There is a scene in Audie Murphy’s autobiographical film, To Hell and Back, recreating his actions after his best friend Lattie Tipton (referred to as “Brandon”) was killed by Germans faking a surrender in Southern France in 1944. In his rage at the Nazi treachery, Murphy takes his revenge on as many of the Germans he can reach, using a captured MG-42.
Murphy recalled later: “I remember the experience as I do a nightmare. A demon seems to have entered my body. My brain is coldly alert and logical. I do not think of the danger to myself. My whole being is concentrated on killing.” He was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions, but that couldn’t bring Lattie Tipton back to life.
I thought of Murphy when I ran across this passage in Alistair MacLean’s South By Java Head, a twenty cent library sale paperback I picked up for my insomniac reading list the other day:
Beyond anger lies fury, the heedless ungovernable rage of the berserker, and beyond that again, a long, long step beyond the boundary of madness, lies the region of cold and utterly uncaring indifference. When a man enters that region, as few ever do, he is no longer himself, he is a man beside himself, a man outwith all his normal codes and standards of feeling and thought and emotions, a man for whom words like fear and danger and suffering and exhaustion are words that belong to another world and whose meaning he can no longer comprehend. It is a state characterized by an abnormally heightened clarity of mind, by a hyper-sensitive perception of where danger lies, by a total and unhuman disregard for that danger. It is, above all, a state characterised by an utter implacability. — page 234.
This is what our would-be tyrants risk with their insatiable appetites for other people’s liberty and property and lives — creating a generation of implacable foes who will not stop until the tyrants and their appetites are food for worms. Something they should consider now, before going down that road.
LATER, MBV Note: MacLean, who also wrote Where Eagles Dare and the Guns of Navarone, was a keen student of men in battle. Here is one of my favorite quotes from The Guns of Navarone:
“There are no brave men and cowardly men in the world, my son. There are only brave men. To be born, to live, to die—that takes courage enough in itself, and more than enough. We are all brave men and we are all afraid, and what the world calls a brave man, he too is brave and afraid like the all rest of us. Only he is brave for five minutes longer.”
But my favorite line from MacLean, or rather, through MacLean, is this quoted Gaelic prayer:
“As the rain hides the stars, as the autumn mist hides the hills, as the clouds veil the blue of the sky, so the dark happenings of my lot hide the shining of Your face from me. Yet, if I may hold Your hand in the darkness, it is enough. Since I know that, though I may stumble in my going, You do not fall.”