It was the evening after Remembrance Day and Paul and I had a quiet evening in. He said, "I've got an episode of Inspector George Gently saved on the P.V.R. do you want to watch it?" And I said, "Yes." The episode was called Gently with Honour, and was about top secret psychological warfare experiments on a British military base during the Cold War, with a concurrent back story about a conspiracy of silence during an earlier war.
Ex military himself, Inspector Gently, attended the funeral of a soldier from his old regiment. At the pub after the funeral, where the emphasis was on the brotherhood of the men in attendance, it was apparent that Gently was struggling with something that had happened involving the soldier whose funeral it was. He was chided by his ex superior officer for bringing up events that were past.
Throughout the episode, which involves a cover up of things gone too far in the more recent past, Gently struggles with his complicity in witnessing a war crime and remaining silent. At the end of the program, Paul turned to me and said, "That made me think of your dad." It was exactly what I had been thinking.
The one story Dad ever told us about "his war," involved witnessing an incident similar to that which George Gently witnessed. In Gently's case it was the beating to death of a surrendering sniper by several of his fellow soldiers, led the one whose funeral he had just attended. The sniper had minutes before shot and killed several of his comrades but had surrendered unarmed, with arms raised. When the beating was over, most of the men seemed dazed and ashamed.
Dad witnessed the cold blooded shooting of a surrendering young German soldier by a British soldier whose nickname indicated a pattern of brutality. He didn't mention and I didn't ask, if he ever told anyone at the time.
In Gently's case, he decides at the end of the episode to report the incident; a war crime; and tells his past superior officer, who accepts his decision and says that he himself will be a witness. For Gently it was the only possible way to resolve the dissonance between everything he stood for, and the silence that made him complicit.
The episode made me think about the terrible burden of a silence carried many years; a moment in time that sickens the soul, seared into memory. High ideals drive men and women to enlist, but they face a reality that no one can prepare them for; one in which the enemy can be less easy to define, as with the lines between honour and dishonour; bravery and cowardice.
The silence of soldiers needs no explanation, but thinking about Dad's story makes it easy to understand; the scars on the outside are not the only battle wounds. At the end of this week of remembrance it gives me compassion for those who went to war, and a deep commitment to pray for peace--in the world--and for those who have fought and live with painful memories.