Comparison: King Rat And Mckenzie’s Boots Essay, Research Paper
Wartime. It is a time of pain, a time of agony, a time of great suffering. Yet through all the hardships of war, there always arises heroes, people who soar above all to rid the world of the evil that is war. What is it about such heroes that make them standout from the rest? More importantly, what is it about soldiers that enable them to survive the atrocities of war? There are many possible answers to this question such as being in top physical condition and having the proper combat and weapon training. More importantly, a time of war can take a heavy toll on one’s mind and a person must have great mental strength in order to deal with the death, pain, and terror that result from war. Survival in war may depend more on mental strength than on physical strength. One important aspect of mental strength is having the will to survive and not giving up at all. In order to be strong mentally, one must also be able to block out all emotions and morals that could lead to weakness and even lead to death. Having a good companion at a time of war could also be very helpful in the building of mental strength. All of these elements show how mental strength can be very important when it comes to surviving an unforgiving war.
What exactly is the will to survive? A couple of scenarios explains it best. For example, it is what keeps a severely wounded man alive long enough until proper medical attention arrives. It is what prevents a soldier from going insane when things get uncontrollably out of hand. It is these things and a great deal more. In the novel King Rat by James Clavell, the character known as the King showed he had a very strong will to survive. He was stuck in a Japanese prison camp for the past couple of years and he had refused to give up on his life like the others. A good example of this was when a fellow prisoner had just died and he was talking to the doctor who had been in charge of him.
“What’d he die of?”
“Lack of spirit.” The doctor stifled a yawn. His teeth were stained and dirty, and his hair lank and dirty, and his hands pink and spotless.
“You mean will to live?”
“That’s one way of looking at it.” The doctor glowered up at the King. “That’s one thing you won’t die of, isn’t it?”
“Hell no. Sir.” (King Rat p.109)
The way the King answers the question shows his strength and the fact that he would never die by giving up on his life. His mentality on his seemingly hopeless situation played an important role in keeping his will to survive very strong. He goes on to think to himself, “The world was jungle, and the strong survived and the weak should die. It was you or the other guy. That’s right. There is no other way.” (King Rat p.110) Not everyone with a strong will to survive has this mentality, the type of mentality that keeps the King as sharp as a razor. A strong will to survive is also seen in the novel McKenzie’s Boots by Michael Noonan. The main character is Rod McKenzie, a young soldier in the thick of jungle warfare against the Japanese forces. The only thing motivating this kid is the hope that he might one day be able to go back home. In a climactic point in the novel, Rod is confronted by a Japanese captain who is intent on killing him.
(Captain) Astashi fumbled at his side to grip and draw his pistol from its holster; Rod’s impetus was such that Astashi had only moments to aim and fire…. The bullet struck Rod in the side. And now, as he laboured to reach the executioner, his boots became so heavy that they might have been cast in illicit gold. Even so, with his momentum fading away, he managed to keep on and drive the shaft of steel fitted to the end of his rifle into Astashi’s body. (McKenzie’s Boots p.229)
Rod’s strong will to survive prevented him from accepting death but instead gave him the energy to bring Captain Astashi to his death. His actions prevented him from getting killed, thus showing his strong will to survive.
It may sound cruel and immoral, but having a strong mind means that one cannot let such emotions of pity or sadness interfere when it comes to survival. One cannot feel sorry for an enemy as he lies dying on the ground, for the instant that he feels guilt, the enemy could take advantage of the situation and strike. It is as if a soldier must become conscienceless with no regard for life at all. When the King is placed in a similar situation, he again shows his great mental strength by pushing his emotions and morals aside. The times are lean in the prison camp and food is a scarcity. When he is presented with the idea of eating his friend’s dog in order to survive, he does not back off.
“It’s Hawkins’ dog,” answered the King, not thinking about anything except my God does that smell good or does that smell good!
Then Peter Marlowe said, “Mother of God. Hawkins’ dog!”
“Now look,” said the King reasonably. “What’s the difference? It was certainly the cleanest-eatingest dog I’ve ever seen. Much cleaner’n any pig. Or chicken for that matter. Meat’s meat. Simple as that!” (King Rat p.305-6)
The King had to survive and one way of doing this was by eating the dog of Hawkins. If it were not a time of war, then eating someone’s dog would certainly be immoral and wrong. However, it is a time of war and morals cannot come in between a man and his will to survive. In a very different situation, Rod shows how he has pushed aside his emotions and morals in order to stay alive. He remembers of what he has done so far in the war, and while remembering it, he shows no signs of remorse or guilt.
He had no doubt whatsoever that he was taking part in the defense of freedom for mankind against those dark powers which were hel-bent on trying to master the world. He’d no qualms at al in picking off the Japanese soldier operating the machine gun; nor in actions on the way to Kokoda, and at Gona and Buna. Without any pangs of conscience, he had taken part in the slaughter of the Japanese. (McKenzie’s Boots p.94)
It is this type of mentality, no matter how cruel it is, that a soldier in war must have to survive. If Rod did not think this way, he would never be able to kill the enemy and keep himself alive. It is a weakness to show emotion and to let one’s morals interfere because that one moment where one hesitates could lead to instant death.
Not everyone can have the mental strength that is needed to endure a time of war. Even for those who do have great mental strength, there can be times when it is not enough. This is where having a good friend during war can play an important role in survival. Having a companion can keep one’s head up and more importantly keep one motivated to keep on going. In King Rat, it is the King himself who is the good friend to the prisoner Peter Marlowe. The King’s friendship with Marlowe helped him greatly to cope with his surroundings and the situation that he was in. He had given Marlowe a sense of new hope, that it was worth it to try and survive.
In the few short days he had known the King, a rare friendship had developed. Peter Marlowe knew, too, that though all three men welcomed the King’s wealth and help, their liking for him was due mainly to the man himself. When you were with him he poured out strength and confidence. You felt better and stronger yourself-for you seemed to be able to feed on the magic that surrounded him. (King Rat p. 116)
This very well shows how much impact the friendship of the King has had on Marlowe. If he was having doubts about himself or whether or not he would get out of camp alive, the King was making life easier for him. As for McKenzie’s Boots, Rod himself is the friend who is helping a fellow soldier to cope with the war, even though he is not aware of the aid he is providing. By letting his fellow soldier nicknamed Nugget read the letters that he received regularly from back home, he has given Nugget a reason to survive, so that one day he may meet the interesting people he read about in Rod’s letters from home. At one point in the novel, it is only these letters that Nugget looks forward to.
Nugget received his usual wad (of mail), but he seemed more interested in the two letters addresses to “Full” Corporal Rodney McKenzie M.M, one out of normal size in his mother’s handwriting, the other an unusually fat one from Horrie. (McKenzie’s Boots p.208-9)
Nugget eventually shows interest in one of Rod’s lady friends, and later on he says, “How would it be, if when we get back-if ever, that is- I look her up? You wouldn’t mind, would you?” (McKenzie’s Boots p.210) During all this time, Rod is unaware that his letters provide so much joy and hope for Nugget. The fact that he is Nugget’s close friend and that he lets him read his personal letters shows how uplifting to the mind friendship can be during war.
War is something that must be taken very seriously. It can result in large death counts and horror for those around it. Yes, it is important that soldiers are physically able and have good training, but in a crucial time of a war, in it can all boil down to the mental strength of a soldier. The characters of the King and Rod show how important it is to be mentally prepared. They were able to keep their wills to survive at its peak, control their emotions to the point where they made the right decisions, or to be in the company of good men that keep them motivated. It is this mental strength, possessed by a soldier, that may decide whether or not he gets to go home again.