The Enemy

Buck, Pearl

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Willms, Janice
  • Date of entry: Nov-13-1998
  • Last revised: Nov-28-2006


An American-trained Japanese surgeon working in Japan during World War II, pulls a wounded American sailor, presumably an escaped POW, from the surf behind his home. Against the advice of his wife, he hides the sailor, operates on him, and preserves his life temporarily.

Becoming fearful for his family, he reports what he has done to his patient, an official in the Japanese military. The officer says he will arrange to have the American assassinated in order to spare possible retribution against Sadao, the surgeon, and his family. It doesn’t happen, and Sadao is left with determining how to rid himself of this hazard he has brought into his home and healed. He makes a series of decisions that lend themselves to widely varying interpretations in terms of his motivation.


This story raises the high-level moral questions about ethics in the time of war. Does one’s obligation to country supersede obligation to family? To self? To patient? When is a patient a patient, and when is he an enemy to be treated as threat? How are ethical principles prioritized when they are in conflict of this nature? And, in terms of the story itself, how does one examine the motives that drive Sadao to make his decisions? Are they virtue-based? Based in his culture as Japanese or his culture as surgeon? Or are they totally self-serving?

Primary Source

Doctors' Choice


Wilfred Funk

Place Published

New York




P. Blaustein and A. Blaustein