Episode 19 – “The Purple Testament”

“He has come to open the purple testament of bleeding war.” (Richard III)

War is hell, but imagine that you could predict who would live and who would die in combat. Lieutenant Fitzgerald acquires that ability, first in combat with fellow soldiers, and then before particular engagements.  He knows not just the general truth that all will not return, but the particulars of who will live and who will die. But he can’t act on it, even when he sees that his own death is next on offer.

The thought experiment gives voice to a key truth, that every death is horrible. Imagining a specific death, or knowing that one will occur (Note that the distinction between imagining and knowing was central to “The Last Flight”) guards against our comfort in  generalities, in reviewing the statistics that are nameless and faceless.

Early in the episode Fitzgerald reflects on his most recent engagement, where four men died under his command. Fitzgerald is upset, and his commanding officer wonders whether there was something special about the four which explains why Fitzgerald more upset than after previous losses of a greater magnitude.  Put this way, the commanding officer’s question seems crude. Each life is special; just this time Fitzgerald’s special gift made him appreciate it all the more.

Perhaps if we had Fitzgerald’s gift, the ability to see who will die, we’d be more reluctant, as Fitzgerald was, to send soldiers to their certain deaths.

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