Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

This story of a friendship between two young Jewish men in mid-twentieth century New York tells history from the heart of one who was there.  Through layers of progression the novel delves from the senses we ignore to the delight of noticing what we see and hear to the mental realm, the subconscious realm, and on into the sphere of emotion, where compassion sits.  There is sound and there is silence, sight and blindness, confusion and understanding.  And following all of these around is the emotional reaction and the questions of why. 

Reuven, the main character, is the son of a Talmud professor and columnist, a conservative practicing Jew, who is pioneering the field of higher criticism into Jewish studies.  This high school student, who spends half his day studying Talmud (commentaries on the Jewish Scripture), another few hours with regular schoolwork, and the rest playing baseball, meets Danny, a boy his age from the neighborhood over who is also a practicing Jew, whose father is a Tzaddik rabbi in the Hassidic sect.  One of the non-fiction highlights of the book is the glimpse at the origin and history of that denomination with its distinctive customs, dress, and attitude. 

Philosophically speaking, my favorite part was the contrast between the two fathers as they respond to the Holocaust and to the Zionist push for a Jewish homeland.  The columnist says the death of millions of his people will be meaningless if the survivors don’t learn, change, and act.  He is tired of waiting for the Messiah, and so says that Jews must take matters into their own hands, to build a Jewish homeland now!  But the Hassidic rabbi believes that the sacrifice of millions of Jews, faithfully waiting for their Messiah, will be in vain if the remnant gives up now and tries to do things without God. 

I see more biblical backing in the position of the Hassid.  Israel was continually rebuked for growing impatient and doing things their own way (Abraham and Saul come to mind).  But this relies on promises, on clearly revealed truth from a proven God.  Which brings me to the question of dogma.  The Hassidic congregation believes whatever their rabbi tells them, as if he were god to them.  They believe in fate, that because Danny is the son of the rabbi, he will take his place.  But they also put a huge emphasis on personal responsibility.  In any case, their beliefs are dogmatic, unquestioned submission to tradition and the rule of the rabbi.  The son has been trained to accept things rather uncritically, with a stubborn loyalty.  So when he begins to read Freud, there is no filter of context or criticism like his friend would have.  Reuven’s higher criticism relies heavily on logic, but it can breed doubt as skepticism rules the interpretation of every book, idea, or even every person.  It almost elbows out faith, and elevates the individual. 

In the end, The Chosen shows how relationship transcends these conflicts.  The rabbi’s moving care for his people and his son takes a huge personal toll on him.  Two boys survive high school and college through their improbable friendship.  Despite their differences they show mutual respect and interest.  They learn to be grateful for what they have, and to learn from others.  As the professor father predicted, they experienced how hard it can be to invest in the lives of others. 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

Read Full Post »

The following is a sort of running commentary on the movie, Remains of the Day.  I wrote it while watching the movie.  The movie is subtle and deep.  I don’t get poems.  I like them if they are clever or rhyme, but not if they’re too deep. So when I do really start to catch on, I get excited.  This movie is like a poem.  If you can grasp the meaning by just watching, you might not be too entertained by this blog post.  It’s full of spoilers and observations about the plot.  Another aspect of this essay is that because I wrote it during the movie, it alternates tenses.  If I speak in past tense, I’m referring to something that happened earlier in the movie, but which I was just pulling together later.  If it’s in the present tense I am either making a point about the theme of the story or discussing events unfolding before my eyes on the screen.  Rather than making the tone consistent throughout, I have preserved the original, hoping that the natural flow will communicate more about how my thoughts were developing.  I’m essentially inviting you to view the movie with me. 

 

“I’m not leaving.  I’ve nowhere to go.  I have no family.  I’m a coward…  I’m frightened of leaving and that’s the truth.  All I see out in the world is loneliness, and it frightens me.  That’s all my high principles are worth.  I’m ashamed of myself.”  Emma Thompson plays the housekeeper in Remains of the Day, opposite butler Anthony Hopkins.  She’s not afraid of confessing who she is.  In fact, I’d say she’s more afraid of not telling who she is. 

 

It’s a movie all about loneliness: on one side about trying to feel nothing or at least to show no feelings.  Actions and words went together to prove dignity, the hallmark of British society.  The main characters never talked, then encountered people who do.  How do you adjust to the demise of aristocracy as a philosophy?  What the butler, Mr. Stevens, had always known as abstract turned out to be affecting personal lives. 

 

(Mr. Lewis is an interesting thread to follow.  He’s an American way ahead of the gentlemen in the democracy and equality world.  The way he uses rhetoric is too direct for them.  Initially he makes enemies everywhere.  People think he doesn’t care about England or Europe.  In the end his view of politics is proven right, and he also turns out to be very fond of England for its real value.  It is he who preserves Darlington Hall.  He represents America, I think, across nearly a century of its history.) 

 

It isn’t that the butler can’t express himself or can’t feel anything.  He just exercises self-control.  His loyalty was misplaced.  He chose self-control because his goal was dignity.  By the end of his life, he’s second-guessing the direction he chose. 

 

In the movie Lord Darlington explains why he wants to help Germany.  He had a friend who fought on the side of Germany in the First World War, and afterwards was so devastated by its effect on his country that he committed suicide.  Mr. Stevens watched a similar thing happen to his boss over the course of the movie.  He feels obligated to honor the memory of his former employer and helps do as a free man what he couldn’t do as Lord Darlington’s servant. 

 

Near the beginning of the movie, Miss Kenton the housekeeper comes into Mr. Stevens’ parlor bringing flowers and representing passion and life.  She does her job well and respectfully, but offers a whole different approach to dignity, one that is more open and faithful to herself.  She represents the other side of loneliness, the kind that feels alone even when she’s with other people. 

 

Mr. Stevens never says what he means, following the example described by his father: the butler in India shot a tiger in the kitchen and entered the parlor a moment later to say dinner would be served at the usual hour, by which time there would be no discernible traces of the incident.  All this calm, polite conversation to convey the death of a ferocious animal in the dining room. 

 

So when Miss Kenton enters his room, he says that he prefers his room private, unchanged, and (seeming to refer to flowers but actually not) free of distraction.  The relationship between the butler and housekeeper is reminiscent of Elizabeth and Darcy’s conversations in Pride and Prejudice.  Until she got to know Darcy, he seemed rude and unfeeling.  Once Miss Kenton likewise makes the patient and attentive habit of knowing Mr. Stevens’ character and tastes, she can, rather on faith, begin to interpret what he says or doesn’t say as a sort of code for his true meaning.  Given her openness, he has the great advantage over her: the comfort of knowing when she agrees, security of being aware when she doesn’t, and even delight when her position entertains – all while, at first, safely hidden in his own opinions. 

 

But she begins to see through him, utilizing Plato’s “plot is everything” to observe his life.  She notices he doesn’t like pretty women on staff, and speculates, “Might it be that our Mr. Stevens fears distraction?”  She has an excellent memory, and so no doubt began to understand what he had thought of her when she first entered his study with flowers years earlier.  He didn’t trust himself. 

 

Passion is a distraction from duty.  Or is the other way around? 

 

“Please leave me alone, Miss Kenton.”  He wants to be alone, at least partly.  And he wants her to physically pry the book from his hands, to talk and guess and look into his face for the answers he dare not show but can’t hide.  He freezes, utterly conflicted for a moment, craving and fearing her closeness. 

 

“We have each other.  That’s all anyone can ever need.”

 – Miss Hull on marrying without money.

 

Miss Kenton finds that being together in the same house isn’t enough.  She might content herself with friendship, but he can’t.  He must have formality or surrender to love, but he doesn’t know how to do the latter.  She can’t bear the rejection, which is worse than loneliness. 

 

She hurt him.  She loved him and she hurt him.  Maybe that’s why she left. 

 

He didn’t owe her anything.  She knew he didn’t, but she hoped anyway.  That made her tears all the more bitter and self-reproaching when he couldn’t let himself admit he was in love. 

 

Why does Miss Kenton do these things?  She sees the outside world as lonely, in contrast to the house and servants (though Mr. Stevens sees the house as lonely).  She above all fears loneliness, and works and sacrifices so that she won’t feel alone.  This is why she eventually leaves.  Though Mr. Stevens knows she is not alone, he makes the mistake of not telling her so.  And she flees to what seems a sure thing, an offer of marriage to a man who says he loves her. 

 

She is too needy for a marriage, and her husband didn’t always say what he meant, either – even when he first said “I love you.”  The movie ends with the question of loneliness still hanging. 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

Read Full Post »

I believe that congressmen, who are involved in ratifying treaties of the United States and charged with representing our country, should know history and diplomacy.  This is their job.  I hate needing to remind politicians of their job.  Nevertheless, I press on.  This is not to say that the situation in Georgia is our fault.  We did agree to admit Georgia as our ally, which Russia does not like (they being a selfish political power hoping to re-aquire the land of Georgia). 

 

Rather than the most recent war in Iraq, perhaps a better illustration of the need to proceed with wisdom in Georgia would be the conflict between Afghanistan and Russia, in which the US armed the Taliban in order to defeat the Soviets.  Certainly neither party needed us to be helping them.  However, Georgia has been advancing toward a democratic, “westernized” government and culture, despite serious economic and military opposition from its closest most powerful neighbor.  The US, because of the fundamental beliefs that make us a democracy: “endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights”, believes that these rights apply to all people, and wishes to aid the sovereign governments who share our concern to promote liberty in their own countries.  It is also strategic for us to have allies like Georgia, the Ukraine, and Poland, whence we can maintain vigil over the growing threat of Russia’s imperialism. 

 

Another good example would be World War II, which could actually have been prevented as a world war if the other superpowers in the world had stood against Hitler when he took over Austria and Czechoslavakia, citing similar reasons as Putin’s Russia now claims.  Because Hitler was undeterred in his conquest, he gained confidence and military positional advantage by which he launched his near-complete takeover of Europe.  Too much appeasement, and too many empty threats, are what allow world wars to come to fruition. 

 

Thus, the United States was acting in this prudent manner of putting out a spark rather than a raging forest fire, when we “preemptively” struck Iraq.  A little history (which it is good to know, before you judge a situation):  In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait in order to add its natural resources to the larger, but economically depleted, Iraq.  The US and a UN-supported coalition defended Kuwait.  Iraq was forced to surrender, on very favorable terms considering the nature of war.  They submitted at the time to the UN as enforcers of these terms.  When after several years Sadaam Hussein began to put his toe across the line, and found himself unchecked, he gained confidence and gradually became more and more blatant in disregarding the terms of his surrender over a decade prior.  As it became evident that he was committing atrocities and defying the UN resolutions (an act by all accounts punishable if the UN meant anything); harboring and aiding the professed terror-wielding enemies of the US and her allies; and moving towards if not already possessing the means of restarting his quest for more money and power at the cost of human lives at home and abroad, the US led the way in collecting the Coalition of the Willing and specific UN resolutions in order to redress the transgressions Sadaam Hussein’s Iraq made against international post-Gulf War agreements. 

 

The resulting war, Operation Iraqi Freedom, was so shocking and awe-ful to Sadaam that the real fighting was over in a few days.  What has taken so long in Iraq was the establishment of a democracy among a people used to oppression.  The South needed to be reconstructed, and the freed slaves equipped for life and industry after the Civil War in the United States.  Georgia needed the support and example of democracies to build its government on the true, God-fearing principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  In the case of Georgia, they have met insurgent opposition to democratic government, and have endured opposition sponsored by neighbors with ulterior motives – all very reminiscent of the situation in Iraq where Iran continued to supply and train the insurgency.  Interestingly, Putin and Ahmadinejad are themselves allies, who have no doubt consulted on tactics. 

 

Georgia, a sovereign nation, has the right to use force to suppress violent uprisings in its land.  That is what governments do.  If the government is being oppressive and abusive, that is another story, but then one wonders why most of Georgia is NOT in revolt.  (See Declaration of Independence).  I find it sad that Americans seem willing to accept ethnic differences as explanations for conflict and wanting one’s own country divided according to race all the while recognizing the great fact (which has been largely successful in its American implementation) that race has nothing to do with the value of a human life, with relationships, or with the principles of government by the people for the people.  Being of a different ethnicity than a portion of your country is no reason either to revolt against your government or to oppress your people.

 

When America broke away from the Crown, it was not a matter of race or even of disapproval of the laws so much as it was outcry against the king’s making rules and breaking them.  The charters by which America was colonized gave specific rights and powers to the colonists, which the king then usurped.  Since the Magna Carta, England had recognized that the king was not himself above the law, and Americans expected the present king to honor that.  However, when he did not, they declared their independence.  Unlike the implications some have made, the king did not immediately recognize his fault and repent, but invaded their land with violence.  By the providence of God, America was able to defeat the armies of the tyrant king, winning independence and teaching England a lesson on human rights and the nature of government that the Crown has yet to forget.  America is free not because of the benevolence of England, but because England surrendered their object in the colonies. 

 

My letters were addressed to my congressmen because, as the Constitution of the United States presently stands, they are my representatives to the world.  World leaders are not my concern beyond my own country.  I am not a globalist.  America is my nation, and her leaders are my focus. 

 

My position maintains that we were not so utterly wrong in Iraq or in Afghanistan as is popularly argued.  Weapons of Mass Destruction have been found, and there is some evidence that more may have been shipped to likeminded countries.  Good has been accomplished in Iraq and Afghanistan.  No further terrorist attacks have been perpetrated on America.  Lives have been lost, tragically, but most American lives were willingly laid on the line in service of country.  Alongside wars of history, the human toll has been remarkably small.  Peace reigns over the Middle East more than ever.  There is still violence, but there is violence in New York City, in San Francisco, and in my city, Denver.  To quote Tolkien, “It takes but one foe to breed a war…” 

 

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

Read Full Post »

Christians occasionally run up against the argument that religious wars recklessly took the lives of thousands of people.  Take the Crusades…  So of course Christianity is a religion of hate and violence, and it is hypocritical for purportedly teaching about loving one’s neighbor at the same time.  Guilt by association is a hard reputation to shed.  It is hard for me to have to defend myself over a crime for which I don’t feel guilty, especially when I don’t feel guilty because I wasn’t alive then.  I want to be loyal, but consistency and honesty are more important to me. 
 
Pro-life groups have the taint of extremists who bombed abortion clinics.  But I didn’t do that or condone that.  In fact, I cannot remember a bombing of a clinic in America since I turned 13 and started paying attention.  Is murdering millions of babies ok because one of the thousands of protestors was inexcusably destructive? 
 
Zionists have been shamed by a branch of extremists who wanted to use terror to further their cause.  In the case of Zionism, as opposed to that of Islam, the difference was that they were condemned by the mainstream.  Strategists, leaders, and supporters of the state of Israel sought peaceful means of creating a Jewish homeland.  Only once attacked and threatened by hostile (to say the least) neighbors who denied their existence and legitimacy did Israel take a position of miraculous strength, and apply military power. 
 
Committing a crime yourself and framing your enemies for it is classic double-agent strategy.  The ultimate example is Emperor Palpatine and the Clone Wars in Star Wars.  Or if you’re more for history than fantasy, you might refer to Hitler excusing his invasions of Austria, Czechoslavakia, and separately of Poland.  Yes.  We’re talking the trigger for World War II. 
 
During our involvement in World War II, America made the distasteful and unjust decision to inter our Japanese civilians in labor camps.  In the interest of humble honesty, I always feel obligated to admit that occasionally my country is not defending virtue and liberty.  I’m a fan of history, not names and dates so much as the connections of the dots.  What were the politics, the motivations, the idealisms that drove countries to war and revolt, to peace and surrender?  What little difference in choices would have changed the course of the world? 
 
So I have to note that the president who ordered Japanese interment during World War II was a Democrat.  Knowing that makes me feel a lot less responsible.  There are almost two countries in this America.  They alternate power, a check and balance between irresponsible oppression and defensive freedom.  I never realized it before, but I’m more or less loyal to the Republican America. 
 
But. 
 
My Republican America participates and upholds the same Constitution that occasionally puts Democrat America in power.  Even if I’m voting against them, I’m still endorsing the system.  How much responsibility does that give me? 
 
Some lifestyles are a package deal.  For example, I’m learning that to believe Church should be held in homes is a lifestyle.  Substituting a gathering in a house doing all the biblical things for the Sunday morning “worship service” in a sanctuary isn’t sufficient.  My friends would call the package living missionally.  I already believe that Christian community does life together and that the most effective Church in history met more than once a week. 
 
Perhaps another package deal is living in a Republic requires political involvement.  I can’t just vote and say I’ve done my part.  In fact, for decades under the US Constitution there was no suffrage for women, and their participation in the government had to be more involved and influential than that.  They had to do marches and grassroots campaigns.  We must do that and more, like paying attention to our representatives in all three branches of government, and proactively holding them accountable.  Voting is saying, “Yes, I believe in and endorse this system.”  The responsibility, then, is ours to do everything we can to ensure that the system is honorable and efficient. 
 
To God be all glory,
Lisa of Longbourn

Read Full Post »