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608. What is Duty?

‘Do thy duty without any attachment' at once raises the question, what is duty? We all understand duty generally, but when important issues arise, one is baffled or unclear about one's duty. Man mistaking his desire to be his duty is common. Taking his own opinion or conviction to be DUTY is more usual. For one who thinks and analyses, duty varies. It is often social duty, sometimes duty to conscience, which is psychological duty. What is DUTY, in the absolute sense?  To all righteous men of accomplishment, this question constantly presents itself.

Every country has an army. But the civilian life does not know the army life in its own intricacies. The army exists by its morals. Its morals are kept up by the honour of its soldiers. That makes things simpler. But there are rare occasions when circumstances appear so confused that honour itself is not well defined. They are not merely rare moments, but creative occasions in human culture. A British Colonel, Nicholson, surrendered to the Japanese Colonel Saito with all his soldiers of over a hundred men. The prisoner of war camp was in the Burmese jungle. Flushed with the victory in WWII, the Japanese ill-treated the British soldiers. Only recently Japan has apologised for that behaviour to Britain. Saito was under orders to build a small bridge across a river, but he was not making progress even while employing all the British soldiers. He wanted the British army officers to do manual work. Nicholson, the British Colonel, refused to obey, as it was against the Geneva Convention. Not all the indignities and cruelties of Saito could move Nicholson.

Saito gave in. Nicholson cooperated and decided to do his best in putting up a sound engineering feat. The doctor in the regiment was puzzled and confronted Nicholson with the question of why he was working for the success of the enemy. What, then is one's duty? Nicholson returned the taunt, "You are a doctor. If you were to operate on Saito, would you try to save his life or do a shabby job and let him die?" The doctor, when his own professional etiquette was pointed out, came to his senses. An excellent bridge was built which would hasten the British defeat. And that was made possible by the British regiment. A soldier is primarily a soldier. His duty is to obey. Men obey their colonels. The colonel obeys the rules. As POW - prisoner of war - the duty of Nicholson was to obey Saito, the Japanese Colonel. It was not given to him to contemplate the consequences.  His doing his duty faithfully, even if it was apparent treachery, was an ATTITUDE that would bring about the best final result. The bridge was later blown up. To obey the immediate MASTER, whoever he is and whatever the consequences is a spiritual value that hastens the best final result.

story | by Dr. Radut