To “Mine” Own Self – Be True
Everyone was in awe of Seth Goldberg’s principles, values, inner strength, and total peace of mind. As a devout Jew, he was faithful to his beliefs and true to himself. Even though he was mellow, Goldberg was definitely not a passive soldier. When it came to fighting the enemy, he was always the first volunteer for the terrifying missions. In fact, Goldberg saved the life of every single man in his platoon at least once. He was a highly decorated soldier at the end of World War II and his story will help each of us put the war in its proper perspective.
Because Goldberg was a true hero in every sense of the word, you would think that he would have received many promotions and become a high-ranking officer during the war. Quite the contrary. The officers were afraid to promote Goldberg because he had the reputation of being a German-lover. Even though he was Jewish, he didn’t hate the Germans like everyone else. He said they were about the same as us, perhaps a little bit more hardheaded, but basically the same. He said they had wives and girlfriends and families who loved them and prayed for their well-being, just as we had. Goldberg was not only empathetic, but he also spoke excellent German. Just before the war broke out, Goldberg had attended college for three years in Germany where his German roommate became his best friend.
If Goldberg liked the Germans so much, how was he able to fight them so well? He simply replied, “The only way to stop the evil, corrupt Hitler and his Nazis is to defeat the German people who have let themselves be deceived by Hitler.” He said it was wrong to kill the Germans, but it was more wrong for Hitler and his Nazis to annihilate innocent people and deceive the entire world. Goldberg said that sometimes we are forced to choose between two evils, and Hitler had to be stopped at all costs!
Once, Goldberg stayed up all night trying to help save the life of a young German soldier who had a bullet in his chest. The boy died early the next morning and his fellow soldiers knew they saw a tear in Goldberg’s eye as he began digging the grave.
Seth Goldberg’s final story unfolded a few months after that incident took place. In it lies the true nature of war.
The platoon next to his caught a German trying to steal supplies. One of their men was injured while arresting the German. The captors brought the German to their camp on the way to the brig. The captain sentenced him to be shot at dawn. As the night wore on, the men sat around the fire talking about the homes they wondered if they would ever see again. The German prisoner was walking towards the brig, and suddenly as the light of the fire illuminated his face, Goldberg sprang to his feet. The muscles in his neck and arms were bulging and tense. He shook his head and blinked his eyes to confirm what he thought he saw. Then he leaped towards the German. The guard’s first reaction would have been to protect the German, for it wasn’t uncommon for a soldier to try to kill a prisoner when he remembered that the prisoner had killed one of his buddies. But in this instance, that was not the case. Before anyone had a chance to do anything, Goldberg and the prisoner were hugging each other and kissing each other on the cheek as they exchanged a few words in German. Everyone watched in stunned amazement. That is, everyone except the guard, who shouted, “Weiterlaufen schwein.” (Keep walking, pig.) The guard broke Goldberg’s grip and resumed walking towards the brig. The guard looked at Goldberg and said, “You ought to be shot, you pig-lover.”
The only thing that kept Goldberg from smashing the guard in the mouth was his deeply instilled respect of authority. He turned around; every muscle in his body quivered and he clenched his fists so tightly that he forced the blood out of them. He sat back down and just stared at the ground.
The captain received word of this little episode and immediately ordered Goldberg to report to his tent. Tents are not soundproof and everyone within the immediate vicinity clearly heard the captain order Goldberg to be the fifth man on the sunrise firing squad.
When Goldberg came out of the tent, the men asked him what he was going to do. They reminded him that his refusal to obey a direct order would result in his being shot himself. Goldberg replied, “I understand the consequences, but how can I shoot my best friend, the man who was my college roommate? How can I shoot a man my family loves – a man who has a wife and kids, - a man who actually has changed my life for the better?"
So what did Seth Goldberg do? Before I tell you the rest of the story, what do you think you would have done? It would be hard to shoot your best friend, but the German was going to die regardless of whether you personally pulled the trigger. Refusing to shoot would mean that two men would die, instead of one. What good would you be to your country if you were dead? Right? On the other hand, what kind of life would you have if you knew that you knowingly had served on the firing squad that executed your best friend?
If you understand the rules of war, you will argue that Goldberg’s role in the firing squad wouldn’t make him guilty of the German’s death. The German would die as a victim of martial law and Goldberg, as a participant in martial law, would be acting as a soldier, not a murderer.
Now, the end of the story? Early the next morning, the firing squad executed both Seth Goldberg and the German soldier who had been his best friend.
Let us all seriously contemplate Seth Goldberg’s legacy – the blatant reminder of the brutal ramifications of war – so that we no longer think of it in terms of country against country or one political system and leaders against another. War is common person against common person; man, woman, and family against man, woman, and family.
We, as brothers and sisters in the family of man, need to love, tolerate, and mutually respect one another – only then can we “give peace a chance.”
In honor of Seth Goldberg, let each of us first identify what principle (integrity = virtues) we would be willing to die for and then passionately live for that principle every single day of our lives. Only then can each of us claim, as Seth Goldberg claimed, “to Mine own self I have been true.” (Clark)