My Brother and Endurance

The book my brother gave me is titled The Jungle is Neutral: A Soldier’s Two-Year Escape from the Japanese Army by F. Spencer Chapman, a Major in the British Army who stayed behind in Malaya to lead resistance groups against the Japanese who had overrun the country, at that time a colony of Great Britain. What he endured is hard to believe and yet he himself says the most important quality was one’s mental attitude toward adversity. And he had some adversity. Constantly on the run from the Japanese; walking incredible distances which usually involved following trails up the sides of mountains and almost sliding down the other slope; wading through rivers in full flood in currents so strong some of his companions were swept away; crossing gorges on foot bridges comprised only of a tree which had been felled by the local tribesmen; sleeping in the rain, cold and wet; attacked by swarms of mosquitoes; oft times covered in leeches which were painful to pull off and left him covered with blood after he had done so; struggles with blackwater fever, pneumonia, beriberi, dysentery, and recurring bouts of malaria which left him too weak to even move and on one occasion rendered him unconscious for almost three weeks; twice shot and wounded by the Japanese; yet he endured. He prevailed. He survived.

Yes, he had some advantages. Besides the protection offered by the Chinese guerrillas he was training, the Sakai, the mountain tribesmen of Malaya, different from the Malays themselves who would often betray him, hated the Japanese and constantly risked their lives to shelter him and feed him. Their only protection was the incredibly thick jungle, which the Japanese tried to penetrate but usually gave up after a few days. It was that difficult to walk even one hundred yards. Just surviving the difficulty present in the jungle itself would tax a man’s strength to the point of death, yet it provided Major Chapman with protection as its very impenetrability would protect anyone, hence the title of his book, The Jungle Is Neutral.

I think one of the reasons this book appealed so much to my brother is that he is going through his own medical struggle now. Last year he was diagnosed with malignant melanoma which is a not a cancer anyone wants to get. Surgeons operated twice and cut out all the cancer and everything around it before it spread. But as a prophylactic, he takes a weekly dose of interferon, a medication that zaps your energy and makes you feel like you have the flu all the time. This calls for simple endurance in adversity, a quality he has. And that is what he does. He works all week and then gets his shot on Friday afternoon and spends most of the weekend feeling exhausted beyond measure. Then drags himself through another week. It’s no wonder this story of endurance by Major Chapman appeals to him because that is what he is doing — he is enduring. This interferon treatment goes on for two years and he is eight months into it. Like me, he knows how to endure adversity, and he is doing that right now. It sucks. But he is doing it.

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website:

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