The Commonwealth Cemetery in Cassino Italy. Some of Herb Peppard's best friends are buried here.

Paradox!

I stumbled over this word the other day. It intrigued me so I had to look up the meaning of this word in the dictionary.

It read: “A paradox is a statement of a situation that is self-contradictory.”

The part of the meaning that gave me a real awakening was the words “self-contradictory”, for it was then my mind flashed back to World War II.

Let me explain. Just before an attack on the enemy, we were usually all brought together. It was then we were enlightened on the task of each platoon and each company. This procedure was always followed by a speech or a talk by a clergy man. He could be a priest or a protestant minister. This never seemed to bother me at the time but it did bother me later on in life.

How could a religious man like a priest or a minister inspire us to go into mortal combat? Their preaching had always encouraged us to be good and to love one another, but now they were speaking to men who were trained to kill.

They used to preach things like: “Thou shalt not kill”, “Love thy neighbours”, “Do good to those who hate you”. Surely they couldn’t preach anything like that to us. We were going into battle to do things we were trained to do – to kill the terrible enemies.

I think these holy men were put in an awkward position to speak to us before battle. This really was a paradox. Their responsibility was to follow the Bible’s teaching – teaching of love and forgiveness. Yet, here this clergy man was praising us for our courage and dedication to our country. I don’t remember much of what was said but I often felt sorry for them for trying to endure the terrible paradox they had to face.

I had another bothersome occurrence in Italy during the war. Our Second Regiment was assigned to take a mountain peak held by the Germans. Our First Regiment was sent to relieve them. I was a member of the First Regiment.

The attack went as planned. The mountain was taken and German prisoners were herded together and probably served the rest of the war in a prisoner-of-war camp. We met the German prisoners as they were herded down the mountain. It was the first time I saw our enemy face-to-face. I think I expected to see big, ugly men who looked like movie gangsters, but I was wrong. These men looked just like me and my buddies. The only difference – they had different uniforms. They, like us, had family and loved ones at home. They, like us, would probably rather be home than climbing rugged mountains trying to kill people they didn’t know.

As we checked them over, I saw an amazing, unbelievable piece of their apparel. It was the belt each of the soldiers wore. Well, it wasn’t really the belt, but the buckle of the belt. Yes, on this buckle was imprinted the following words: “Gott mit uns!” which means “God is with us!”

“Gott mit uns.” This was a paradox. This was a statement that was self-contradictory. I thought, God could never be with people who would invade other countries and kill thousands of people.

I have a favourite poet I admire very much. His name is Eric Bogle and he lives in Australia. His poems are actually songs and his most famous ones tell stories about the First World War. He totally understands how futile the struggle for peace is, if we have to continually fight each other to achieve this peace.

This is part of the song “No Man’s Land”, this wise man wrote:

“Did you really believe them when they told you ‘The Cause’

Did you really believe that this war would end wars?

Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame

The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain.

For Willie McBride, it all happened again,

And again, and again, and again, and again.*

Why does this paradox follow us all through life? Why do we have to fight and kill each other to earn eternal peace?

*Excerpt from the song: “No Man’s Land” – music and lyrics by Eric Bogle ©1975, published by Happy As Larry Music Publishing Pty Ltd, Sydney, Australia