A week or so ago I finished reading a book by a WWII German tank commander, Colonel Hans von Luck (left). Fittingly enough the 1989 book is titled Panzer Commander. Luck's luck was amazing. He survived battles from the invasion of Poland in 1939 to the final defense of Berlin in 1945. In between those dates he fought in France, Russia, North Africa and France a second time.
His is a fascinating story, yet for me the most memorable words were written by another German officer, Gerhard Bandomir. Regarding the huge Allied air raid on the German front line in Normandy he wrote: "Even a wild rabbit fled into our bunker, jumped into my arms, and drank quite petrified out of my coffee cup! He also chewed a hole in my sleeve."
Those words hit home for me. It's no secret that I feel great empathy for all the little creatures. They lead a hard life under the best of conditions. Predators, including humans, are always on the hunt for them. I have written many times about how upsetting it was for me to see how terrified all animals, large and small, were when a battle was taking place in their normally tranquil territory.
One sunny morning after a particularly vicious firefight in a barnyard I stood for a moment watching the tame rabbits in a pen. I did the same thing on other occasions. The rabbits showed no emotion, but were trembling uncontrollably. The exchange of gunfire hadn't bothered me; seeing the frightened rabbits did.
For a while I lay on my back in the warm sunlight thinking how horrible humans can be. Why were we doing this? The firefight had been exhilarating. Seeing innocent and helpless animals caught up in the slaughter for me was demoralizing.
While lying there I vowed I would never shoot at anything incapable of shooting back. Man against man is an even fight. Man against animal is not. That's one vow I have managed to keep all these years.