Sunday, August 15, 2004

James Brandon

The first person account of the Daily Telegraph reporter who was abducted, then released by unidentified armed men, probably Madhi Army, will bring back memories to anyone who has been in a tough spot. In the space of a few days he was taken hostage and took a hostage; he prepared to die and was ready to kill; lost his luck and then found it all. In a word, Brandon went through a miniature of the moral crisis of war.

I assumed I was going to be killed, and decided to try to make a break for it. I worked off my blindfold, which was quite loose, and managed to untie the rope that ran behind me, linking my feet to my hands. Through the darkness, I made out the shape of a large stove, and realized that I was in a kitchen.

With difficulty, I got to my feet, hobbled over to the sink and found a knife on the draining board. Holding the blade behind my back, I started to saw through the ropes joining my wrists. Soon the knife was slippery with blood as I nicked my flesh in my frantic haste to sever the ropes. Eventually, the fibers parted and I quickly freed my feet, too. The windows were barred, so my only exit was through the door, which I worked out must be tied shut by a rope. Putting my fingers through a crack in the wooden door, I loosened the rope and tugged at the door -- only to realize that someone outside the room was holding it shut. ...

Read the rest. There's a particular kind of exhilaration that people who have come out whole, not just physically but morally whole, from a deep crisis, justifiably feel. Yet 'to have no secret place wherein one stooped unseen to shame or sin', as Guest once wrote, is also to be aware of how near one came to failing the test. Really brave men understand cowardice better than most. Brandon's account unconsciously mirrors the bravery, ruthlessness, modesty and humanity of a man who has seen the Elephant, and rode away on it.