Exploration 3B: For Teachers

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Epilogues to Some Dilemmas

Epilogue for dilemma “Now what do I do?”

This lieutenant decided to call for his army’s medical helicopter and wait for it to come to evacuate the enemy soldier to a medical unit. He later wrote about his decision.

I had let heart win out over mind. I knew that normal use of small-unit tactics would have had us hit the boats, scour them quickly for useful equipment or information and then get the hell out of the area. Yet here I was playing Florence Nightingale and risking the lives of my men in the process.

Just as the helicopter finally approached, the wounded prisoner died.

He was dead! I felt like I had been kicked in the chest. (…) I thought frantically (…) “You can’t die now, not after we waited out here for you! It’s not fair!”(…) We left him there for his comrades or the buzzards, whichever found him first. Darkness was around us now and we had no time to bury him.

Epilogues for dilemma “What if she’s telling the truth?”

Here are the lieutenant’s words telling what he did.

I was shaking as I considered what I had just been doing. (…) A rush of guilt hit me. I thought I was really nuts and I wanted out of this situation as quickly as possible. I didn’t want to look at the prisoners, I didn’t want to think about them, I wanted them out of my sight. In a matter of seconds I went from absolute certainty that they were all guilty, to a smaller flicker of doubt, to certainty that they were all innocent. (…) I couldn’t think of what to do or how to act. I was disoriented and was becoming very frightened. The only way to rescue myself was to get rid of the problem, so I decided to just let the prisoners go.

Two weeks later, one of his patrols was ambushed. One of his men was killed and two were wounded. The two guerrillas who ambushed them were also killed. The lieutenant remembers how he felt when one of his men came back and told him that one dead guerrilla was the “fisherman’s sister”; her rifle was still in her hand and its magazine was almost empty.

The look in his eyes made the clear accusation that I had carelessly turned a killer loose on him because I cared more about remote regulations and pampering women prisoners than I did about the safety of my own friends and teammates. I knew [they] thought I had demonstrated an irresponsible disregard for our safety by letting those three prisoners go.

But then a thought occurred that still whispers to me from my dreams: Was she our enemy before we captured her or only afterward?

Adapted from David Donovan, Once a Warrior King: Memories of an Officer in Vietnam, McGraw-Hill, New York, 1985.