be the beginning of the cessation of resistance. All the people sense that there is some magic in going on even if it is but to stagger.

Though that part of the picture which shows them die, sore spent, is sad, the part which sees them refusing to give up, refusing to die, clinging, staying, is magnificent. After all, it is the struggle and the fight we need the courage and the tenacity for. The end and the arrival are with God.

 

XXV. Gauhati, Assam India, May 28, 1942

BEFORE the war when I talked about pain and death I could never altogether dismiss the feeling that I talked as a dilettante. Now that I have looked upon death in the war and in the escape, a part of that apprehension is gone. But I have only looked on death, I have not died. The very condition of living to talk about these things is not to partake of them to the utmost. It must be, then, that the living can never say the final word on these matters. They must either talk as a partial dilettante or they must stop short with reverence and say, "My walk stops here at the gate where others have entered in."

I had dysentery once: Some had it for two months and died lying on the ground in its vile issue. I walked a week on one meal a day: Some went for weeks with nothing to eat, and starvation has been the accomplice in almost every death put down to malaria and dysentery. I do not know what the suffering of the Chinese soldiers was when we brought them with their wounds to our operating theater. I know what mine has been with much less serious injuries, and with everything in the sphere of care provided---cleanliness, nurses, doctors, medicines, sedatives, presence of family, and safety from further injury. Knowing that, I can begin to move toward the suffering of those men who had no family near by, no proper bed, no strength to move themselves when the bombers came over and must lie looking into the face of bombs which might fall on them.

I shall not pray that I may be made to drink deeper of suffering. To seek deliberately for its own sake what we are told to bear triumphantly when it comes would be a mortification in which I cannot believe. I shall use what little I know of suffering as the bridge of my compassion to the men who have drunk ten times as deeply as I. I shall move reverently in the presence of the thought of all who have suffered, some to live, some to die. I shall remember the Christ whose cross must have been the deepest, longest drink of suffering ever a man took.

 

June

XXVI. Gauhati, Assam, June 2, 1942

I AM working in a hospital which receives those who come staggering across the mountains from Burma. My first task each morning is to remove the bodies of those who have died in the night. In this town the two-wheeled bullock carts roll along the streets each morning with the legs of bodies jutting stiffly over the sides, adults and children mingled with no idea of fitness. The town must be witnessing such scenes as Paris saw when tumbrels drew the condemned and the executed through her streets of revolution. Dysentery and malaria are the blades of this guillotine, starvation is its block. We lose one out of eight of our refugee patients. The other hospitals suffer similar losses. The luckless Indian sanitary inspector cannot get help sufficient to bury bodies deep and the jackals pull them out of the shallow graves at night, howling all the while to publish it.

All this has to do with the corpse aspect of death. This is not all, and the fact that it is not is the best apology for our treating dead bodies with dignity. As suffering is the supreme experience of community among men, death is the supreme act of suffering. Because God so loved the world, it is no accident that he gave his son to death. No accident is it that the greatest love finds its final expression in a man's laying down his life for his brother. These are signs of things so large that they push over life and beyond it. We are never so set free from our self-importance as when we are in the presence of death. And it seems that we are never able to love so fiercely as in that presence.

Of late I have been on night duty in the hospital with a Karen nurse. (The Karens are one of the tribes of Burma.) She and I have witnessed many deaths in these nights full of restless lightning and a wild fretting wind, the monsoon's impatience at the delay in delivering completely this part of the world into his hands. Whenever a patient dies she folds his hands, pulls the sheet over his face. Then she turns to me who am looking disconsolate because I can do so little and because nothing any of us can do seems to be able to save them. She then says softly, both to comfort me and to make a comment for which this moving event seems to call, "Gone to heaven." She is a Christian, and in what doctrine of rewards and punishments she has been established I do not know. She has consigned all of them to heaven---Moslems, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs. It would be very difficult for Mohammed, or Dante, or Jonathan Edwards, or anybody else to consign them to hell.

 

XXVII. Gauhati, Assam, June 6, 1942

TODAY we had to move the evacuee patients out of one hospital building into another. It was a filthy job because so many patients had dysentery. The man whom this foul disease clutches soon becomes unable to move or do anything for himself. He fouls his clothing, the bedding, the stretcher on which we have put him. There is no fresh clothing and bedding to change him. Piles of it lie about the place all the day unwashed.

It rains every day and no one has the resolution to start the cleansing job since he could never get the things dry. Patients, soiled bedding, soiled clothing all join to send up a reeking stench like a burnt offering to some perverse devil.

Three of us stood surveying the preparations for moving: an American boy who had joined the British Army before we got into the war, his British soldier comrade and I. We saw that the patients had to be moved and that the sweepers who had been assigned to the task were not getting along very quickly with it. If the others were feeling what I felt, we were all dreading to get on any more intimate terms with the stench and handle it. The American turned to his British comrade and said, "I am very glad at this moment that I am an agnostic."

I do not know how seriously he intended this. However that is, the conclusion which he implied certainly held: Since he did not believe in the love of Christ he could leave the handling of these dysentery victims to the sweepers. Since his friend did believe in it, he was not free to stand by and watch. Nor was I. Get down in it! Pick the patients up! Soil yourself with this disease! St. Francis kissed the beggars' sores. However this ended in him, it must have begun as the practice of the only medicine he knew. There is no need to call this filthiness sweet, or to start enjoying it through a strange inversion. Only one thing is necessary: for love's sake it must be done.

 

July

 

XXVIII. Guahati, Assam, July 1, 1942

I AM hesitant to write critically of Indian institutions. Such criticisms of one another's institutions as Oriental and Occidental bandied back and forth here are of less than no use in the reform of either. More is to be gained by appreciation than by comparisons. Moreover, I do not want to be party to the process of causing Americans to misunderstand further the Orient. My preconceptions of India have turned out to be largely false, and to thank for them I have popular literature which is more fond of exploiting the spectacular than of discovering common humanity.

I hope this announcement of intention gives me license to make a criticism. Dignity, place, position, honor are primary considerations here and some higher things are being sacrificed to them. There are hierarchies, there are priorities of persons. Some must be addressed with this title and treated with this quantity of esteem; the next group will receive this slightly less elegant title, and a little less esteem; and so you proceed through the wearisome scale. There is division of labor not for economy's sake but for honor's sake. The cook will cook, but he will not carry parcels. There is an aristocracy among the servants with a great gulf separating the cook and the man who waits on the table.

At the bottom of this pyramid is the sweeper---the scavenger, as he is sometimes called. Usually he is an untouchable. Like so much of the work in India, the work of a sweeper is often done by family groups, husband, wife, children all getting into the filth together. They sweep the floors and remove excrement with a cheerful spirit, apparently as convinced as their lords (this is the translation of the word "Sahib," the address which they use for all their superiors) that this is what they are meant for.

The sweepers are hard pressed in these days of hospitals full of dysentery patients. The hospitals reek with dysentery and with phenile which is supposed to cleanse, but which actually superimposes one bad odor on another. The sweepers sleep right on the very floors that they sweep so much defecation from. When I wake them at night they groan and I decide it is better to let them rest.

Last night 1 set about trying to move a poor fellow who was on a stretcher. He fouled it and the territory all about it. The Indian doctor was scandalized at my attempting this unworthy work. Stop. He would call the sweeper. He shouted. While waiting for the sweeper, he turned to lecturing the poor man on the stretcher for his bad manners, shrugged his shoulders, and said in English for my benefit, "Those possible are impossible," meaning the sweepers and the people who made them necessary.---The sweeper never came. The man on the stretcher was dead within an hour. Of course I could not have saved his life, but my concession to the caste system may have prevented him from dying on a clean bed which would have been a mercy for me had I been he.

 

XXIX. Ramgarh, Bihar, July 25, 1942

TODAY Tom, one of our ambulance drivers of whom I have spoken, went to China. He wanted to go, and yet he did not want to go. The reason he did not want to go was that he found India pleasant, and besides this, he was attached to us as we were to him.

The reason he wanted to go was this: When we were coming out of Burma, before we had to abandon our trucks and start walking, we came across a company of wounded Chinese soldiers near Katha. There must have been two hundred of them. My guess is that they had been evacuated from the battlefield to the south and had progressed to Katha. Here the railroad was hopelessly blocked with the tangle of fleeing traffic and the soldiers were thrown on their own to get away from the Japanese who were closing in on all of us. In the staggering heat of that day they saw our convoy of trucks rolling toward them on the dusty road. They must have said to themselves, "Here is perhaps a way of escape. We are desperate men." When our trucks, which had to proceed haltingly for all the traffic, dust, and crowds of evacuees thronging the road, drew opposite them, they hobbled out and swarmed all over the trucks, stopping us.

I cannot find it in me to say a word of blame for what Tom did. I was spared this fearful problem by losing my truck in the muddy bottom of the last river we tried to cross by fording. We were under strict orders not to take on anybody else. To take anybody else would prejudice the hopes we held for getting our already large, weary, half-sick crowd through safely. We had been without enough to eat, without much sleep for forty-eight hours, and the dust was a distressing coat on our eyelids.

With all these things, elemental, physiological, and spiritual in the setting, Tom got out and pushed the wounded Chinese soldiers off his truck as the only means of being able to carry on---More than one night on the walk out and later in Assam he told me, "I owe the Chinese a debt." When he left today he went to pay it.

 

XXX. Ramgarh, Bihar, July 30, 1942

THE things I have seen in the last year cause me to believe that the most fundamental sense in which men are brothers is in their suffering. It makes us all the members of one family even more surely than our common sin does. We are all sinners and, therefore, equal, but since the sin is so often against one another it is divisive.

Our group moving over the mountains is a replica of the world community of sufferers. We were many races and nations: Chinese, Burmese, Indians, British, and Americans. We were hungry together on one meal a day. We were wet together, body, bedding and bread when the elements changed their policy from scorching us to soaking us. We jumped together for joy to see biscuit falling to us from the bomb rack of an airplane. We were banded together for whatever should come.

Because to live is to he liable to sorrow, all of us in the world are like a group moving over mountains together. The same peril stalks us all. When it touches any one of us it stirs a quality in him which lies deep, which is almost beyond knowing intellectually, which is assuredly beyond definition.

In whomever it is stirred, that one is akin to all other sufferers, with a kinship that cannot be sundered. In so far as people ever understand one another, this is the means of understanding. In tears our souls mingle.

There is another count on which suffering makes brothers of us: If we see far enough, the suffering of one is for all. That is very apparent in the case of an army whose deprivations and hardships stand between the people and the enemy. But we are all stalked by suffering, and if its victims are chosen with the impartiality with which the Tower of Siloam fell on those eighteen, whoever suffers pleads the cause of man for all men against evil. Every act of suffering is an addition to our knowledge of it, its causes and how we might get at them. Suffering brings evil to a head. Sometimes it is voluntarily embraced by a Kagawa or a St. Francis. Sometimes it comes to an entire group by virtue of their status: the Negro, the Jew in Germany and many places outside. In either case the sufferers are like the victims of a disease who offer themselves so that men may study the disease and deal with it. If this is so I am the debtor of all sufferers. What I know of joy they have purchased for me and continue to purchase it daily.