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Thursday, December 31, 2009
Let us now praise famous men, and our fathers that begat us:
The Lord hath wrought great glory by them through his great power from the beginning ... that have left a name behind them, that their praises might be reported...An extraordinary 2007 essay in Bill Whittle's excellent blog “Eject! Eject! Eject!” made reference to what are essentially invisible heroes: heroes whom you never see, never notice, and whom the earth may never even note are even present. But these silent, hard working few -- these one in a thousand or fewer - are referred to both in the writings of Plato and in the writings of the Old Testament as “The Remnant.“
Noah was found perfect and righteous; in the time of wrath he was taken in exchange for the world; therefore was he left as a remnant unto the earth, when the flood came.
- Sirach ("Ecclesiasticus"), ch. 44, verses 1, 2, 8, 11
The idea of the "Remnant" is that these are what are left when the storm passes, or those few natives who remain in a land after it has been ethnically cleansed; but even when there is no obvious storm, it still remains to them to keep civilization going, and receive neither kudoes nor recognition for their work in this world.
But the storm does not have to be actual, like an arriving Babylonian (or German, or Serb, or whatever) army scraping the land clean. Sometimes the storm is metaphorical: an overwhelming wind of social injustice, or gross evil. Sometimes, the threat is not obvious to the vast majority, who cheerfully and unknowingly go on with their lives not knowing that they are in the middle of a storm, while a few brave souls, like Frodo with the Ring in the heart of the Shire, struggle with the power of an unseen Mordor.
It is these folks who are the true heroes of life. It is these folks who struggle whom I call The Tattered Remnant; the individuals themselves I give the title of Tattered Remnants.
The archetypal Tattered Remnant is the fictional George Bailey of Bedford Falls, New York: a man who silently, but with full effort, devotes himself to building his city and his community, and in his case, not knowing the good he has done until he is at the furthest edge of despair and is ready to throw his life away.
Occasionally these individuals are remembered but often, indeed usually, they are not.
But the Tattered Remnant is not a pleasant occupation. Neither is it something that one would desire to do. It is a call to duty, a requirement to endure an enormous burden, perhaps to one's own destruction.
As Mr. Whittle put it in his essay:
I have been, and remain, a staunchly anti-elitist individual. I find the idea of belonging to a special group the most dangerous philosophical ground you can stand on. But what is remarkable about this Remnant is that the people that compose it seem to be drawn completely at random. It is not a philosophy. It is a frequency. You are on it or you are not. And this is not a million-dollar lottery win, either: it is a call to face unpleasant facts and impending hardship. It is a quiet summons to duty. It often makes one uncomfortable, and, most often, this unfocused, vague desire – this need – to do something useful most often makes one feel very much alone.The Tattered Remnant is not made up of superheroes. I must say I am not fond of the concept of the "superhero." Superheroes are literary constructs, tin gods for us to fantasize about, not real people. The stories of the heroic that go back to the ancient past are about individuals of enormous strength, enormous power, sometimes enormous beauty or perhaps enormous wealth, who use those extraordinary attributes to accomplish extraordinary things. They are heroic not because they are brave as such; they are brave because they are powerful. It's easy to be magnificent with your wealth if you have hit big on the lottery; it is easy to be a superhero if you have been granted the power to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
What’s remarkable about the Remnant — to me, anyway – is the sheer unpredictability of its composition. Perhaps that homeless drug addict, panhandling under the overpass… perhaps he will be the one to run into a burning building while other decent and good people stand idle, waiting for something to happen.
Waiting for someone to happen.
- You Are Not Alone, Part 1
Achilles, perhaps, is the archetype of this sort of hero: untouchable because of his mother's dipping him in a magic river, invulnerable in all but one spot, where his mother held him by the ankle. But literature since then show similar characters: Samson, or Hercules; and later on, Superman, Spiderman, Batman, V of V for Vendetta, or even Harry Potter.
But these are in fact not real heroes at all.
When I was a peacekeeper in Bosnia, the movie actor Arnold Schwartzenegger came to see us at Eagle Base on a USO tour in the aftermath of 9/11. There were two things about that visit that I remember with remarkable clarity. The first was how short the man is in real life–he's only 5'4"–and for all his muscularity, he is far less prepossessing in the flesh than he is on the big screen carrying a weapon of unusual size. But the other thing I remember him saying was this: "I am not a hero. I am an actor. I pretend to be a hero. You guys are the real heroes." It's hard to explain the impact of hearing that--from Ah-nult!--on a bunch of nineteen year old kids six thousand miles away from home in wartime, but believe me, it's significant.
I believe that heroes are, in fact, although relatively rare creatures as a percentage of the populace, are still around us today in great numbers, and that they are generally nothing like those portrayed in most movies. These heroes are the quiet ones, much closer in spirit to the Little Dutch Boy than they are to some cartoon-drawn caped crusader. And yet it is the Little Dutch Boy, with finger in the dike, saving the city from destruction while forever wondering if and when he will be relieved, that is the true archetype of the real heroes today.
My heroes are not saints! I have gone out of my way, in fact, to exclude saints and great men and women from my story. There are no Gandhis here, no Churchills, no Roosevelts, no Lincolns (although these men were all surely had the Tattered Remnant nature). Neither are there any of the canonized; none here have been raised to the altar. Some of my Tattered Remnants--in particular Richard Sorge, Oskar Schindler, James Poillion, Ignaz Semmelweis--can be seen as despicable in a lot of ways. But their acts mark them as being in the club. It is not their greatness or extraordinary talent that necessarily marks the Tattered Remnant but their extraordinary courage.
The metaphor of the Tattered Remnant can be found throughout history and in all cultures. Perhaps the earliest noted in literature is found in the Mahabharata, in the section called the Bhagavad Gita, the Song of God. In it--boiling a very long story to a couple sentences--a very reluctant hero named Ajuna is facing a terrible decision: in order to save his family and his brothers from extinction, he must make war on his evil cousins. He trembles before his charge as he does not wish to shed the blood of his own kin. The god Krishna speaks to him and encourages him that when duty calls, one must step up and take action that makes the soul tremble. And so Ajuna does, emerging victorious.
Now, this is a song of military valor in the face of family obligation and is, perhaps, the most primitive form of recorded Tattered Remnant behavior. Every culture has its great military heroes who choose to step up and act. Arthur drawing his sword from the stone against the Sachsennen; Serbia's Tsar Lazar choosing a heavenly kingdom through defeat by the Turks; Roland facing Islamic invaders; Spain's La Galana with her cudgel, battling Napoleon's cavalry; Skanderbeg driving out his imperial masters from Albania.
But the Tattered Remnant means far more than the drawing of a sword (although it can mean that as well).
Imperial China has its own tradition of wandering, unknown heroes: the Youxia. As Wikipedia puts it:
Youxia literally means ‘wandering force’, but is commonly translated as ‘knight-errant’ or less commonly as ‘cavalier’, ‘adventurer’, ‘soldier of fortune’, and ‘underworld stalwart’. The term ‘wandering force’ refers to the way these men solely traveled the land using force (or influence through association with powerful people) to right the wrongs done to the common people and the monarchy if need be. Youxia did not come from any social class in particular. Various historical documents, wuxia novels, and folktales describe them as being princes, government officials, poets, musicians, physicians, professional soldiers, merchants, and butchers. Some were just as handy with a calligraphy brush as others were with swords and spears.In Cabbalistic Jewish thought, there is a similar tradition, those of the Tzadikim Nistarim, the Hidden Righteous Ones, also called the Lamadvavniks: the "Thirty-Sixers," secret just men who preserve the Jewish people, and through them the world, through their inherent decency and righteousness. These men are so righteous that they preserve the world, and yet they are so inherently humble that they cannot reveal themselves as that would be to commit the sin of pride. In some traditions, in fact, they do not even know who and what they are: if they even realize that they are one of the Thirty Six, God brings them to heaven and replaces them with another, to preserve them from pride.
According to Dr. James J.Y. Liu (1926–1986), a professor of Chinese and comparative literature at Stanford University, it was a person's temperament and need for freedom, and not their social status, that caused them to roam the land and help those in need. Dr. Liu believes this is because a very large majority of these knights came from northern China, which borders the territory of "northern nomadic tribes, whose way of life stressed freedom of movement and military virtues." Many knights seem to have come from Hebei and Henan provinces. A large majority of the characters from the Water Margin, which is considered one of China's best examples of knight-errant literature, come from these provinces. One good example of knight-errant poetry is The Swordsman by Jia Dao:
For ten years I have been polishing this sword;
Its frosty edge has never been put to the test.
Now I am holding it and showing it to you, sir:
Is there anyone suffering from injustice?
According to Dr. Liu, Jia’s poem "seems...to sum up the spirit of knight-errantry in four lines. At the same time, one can also take it as a reflection of the desire of all those who have prepared themselves for years to put their abilities to the test for some justice."
It is an echo of this tradition that the commission at Yad Vashem commemorates those of the Nations who helped the Jewish people in peril during the Holocaust, awarding certain individuals as Righteous Persons Among The Nations. (You will read the stories of some of these individuals herein.)
One of my dearest friends, a convert to the Jewish faith, explained to me the metaphor of the Tikkun Olam, mending-of-the-world: that it is the task of the righteous man to make pottery, and to make more pottery than he breaks.
And of course Christianity has its own long tradition of doing good in anonymity. For a hundred generations or more various orders of women have taken to the habit, abandoning their old names and their families while devoting themselves to teaching, nursing and healing of the sick. In the same way, men have devoted themselves to preserving knowledge, culture and history in monasteries. Priests have heard the words of the dying and provided both hope and healing to those who suffer.
Missionaries like Cyril and Methodious to Dr. David Livingston, to the more recent Dr. Albert Schweitzer, have gone forth to remote places at great personal risk to bring the light of both civilization and of Christ where it never before had been known. Some two miles from my office stands a church in memory of one such, Isaac Jogues, who with a companion was killed as a sorcerer for his efforts. These too were of the Tattered Remnant.
Often the Tattered Remnant act knowing the strategic futility of what they do. This is illustrated in the famous Parable of the Starfish. In it, a little boy walks a beach where a million starfish have been thrown ashore by a storm. He wanders up and down the shore, throwing random starfish back in the water. An old man, observing, asks: "Son, why do you do that? There are millions of them. You can't possibly make a difference. It doesn't matter." The boy holds up a starfish and says, "It matters to this one," and throws it back into the sea.
Author Peggy Noonan has also touched on the concept of the Tattered Remnant in her writings. First and foremost of course is her felicitous phrase 'A Thousand Points of Light,' taken perhaps from C.S. Lewis's Narnia series, and used by George H.W. Bush in his 1989 inaugural address:
I have spoken of a thousand points of light, of all the community organizations that are spread like stars throughout the Nation, doing good. We will work hand in hand, encouraging, sometimes leading, sometimes being led, rewarding. We will work on this in the White House, in the Cabinet agencies. I will go to the people and the programs that are the brighter points of light, and I will ask every member of my government to become involved. The old ideas are new again because they are not old, they are timeless: duty, sacrifice, commitment, and a patriotism that finds its expression in taking part and pitching in.However, this is of course a bit suspect, as we have a political figure using the concept for political ends, which might well violate the concept of the hidden nature of the Tattered Remnant. But this is not the only place where she makes use of the concept (if not the exact phrase).
In an essay entitled "There Is No Time, There Will Be Time," first published in Forbes ASAP, November 30, 1998, that I regard as her most prophetic and brilliant work, she spoke of her feeling that the old world–those happy days we now think of as "September Tenth"–was coming to an end. There is much in that essay and I strongly urge you to read the entire thing, for it is possibly the most purely prophetic warning of 9/11 ever written. However, there is one section toward the end of the essay where she writes of those she previously called her Thousand Points of Light--that is, the Tattered Remnant, in the sense I am thinking:
I once talked to a man who had a friend who'd done something that took his breath away. She was single, middle-aged and middle class, and wanted to find a child to love. She searched the orphanages of South America and took the child who was in the most trouble, sick and emotionally unwell. She took the little girl home and loved her hard, and in time the little girl grew and became strong, became in fact the kind of person who could and did help others. Twelve years later, at the girl's high school graduation, she won the award for best all-around student. She played the piano for the recessional. Now she's at college.That adoptive mother was surely one of the Tattered Remnant.
The man's eyes grew moist. He had just been to the graduation. "These are the things that stay God's hand," he told me. I didn't know what that meant. He explained: These are the things that keep God from letting us kill us all.
And this book is about people like her.
NOTE TO THE READER:
You will find that I often fall into the first person singular when telling the stories you are about to read, injecting in them an occasional personal anecdote or aside (as here: to quote one of my favorite bad movies, The Knight's Tale, "I'm a writer! I give the truth SCOPE!"). You may also find that I engage in, shall we say, certain very minor literary embellishments as I tell these tales. I've tried to make each of these essays as historically accurate as possible. But these stories are not strictly historical accounts. I do claim the right, by way of my ancient Irish ancestors, to invoke the privilege of the bearer-of-memory, the seanchaidhe, to tell these stories my way.
Hans Schöll, Sophie Schöll, Christoph Probst, 1942
SOPHIE'S CHOICE: CHRISTOPH PROBST & THE SCHÖLL SIBLINGS
"We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!" - Motto of the White Rose Movement (Munich, 1942-1943)
I first learned of "The White Rose" movement in my teens, when reading one volume of a lurid, British-made multi volume paperback picture book series on the Second World War, which was then specifically marketed to teenaged males with an unhealthy interest in Nazi Germany: it was entitled "Hitler’s War Volume 24: Resistance In Nazi Europe" or some such. Bright red cover, lots of swastikas, endless garish black and white photographs of barbed wire and prisoners, etc etc. Very un-PC.
I can still remember vividly the book's laconic description of the execution of the leaders of The White Rose circle. Hans and Sophie Schöll, two college students, were arrested by the Gestapo for distributing anti-Nazi leaflets on the campus of the University of Munich in February, 1943, only two weeks after the destruction of the Sixth Army at Stalingrad. Their friend and co-conspirator, Christoph Probst, was arrested shortly thereafter. "They were convicted after a show trial and sentenced to death; they were executed the same day. Sophie went first, beheaded in the city prison. Next went her brother. As the blade fell, Hans Schöll shouted, ‘Es leibe die Frieheit!’ (Long live freedom!) Probst followed."
And that was all I ever knew of the White Rose.
I recently encountered a movie in the foreign language section of the our local video shop--in German, with English subtitles. It was entitled "Sophie Schöll: Die Letze Täge" ("Sophie Schöll: The Final Days"), a 2005 German language film starring Julia Jentsch.
(I suppose that I should say 'spoiler alert' here; however, it's like saying 'spoiler alert' before reviewing Titanic. The ship sinks; the girl dies; if you don't know that going in, why are you even watching the movie?)
I have to admit I was a little suspicious of the movie before I started it. From what I read, Hans, not Sophie, had been the leader of the Rose, under the direction of their philosophy professor, Kurt Huber (who was eventually also executed for his involvement, along with a number of others).
Sophie was a junior partner in the White Rose, notable only because she was the only woman actually executed therefor (the other women involved all went to prison). To make her the chief martyr in the story when she was not the leader struck me as somehow attempting to romanticize a horror.
I thought it possible that they were emphasizing her participation for some ideological reason or, worse, as a marketing tool. And to some extent I was right: Sophie had been a very pretty girl with a winsome manner, and Julia Jentsch, the actress portraying her, is very shapely; the movie took advantage of this by showing her in various stages of undress that, while not nudity, still struck me as a little .... unseemly, given the subject matter.
But. How little I knew about Sophie Schöll.
It seems that the transcripts of both the Gestapo investigation and the trial itself had been in the hands of the East German Stasi from the end of the war. In 1990, they were recovered from Stasi archives. Although the transcripts themselves are as yet unpublished, the script writers were given access to them -- and they used it as the basis of the film. Almost every single word in the movie is drawn from the historical record. They took exacting pains to make the movie almost a picture perfect reproduction of that dark time of the winter of 1943.
The portrait of this eminently intelligent, deeply faithful young woman so revealed is stunning. The Nazis, in executing this young woman, barely 21 years old, clearly killed not merely a martyr and a saint, but also a first class intellect and a most gifted philosophical mind.
The only comparison I can draw to her battle of wits with her Gestapo interrogator is to A Man for All Seasons, another story of a Christian soul beheaded for "treason." But while St. Thomas More was in the flower of his manhood when he died, a trained attorney of the highest order and fully capable of self defense, this girl was barely out of her teens: and yet she argued valiantly, first in defense of her friends, and then in defense of her ideas, in a stream of oratory that would have done St. Thomas proud.
The movie begins with Sophie and her best friend, Geselle, singing a Billie Holliday song as it plays on the grammaphone: the volume turned down, not to not disturb the neighbors, but rather to avoid the neighbors reporting them to the secret police.
As one reviewer put it: "This is not a period piece, but a horror film." Indeed. Who can imagine being put in a camp merely for listening to jazz? But that was the reality of the day.
Then Sophie leaves her friend’s apartment and joins her circle of friends, the White Rose, as they prepare leaflets for distribution – by mailing them to public persons (bar owners, barbers, doctors, folks who would come in contact with many people). When it is discovered that wartime shortages have made envelopes scarce, the decision is taken to distribute the flyers on campus.
Sophie and Hans volunteer: the scene where they are surreptitiously placing the flyers in the lecture hall atrium was amusingly familiar to this old univerity radical. But it was also an exercise in shaming the proud. Now this was courage! Never once did any of us face the headsman for publishing our (now rather embarrassingly) trivial opinions on campus; we were merely ridiculed.
Naturally the pair are caught; a janitor sees them and turns them in–-both out of loyalty to his Nazi regime, and out of annoyance at having to clean up the leaflets.
At first she resists the interrogation, trying to convince the Gestapo policeman interviewing her that she was just an innocent bystander going home to get her laundry.
Eventually, after her mask breaks and she admits that she helped write and distribute the leaflets, it becomes clear that her fate is sealed. The group’s efforts to shield one another –- in particular their fellow Christoph Probst, whose wife had just had a child –- were a failure.
The heart of the movie, indeed the heart of the entire incident, is her interrogation by the Gestapo functionary, one Inspector Robert Mohr. Mohr, it must be said, was not explicitly a monster; at no point was the girl tortured physically, as you might expect (another inmate at the jail later wrote that "he was actually relatively humane by Gestapo standards"). In point of fact, his actions are not unlike that of Pilate; he tries very hard to give Sophie an out, to allow her to denounce her brother's actions as misguided and as such to avoid execution.
He was, nevertheless, a pathetic functionary. He could not see beyond the end of his nose, beyond obedience. The Nazis, he said, had made him, taken him from his old job as a low level border policeman and made him Somebody. "I owe loyalty to the Party and to the Fuhrer," he says, in an argument (essentially, loyalty by bribery -- 'Stay Bought!') that would be repeated in various forms by everyone confronting the White Rose.
Her answer rang to the heavens. Because the German people are not mere slaves to the party. They don’t want victory. They want peace -– compassion –- empathy! Hitler cannot win this war. He can only prolong it. Somebody must take the first step back to sanity. No. Someone must say ‘no.’ We were merely the first.
And again: when Mohr asserts that the retarded children executed by the Reich were "unworthy of life," her answer is immediate and sharp: "Jede Leben ist kostbar!" Every life is precious! "Nobody knows what goes through the mind of the mentally ill." This, a lesson we have now forgotten.
When we think of the Nazis, we often think of them as a sort of cartoon character--the dreaded "SS Colonel Von Sippenhaft" You know, monacle, stiff right arm, robotic characteristics, the kind of Nazis one finds in the Indiana Jones movies.
The reality is far more prosaic, depressing, and terrifying. Inspector Mohr was, truly, much more typical of most Nazis: a pathetic droid, perhaps well meaning sometimes, but certainly not enough to deter him from committing horrors beyond imagination, and then forgetting having done any such thing. As Nietzsche put it: "My memory says, 'I did this.' My pride says, 'I did not do this.' Eventually, pride prevails."
In the end, Mohr clearly fails in his attempt to get the girl to renounce her actions; appropriately, he signals his abjuration of further responsibility by washing his hands.
Next follows a trial scene that can only be described as something out of a nightmare. The Nazis were still reeling from the surrender at Stalingrad only two weeks earlier, and were terrified of a dolchstoss, a ‘stab in the back’ (that is, a revolt) from the folks back home of the sort that led to the collapse in November 1918. They decided to pull out all stops and make public examples of these three.
They accordingly sent to Munich their most demonic prosecutor: one Roland Freisler, "President of the People’s Court", who must have be the source of the stereotype of the evil overbearing Nazi. He it was who sentenced the July 20 Hitler assassins to death by piano wire the following year; he it was who, I am pleased to report, was killed during an American bombing raid on Berlin in 1945.
Resplendent in a blood red robe, he sat on the bench and screamed at them. The trial (if you can call it that) of the three leafleteers by Freisler essentially consisted of each of the three being berated by a shrieking hysteric. (I should also add that the court-appointed weasel they called a "defense attorney" made this sometime court-appointed defense attorney's stomach turn.)
The first of the three, Probst, having three children for whom he was responsible, tried to escape the death penalty through self abasement. (To tell the truth, watching him beg for his life was one of the most painful parts of the movie.) Hans came next, holding himself up well – he was, after all, both a combat veteran and only a few semesters short of his MD and more than held his own against Freisler.
But it was Sophie, the last of the three, who shone like the sun. "Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don't dare express themselves as we did...Are we to be an outcast nation, forever scorned by the peoples of the world?"
There is a moment in the movie that will always haunt me: Sophie standing before her prosecutor, her judge, her useless defense attorney: Nazis before her, Nazis behind, she glows like an angel before the faceless lemures that presume to judge her.
It is an Ecce Homo moment, where an unarmed prophet confronts armed sheep. Moments like this resound through history. We see Moses before Pharaoh, and Daniel outside of the lion's den; we see it with John the Baptist, in his dungeon, looking up at the weeping Herod who begs him to let himself be released. We see Thomas More before his royal judges, or Gandhi before General Smuts, asking for a shilling for a ride home. We see Patriarch Tikhon of Moscow before the Soviets, or any of a thousand saints and heroes through history whose "guilt" shines like a beacon to all mankind as they are "judged" by mindless authoritarians unworthy to unloosen their sandals.
For their courage, Sophie Schöll, along with her brother Hans Schöll and Christoph Probst, were given the ultimate punishment that the Nazis could give forth: death by guillotine.
They were executed the same day. As "citizens" of the Reich, they was granted certain small comforts denied most Nazi victims: they allowed Sophie and Hans to see their parents for a few minutes, before the execution. And when her father looked into her eyes and said, "You did the right thing. I am proud of you," the gratitude in her eyes in response, and the stiffening of her spine, showed how much it meant.
It was made clear that these two youths were not merely made heroes: they were raised to be heroes by parents who knew what they were doing. Their martyrdoms redounded to the full credit of their parents, who deserve to share in their glory. (I wish I could take credit for this insight, but I found it in a review of the movie somewhere or other on the Web. Nevertheless it bears repeating.)
So, then, let her parents, too, be remembered as Tattered Remnants: their names were Robert and Magdalena Scholl. (Robert was mayor of the city when he was driven from office for refusal to become a Nazi; he and Magdalena bore much suffering in their own right. They also lost a third child in the war: Werner, who went missing in action in June 1944, and a fourth child, Thilde, had died in infancy.)
As Sophie was led away (by two executioners dressed, most incongruously, in top hats and tails, looking like funeral directors), her last words expressed her hope both in the future and in the Christ she clearly adored. "The Sun is still shining!" she said as they took her to meet her God.
The final scene was filmed in the very room in which the real Sophie was executed, using the very guillotine that brought the real Sophie to her death, a room, perversely, now used as part of the Munich city morgue.
I have compared Sophie’s self-defense to Thomas More’s. I should however note that not all is parallel between the two cases. More’s dilemma was that he could neither lie in his self defense (by signing the King’s loyalty oath) nor could he speak the truth lest he die for it: hence his ‘prophecy by silence.’ Anything he said would have been used against him, so he did not speak. ‘But Man God made to serve Him wittily, in the tangles of the mind!’ His enemy Thomas Cromwell got around this by the simple expedient of finding a toady willing to lie under oath about More.
Sophie, on the other had, did not hesitate to lie, and lie quite convincingly at first, to avoid execution for her involvement with the White Rose. She almost managed to talk her way into release. Nevertheless, the time came when her facade broke and she was forced to admit the truth to Inspector Mohr: "Yes, I did it. And I’m proud of it."
While More did everything he could to avoid martyrdom, after a certain point it became clear that Sophie was actively embracing it. (More did, too, but only after it became clear that his execution was inevitable.) I do not know whether daring the Devil to crucify you is morally permissible, but I daresay it’s very, very risky, and not just to your flesh.
Inspector Mohr, himself an actual historical personage, is also an interesting character in his own right. He clearly comes to respect this young woman, and not merely because she is pretty. But he cannot understand her involvement, her active choice of death over loyalty to her people. What could possibly have perverted this admirable Aryan girl, he wonders, to turn away from the Volk? The possibility that she was motivated, not by racial loyalty, but by loyalty to the higher ideal we used to call Man, seems never to have occurred to him. And yet, in spite of his acting as an agent of her destruction, his admiration for this girl became clearly manifest, both in the interrogation room and in her final minutes, when he came to silently salute her prior to her execution.
Sophie Schöll, aged 21 when she died, now has more than 100 schools named after her in the new united Germany; she and her brother have a square named for them at the University; another, Professor-Huber-Platz, is named for their mentor. Sophie's small but significant place in history seems secure. To paraphrase M. Scott Peck, she, like Christ, was raised on a crosstree by the Evil One, and this was allowed by God so that we might see her from afar.
Sophie and Hans and Christoph are, in the words of blogger Jeannette Pryor, "the patron saints of the independent media". I would indeed nominate them at the very least as the patron saints of bloggers (along with St. Joan of Arc).
At the end of another excellent German-language movie concerning the period, Der Untergang ("Downfall"), about the final collapse of the Nazi regime, there is a film clip of an aged woman, remembering. Her name is Traudl Junge, and she was a young woman during the Nazizeit; she had been Hitler's personal secretary and typist. That movie closes with a quote which is as magnificent a tribute to Sophie as can be spoken:
I was shocked, deeply shocked, by what I heard from the Nuremberg trials, but I was satisfied that I had no personal responsibility, and I could not trace what happened to the Jews and other races to anything I had personally done.... not until many years later, when I was walking past the memorial to Sophie Schöll--I saw that she and I were born in the very same year, and she was executed the same month I began to work for the Fuhrer, and it struck me, that I could have found things out, that I should have found things out, if I really had tried.
Allow me also to recommend that you examine this article on the subject: The Line.
I should note that others were later executed for their participation in the White Rose.* However, the Scholl siblings and Probst are the most prominent. Of the three, there is a reason I list the most obscure first. I mentioned that Christoph Probst’s attempt to save his own life (for the sake of his children) through self abasement was painful to watch. Nevertheless, it should be said that history records that his demeanor at his own execution was as courageous as those of his friends.
ADDENDUM: ON CHRISTOPH PROBST
Anyone who might consider themselves martyr material ("she thought she might make a martyr if they killed her quickly" - Flannery O'Connor) should consider Cristoph Probst as both a warning and as an example. As we discussed above, he attempted to avoid execution by invoking his children and, in essence, begging Roland Friesler for mercy. But there was no mercy, there and then, to be had.
Perhaps he debased his martyrdom somewhat by begging as he did. Perhaps: but he had three children to raise and raising them remained his responsibility. But history remembers that even Thomas More did his best to dodge martyrdom. There is no sin in wanting to live, particularly when one has the responsibility of parenthood at hand.
He was conditionally baptized shortly before his execution and accepted into the Catholic Church. His last words were said to be, "Now my death will be easy and joyful."
When the time came, he still went to his death with his head held high. He too is seen from afar. His sacrifice was not in vain. And his name, too, is remembered with honor: Probststraße runs near the Geschwestern-Schöll-Platz in Munich.
*Other members of the White Rose were executed later, including Alexander Schmorell and Prof. Kurt Huber who were beheaded on 13 July 1943, Willi Graf who died on 12 October 1943, as well as others. Still other members of the group were sentenced to prison.
A WOMAN OF NO IMPORTANCE: ELIZABETH EVEREST
Few remembered to history live a more obscure life than Elizabeth Everest. She was born in around 1832; she died in 1895. She never married, never had any children of her own; she wrote nothing, invented nothing, created nothing. She boasted no scientific achievement or artistic gift. Although a woman of deep faith, she was not a nun or any other kind of Catholic Religious (she was, in fact, vehemently Low Church Anglican). She was, truth be told, not the least bit extraordinary in any way, except this: she had a great deal of love in her.
She was born in Chatham, in the county of Kent; we know nothing of her early life. She was, by profession, a care-giver. She spent her thirties raising a girl named Ella Phillips, in a tiny town called Barrow-in-Furness, Cumberland. Having raised the girl to her teens, the girl’s father, an Anglican cleric, sadly released her from his service; but she took with her his references, which served her well to get a new position.
In 1875, one of England’s most noble families had need for a governess. The younger son of the Duke of Marlborough, a well known rake, had married a wealthy teenaged American, a young woman of great beauty but highly questionable morals. She had given birth "prematurely", seven months after the wedding, and, having done so, wanted nothing to do with being a mother.
The young lady--only a "mother" by convention--hired a wetnurse, who fed the child; when he was a month old, she hired Elizabeth Everest to care for him.
Having dropped the child with her, the child’s mother and her husband devoted themselves to a life of pleasure: balls and parties and soirees and all the entertainments that went with their set at the time. They consigned their child, a sickly redhead with a tendency to throw temper tantrums, to the nanny's care as they lived the 19th Century equivalent of ‘la vita loca’. As the years passed, the father became publicly prominent, a well known politician; she his wife spent her time throwing parties and seducing other men.
As the boy grew, the father abused the boy intellectually and verbally on those rare occasions he actually paid attention to the child. His mother gave herself to an endless series of high-ranking lovers and hardly noticed that the child even existed.
The parents called the nanny “Mrs. Everest” – an honorific offered all nannies, as she had never married. The boy addressed her as "Woom", from a poor first attempt to say the word “Woman".
“Woom” changed his diapers, offered him her arms for comfort, wiped his tears. She gave him all the love and parenting that his own parents should have given, but did not. She was his love, his caretaker, and shaped him in the ways of life in ways that his foolish, frivolous mother and cruelly insane father could not hope to do so. She was his confidante and he loved her dearly, in ways he never could his own mother and father, who viewed him with annoyance, cold indifference--or worse.
When the boy was seven, he was exiled to a series of boarding schools where he was abused and beaten; when he came home for holiday, he often found his parents gone –without warning – and spent his Chrismasses alone with his nanny and the other servants of the house. The father was often in London, where he was prominent in Parliament; the mother was, in essence, wherever she wanted to be, which was generally the beds of rich, powerful and handsome men other than her husband, whom she came to actively loathe, as he treated her with the same callousness he did the boy.
Through all this, “Woom” was the boy’s light and his comfort, and she shaped him in ways his parents were incapable of doing. As the boy grew older, he had to cope with the bitter reality that his mad and cruel father would never love him, and that his mother–for all the nobility of her surroundings, an incontinent whore with scores, or even hundreds, of lovers–could never be a mother for him.
The father's syphilis finally ended his life; he died in January 1895, when the boy was twenty. In June of that year Mrs. Everest fell ill with peritonitis. The young man, no longer a child, rushed from his military training camp and was with her in her sister’s home in North London, where she passed away on July 3, 1895.
She was buried in Manor Park Cemetery, London, and the young man, no longer a boy, erected a headstone over her grave. It stands to this day: “ERECTED TO THE MEMORY OF ELIZABETH ANN EVEREST, WHO DIED THE 3RD OF JULY 1895, AGE 67 YEARS.”
At the base of the stone is the simple addendum, visible if you scrape away the grass.
“...BY WINSTON SPENCER CHURCHILL”.
THE WORLD ENTIRE: OSKAR AND EMILIE SCHINDLER
Ah, Oskar, Oskar. What has not been written about you these last fifteen years?
Before 1992 or so hardly anyone had ever heard of the man, save those he saved and Yad Vashem. Today he's a posthumous celebrity–not a Michael Jackson or Teddy Kennedy, perhaps, but his name is recognized worldwide.
Still. Nobody, really, had heard of the man before Steven Spielberg got his hands on his story. And it is because of his obscurity during his life that he is included herein. His worldwide fame today would probably bewilder him–although, knowing him, if he were alive he'd probably use it to cadge a free drink and make time with the barmaid serving it.
The movie Schindler's List was brilliant, largely accurate, and its story is so familiar now that it is not necessary for me to repeat it.
Oh, what the hell, I will anyway:
A businessman, adventurer, and womanizer, he was born an Austrian subject, but grew up a Czech citizen of German extraction. He joined the German Abwehr and acted as a military intelligence agent against his Czech countrymen–that is, he committed treason against his new country in so doing. After the Germans gained the Sudetenland, he found himself, like a Mafia journeyman, having been "made."
He left behind his saintly, somewhat shrewish, and apparently celibate wife and moved to newly conquered Poland in the fall of 1939. He used his Nazi credentials, his charm, his ability to schmooze, and an almost godlike ability to mask his revulsion at evil to worm his way into the ascendancy that took control of Poland after the conquest. While drinking and chatting and throwing around money and gifts at high ranking Nazi criminals (not to mention sleeping with an astonishing number of women), he simultaneously convinced a number of Jewish investors to help him buy a bankrupt enamelware factory. He soon went into business making pots and pans for the German army. He was, as he later described himself, a Nazi industrialist, who used a workforce army of Jewish forced laborers to make himself rich.
But something strange happened on the factory floor.
He fell in love with his own slaves.
Now, in this day and age, when slavery is held in (very deservedly) low esteem, one aspect of the system is not commonly remembered: it was not unusual for a master to love his slaves, or the reverse.
Slaves were often held loved and respected by those who owned them, both in ancient times and in the American slave experience. We see this referred to in the New Testament, when the Centurion asked Christ to heal his servant, who was "like a son to him."
And close contact between master and slaves in Southern households resulted in so many children of mixed ancestry that the American black population is unmistakably paler than their cousins in Africa. (Of course, this is also because slave women were often subjected to rape by their owners.) The great anti-slavery agitator Frederick Douglass was a child of one such a union: his owner was his own father.
I do not mention this as any defense of slavery (and a pox on anyone who claims that I am!): in fact, this often present emotional bond made slavery worse, as we remember from our pre-Civil War experience. Proponents of slavery could point at certain "beloved," "happy" and "well cared for" slaves as "typical", which worked to the extent that it delayed Abolition until it became necessary to fight a war to end it.
One remembers also that the whole shocking (at the time) point of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" was to reveal that even a "good" man who who owned slaves still did them very grave wrong by continuing to own them, and that owning them degraded him.
The point here is this: Schindler, who was a Nazi, a (yes) traitor, a womanizer, an exploiter of slaves, a war profiteer, and otherwise everything that we look to as evil, in the end discovered that he loved those that he "owned." And this love eventually saved their lives, and him.
We first see this love, relatively early in the movie, where one of Schindler's workers, a one-armed First World War veteran, gets killed by SS thugs for no reason other than his handicap (and his Jewishness). Schindler complains to the local commandant, who warns him, "Don't get too attached to your people, Oskar."
Which causes him to bark: "They're MINE!"
And in a profound sense, so they became.
Schindler no doubt started this kindness as a shrewd business decision. He surely realized (to paraphrase The Ten Commandments) that well fed slaves made more "bricks" than the starving, and that the dead made none. He therefore treated his people well, but only so that they produced more. And so his factory, without his quite realizing it at first, became a haven, as he merely exploited his workers without actually beating, raping or killing them.
In the film, he first realized the danger this put him in when a pretty girl, a Jew in hiding, used her wiles to get an interview with him. He asked her what she wanted, and she replied that she wanted him to "hire" her parents:
"They say that no one dies here. That you are a good man."
He blinks. "Who says this?"
Bewildered, she answered, "Everybody!"
Word had gotten about: the Schindler factory was where you wanted to work if you lived in Krakow and wanted to live.
When the war roared out of Russia and into Poland, it became clear that Krakow was going to fall to the Russian army. So Schindler moved the whole operation west -- lock, stock, barrel, and most importantly, his entire factory staff -- to his home town of Bruennlitz (now Brnenec, Czech Republic). There, he set up a bogus factory that supposedly made artillery shells but which, in fact, produced nothing whatsoever -– "A model of non-production," as the movie says. "I don't want any poor bastard to die as a result of my product," he famously said.
By the end of the war, 1200 of his people lived. And they came to identify themselves with him so closely that they became known as Schindlerjuden –- "Schindler Jews." And now there are more Schindlerjuden (and their descendants) living today than there are Jews still living in Poland.
We know all this from the movie. But what of the man?
The man was a jerk.
Oh, a charming jerk. But he was a jerk.
He convinced his wife to marry him after only a few weeks -– then wasted a large dowry within weeks of his marriage on luxuries. He was compulsively unfaithful. He was a mooch. He drank like a sponge. While he never struck her, he lied constantly to her.
In the movie, they played up his adulteries for comic effect -– and even his workers would chuckle over them sometimes. In Schindler's Ark, the novel on which the film was based, the story is told that two of his factory workers were called to the bath house by SS guards; they arrived, trembling, knowing that showers were death cells in other places. But they were only to discover that they were called because Herr Schindler was lolling in a big bathtub with a pretty blonde female SS guard, and he wanted more hot water.
It was an endless cycle of adultery and repentance between himself and his wife. Emilie later wrote in her autobiography:
In spite of his flaws, [Oskar] had a big heart and was always ready to help whoever was in need. He was affable, kind, extremely generous and charitable, but at the same time, not mature at all. He constantly lied and deceived me, and later returned feeling sorry, like a boy caught in mischief, asking to be forgiven one more time — and then we would start all over again....
But it doesn't excuse it. His behavior embarassed and hurt his wife, and even his friends were shamed on her behalf. He eventually left her, long after the war, and spent the rest of his life sponging off of those he had saved.
He was also a bad businessman. Before the war, he was a so-so salesman, much more successful at selling himself to secretaries than he was selling wares to the factory owners who employed them. He earned millions as a factory owner during the war (and who would not have, given the resources made available) but after the war, when put under practical strictures most normal businessmen face, he failed again and again. His attempt to build a nutria farm in Argentina failed miserably. He tried to open a cement factory in Germany in the 1960s; that failed as well.
And he was a liar. Baldfaced. He could lie to people endlessly and convincingly. He lied to his wife; he lied to his girlfriends; he lied to his investors; he lied to his Nazi cohorts, convincing them that he liked them when he actually loathed them.
But then, only a liar could have done what he did; he lied to the Nazis he hung about with, and convinced them to such an extent that let his people go.
And, he was a traitor to Czechoslovakia. Before the war, he actively cooperated with German military intelligence and helped the Nazis take over his country.
Most bewilderingly, he was also an out of control alcoholic, one that could lead him to be profoundly disrespectful of those who loved him.
At the end of the film, Schindler is presented with a gold ring, inscribed in Hebrew with a saying from the Talmud: "Who saves one life saves the world entire."
The gold for the ring came out of the mouth of one of his workers: a Mr. Jereth donated bridgework to make the ring. "What the hell?" he said later. "If it weren't for Oskar one of those Nazi bastards would have wound up with it."
The movie does not mention that, many years later, when Oskar was asked what became of the ring, he revealed that he had pawned it. "That went for drink," he shrugged.
He was, to the end of his life, plagued with the memory that he could have done more: his womanizing and high living cost huge amounts of money that could have saved even more lives than he did. (Although perhaps this was a good thing for him to have, a thorn-in-the-flesh to keep him from becoming too proud of what he did.)
The reason I mention these stories is that he was for all his great works a deeply flawed human being. He was no saint; he was a sinner, in many ways a particularly nasty one.
His wife Emilie he left embittered. In one interview, it was revealed that, up until her final days, she hated him:
Emilie Schindler does not refer to her late husband as "Oskar" but only as "Schindler." It is a measure of her contempt. "Schindler never sent anything. He spent the money on women."
The world has come to admire Oskar Schindler, but Emilie despises him. Was he a saint or the devil? "A saint of the devil," she replied.
Schindler was a lazy, self-indulgent man. "With that money," Emilie said, referring to Jewish gifts and a payment from the German government for lost property, "he could have become rich. He didn't want to. Here he had a good job offer. He didn't want that either."
Is she bitter? "People who are no good don't make me mad." Was there ever happiness in the marriage? "No. People who don't like to work, I don't like."
One could hardly blame her for feeling as she did.
He was, in spite of his flaws, determined to be good in the ways that mattered most, within his powers.
And those powers proved very great.
The Wikipedia article on Schindler states that "writer Herbert Steinhouse, who interviewed Schindler in 1948 at the behest of some of the surviving Schindlerjuden (Schindler's Jews), wrote:
'Oskar Schindler's exceptional deeds stemmed from just that elementary sense of decency and humanity that our sophisticated age seldom sincerely believes in. A repentant opportunist saw the light and rebelled against the sadism and vile criminality all around him. The inference may be disappointingly simple, especially for all amateur psychoanalysts who would prefer the deeper and more mysterious motive that may, it is true, still lie unprobed and unappreciated. But an hour with Oskar Schindler encourages belief in the simple answer.'"
Simple human decency. That is enough.
A few words about Emilie. Her famous husband got much posthumous glory for the rescue of the workers, and rightfully so, for it was he who had to bamboozle the Nazis to keep his operation going. But she was, herself, a righteous individual who also cared for those she could. As ascetic as Oskar was erotic, she lived a private, pious life, attending Mass as often as Oskar did not, and considering herself his wife long after he had abandoned her. They never were divorced.
I hold that when the factory came into Bruennlitz, Emilie Schindler herself shone almost as brightly as her husband. Many of the workers arrived straight from concentration camps, ill and dying. She set up an infirmary at the factory to keep them alive or, if not, to provide them some dignity in death.
One recounts that when conditions worsened and they started running out of money, she sold her jewels to buy food, clothes and medicine.... one survivor later recalled:
She got a whole truck of bread from somewhere on the black market. They called me to unload it. She was talking to the SS and because of the way she turned around and talked, I could slip a loaf under my shirt. I saw she did this on purpose. A loaf of bread at that point was gold...
And this: "There is an old expression: Behind the man, there is the woman, and I believe she was the great human being." Perhaps. Perhaps it was she who kept her husband on a straight and narrow to the degree that she could.
She was nominated for the status of Righteous Person at Yad Vashem, but those with the responsibility of granting the memorial award decided that she would not be directly honored in her own right, as her assistance to the Jews did not rise "above and beyond the call of duty". She was kind and praiseworthy but not quite a hero.
Perhaps. But I would have respectfully disagreed with them for the simple reason that, had the SS figured out what was going on at Bruennlitz, they would have hanged her as high as her husband.
On the other hand, if she had a flaw, perhaps the above interview also revealed that she herself was rather a self-righteous shrew.
But. In the end, she was a most righteous person, one of the Remnant. Let her be so remembered.
SAVIOR, COMMIE, TRAITOR, SPY: RICHARD SORGE
(The following essay is a bit dicy for me to publish. I used to be in the defense industry; perhaps I may go back someday. If I do, I hope the poor schmoe re-investigating my background forgives me this brief salute to a frightening but significant man.)
Half a lifetime in the military and the defense industry of the United States taught me not to love spies. I am horrifically aware of the damage that espionage agents and traitors can do. The nuclear traitors Theodore Hall, Klaus Fuchs, David Greenglass and Julius Rosenberg (The VENONA transcripts show that Ethel possibly – possibly – didn't rate execution, but Julius was guilty as hell) who passed knowledge of the making of nuclear weapons to Stalin caused the Korean War. Aldrich Ames murdered by betrayal some half-dozen anti-Communist officers in the old Soviet security service. Robert Hanssen was an FBI agent who was tasked with finding the mole responsible for the execution of two Soviet CIA sources; little did his bosses know he'd been tasked to find himself.
But, withal, there is one individual who betrayed his government and all that it stood for. A secret and whole souled Communist, he betrayed his nation and damaged his country's cause in a way that Aldrich Ames or even the Manhattan Project traitors could not remotely match. And the information he gave the Soviets led to the destruction of his nation's military and its total defeat in time of war.
His name was Richard Sorge, and he was the greatest spy of the 20th Century. And the information he discovered literally changed the course of the Second World War - in favor of the Allies.
* * * *
In the autumn of 1941, the claws of Nazi Germany were grasping the very throat of Russia. To the north, a great siege force had surrounded Leningrad, and would cause millions of deaths in that one city alone. To the south, Rostov at the tip of the Sea of Azov had been taken; the Caucasus, the Volga, and the oil fields of Baku were open for the taking. In the center, millions of trained, professional soldiers of the Soviet Army had been taken prisoner in the great pinscer movements in the struggle to the east.
And in the center, the roads to Moscow had all fallen; the Kremlin could be seen by the scout units of Germany's Army Group Center, the main forces of which stood only fifty miles from the borders of the city.
The great capital of Soviet Russia was naked and within reach of the Nazi war machine: Operation Typhoon was about to begin. The fall rains had stopped and the early winter had frozen the ground, so the tanks could make their final stab at the heart of Stalin's regime. Supplies had been brought forward to prepare for the final push. Before them, Moscow was wide open. And there was nothing to stop the Germans from taking the capital but draftees, amateurs, and children.
Or so they thought.
In early November, the Germans, as they moved forward, struck the outer edges of Moscow's defenses–great trenches dug by old men, women, children--those who could not actively serve in the military. Newly recruited divisions raised in great haste were thrown into the cauldron to save the capital, in spite of the fact that they had only had a few weeks' training and only minimal armament. They slowed the panzers, but could not stop them.
Suddenly, the Germans were thrown back. The forces that Hitler had confidently expected to take Moscow that winter were struck by several corps of armor, and supported by well trained professional troops and aircraft that the Germans hadn't suspected they still had. These forces saved Moscow and so mauled the German armies before Moscow that Hitler never dared another strike at the city for the rest of the war.
They had come from Siberia–from Kamchatka–from Lake Baikal, places obscure, cold, and distant from the great war to their west. Until weeks earlier, they had been protecting Russia from a Japanese stab in the back, as the forces of Tojo seemed to be poised to spring on them in their extremity.
But Stalin, desperate to stop the Germans, had stripped his borders with the Japanese and the shield they formed stopped the fascist armies dead in their tracks. The attack by these troops at this time saved Russia – and by extension, the rest of the world – from the Nazis.
And it was due to Richard Sorge. A commie traitor spy.
God rest him.
* * * *
Sorge was a German who had been born in Kazakhstan while his father was stationed in that country as an engineer. Like many of his generation (and lacking, alas, our hindsight) he fell in love with Marxism in the 1920s and made himself 'useful' to the Soviet military intelligence service. He kept his German citizenship and had ensconced himself into the German press and later, foreign service, and eventually was in a high position of trust in the German embassy in Tokyo. He reached into Japanese industry and invested in factories, becoming familiar with a wide range of characters in prewar Tokyo, including (of course) night women and prostitutes, some of whom he became involved with. (Bond, James Bond, had nothing on this man.)
But this networking eventually bore fruit. Creating a network of informers and a ring of sources, he had gotten word in June that the Germans were about to invade the Soviet Union–pegging the invasion date for the third week of that month. Stalin, paranoid monster that he was, dismissed the information that Sorge provided him about the invasion, asking "There's this bastard who's set up factories and brothels in Japan and even deigned to report the date of the German attack as 22 June. Are you suggesting I should believe him too?"
Needless to say, Sorge's stock had gone up considerably among Soviet intel circles after the invasion followed as he reported.
In the autumn of 1941 he picked up information that the Japanese had decided not to invade Russia: that they had set their strategic sights elsewhere, and chose to strike, not Russia, but the United States. Sorge passed this information to the Russians, who continued to maintain an embassy in Japan (being neutral as regards the Japanese until 1945).
Stalin was dumb in a lot of ways, but he wasn't stupid, and (unlike Hitler) he could learn from his mistakes. When, in September of '41, Sorge sent word that there would be no Japanese invasion of the Far East, Stalin, in a last throw of the dice, moved his Asiatic reserve away from the Japanese border, and put the units in front of Moscow at precisely the correct moment. And in so doing, the U.S.S.R.,, and the Allies as a whole, were saved.
Stalin was not the only paranoid of the time. The Japanese, themselves, were fixated on enemy espionage as they prepared to confront the sleeping behemoth of America. They arrested Sorge in October 1941. He held out under torture by the Japanese secret service, but eventually gave them enough information to execute him. He was eventually hanged at first light on November 7, 1944.
Treason is a terrible thing. But then, so is mindless loyalty to a totally evil system. (And I mean totally evil.) Many atrocities were brought about in those days by men whose oaths of loyalty to the Fuhrer locked closed their consciences: men who might otherwise have disobeyed but for their previous oaths of honor: oaths that Hitler imposed upon them for that very reason.
Years after the end of the war, Sorge came to be honored by Khrushchev, who had never heard of him: he first learned about Sorge from a French spy movie on the subject. Sorge was posthumously awarded the medal of Hero of the Soviet Union and was honored by both Soviet and East German postage stamps (much good it did him). His Japanese paramour lived on in Japan until her death in 2000.
But if one has to be a traitor, surely a traitor to the Nazis deserves some admiration from a free people. In an evil and amoral time, in an evil and amoral regime, Richard Sorge made a morally terrifying choice, betraying one hideously genocidal regime in favor of, well, another. But, nevertheless, he passed information that literally changed the course of the war and so saved the world from the Nazi jackboot. And he paid for that by having to endure Japanese torture, surviving some three years in a Japanese prison, and of course eventually, also, with his life.
He was very, very good at what he did. And he may have saved us all. He should be remembered with honor. I hope that God judged him with mercy.
(Here I again break the rule mandating that I write only about obscure people--for in spite of his fame, great in his lifetime and growing since--More was surely a Tattered Remnant.)
A MAN OUT OF SEASON: ST. THOMAS MORE
"I think that when statesmen forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duty they lead their country by a short route to chaos."
Lawyer. Judge. Chancellor. Designated Traitor and Enemy of the King. Executed criminal.
His story is well known: a highly skilled master of the laws in the early days of lawyering, he rose to the position of Chancellor of All England, that is, the equivalent of Chief Judge of the Supreme Court and Prime Minister combined.
His master, Henry England, King, the Eighth of that Name, decided he wanted to get rid of his infertile Spanish wife who had only bore him a dull-witted girl and a number of dead sons. Nominated to succeed to the Chancellorship by his enemy Cardinal Wolsey, he too, like Wolsey, proved incapable of meeting the endless and impossible demands of his syphlitic and, ultimately, mad patron.
When given orders to pursue and formally approve an unjust divorce and remarriage, More quietly withdrew from his great office. He did not criticize his master, but neither did he approve. He remained silent, hoping that would save him.
But Harry England rightfully saw his silence as criticism, and ultimately demanded that he sign a formal oath of approval. More's refusal to sign led to his execution. He was beheaded with words that should be engraved on every public servant's doorway: "I die the King's good servant, but God's first!"
He is given the title of "Man for All Seasons" — the title of a famous play by Robert Bolt in which his story is used as a counterpoint for the age.
Even forty years ago, Bolt recognized the challenge More presented toward our modern mind set. But rather than being a man for all seasons, is not More truly a man out of season? Does he not contradict the whole spirit of our age?
Why, in this day and age where "mistakes are made" and responsibility dodged, where sensual desire is placed on the same plane as divine command, where "doing what thou wilt" has become "the whole of the Law" — why should a man like More, who tenatiously clung to his outlook to death, be taken at all seriously? In America today, where God is said to have died, the idea that a man should cling to the refusal to take an oath even unto his own destruction seems completely alien to us.
More seems like fanatical Christians of old who chose death over Emperor worship: that is, almost an alien being. Why—so the thinking might go—why should we not simply take an oath while mentally crossing our fingers? Why lose our heads when we can simply claim that 'they would have killed me if I hadn't'? After all, an oath taken under duress isn't binding, is it? And if there is no truth in the oath to begin with, is not an oath just a mouthing of words?
Bolt answers this point directly. In one scene toward the end of the play, More meets with his daughter — who begs him to take the Oath of Supremacy and come out of the Tower where he has been held for a year. Bolt gives More these words: "When a man takes an oath, Meg, he's holding his own self in his own hands. Like water....and if he opens his fingers then—he needn't hope to find himself again..."(1)
But why should he take such a stand? At another point of the play, More is confronted by his good friend, the Duke of Norfolk, who points at the signatures on the oath, and says, "Damn it, Thomas, look at those names — you know those men! Can't you do what I did, and come with us, for fellowship?" To which More must reply: "And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship?"(2)
And again: "I will not give in because I oppose it — I do — not my pride, not my spleen, nor any other of my appetites but I do — I!" He challenges Norfolk: "Is there no single sinew in the midst of this" — he taps Norfolk — "that serves no appetite of Norfolk's but is just Norfolk? There is! Give that some exercise, my lord!"(3) And with that their friendship ends.
To stand against the spirit of the age, to attempt to exorcise the Zeitgeist: this is dangerous, indeed possibly deadly, activity. In More's case it was admirable, but futile; the separation of England's church from that of Rome — against which he stood—is wider even today than it was in his own time. But in other cases — that of the Maid of Orleans in the fourteenth century, or more recently, the cases of Nelson Mandela, Mohandas Gandhi, or Natan Shchransky — the refusal to give in, to submit, to unlawful authority and the evil exercise of power, can lead to the ultimate destruction or transformation of the power defied.
The renouned English Catholic, G.K. Chesterton, makes an interesting observation on the inappropriateness of saints to an age:
[I]t is the paradox of history that each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most. St. Francis [of Assisi] had a curious and almost uncanny attraction for the Victorians; for the nineteenth century English who seemed superficially to be most complacent about their commerce and their common sense.... [Francis] was the only midieval Catholic who really became popular in England on his own merits. It was largely because of a subconscious feeling that the modern world had neglected those particular merits. The English middle classes found their only missionary in the figure, which of all types in the world they most despised; an Italian beggar.(4)
If indeed an age is converted by the saint who contradicts it most, then perhaps to call More a man out of season is not appropos: for given the superstitions we substitute for God in our day and age, a man willing to go to the block for a legal quibble may be its most inspiring contradiction. Perhaps this is what will make him a man for our season in the end after all.
1 Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons, Vintage Int'l Publishers, 1960, p. 140.
2 A Man for All Seasons at 132
3 A Man for All Seasons at 123-124.
4 G.K Chesterton, Saint Thomas Aquinas, "The Dumb Ox", Doubleday, 1933, at 24.
This essay first appeared in EUTOPIA: A LAY JOURNAL OF CATHOLIC THOUGHT, in the Fall of 1997.
For more, watch this.
And finally, this.
AMBIGUOUS ABOLITIONISTS: JAMES POUILLON, ELIJAH P. LOVEJOY ...AND JOHN BROWN
"It is the first obligation of the agitator to provoke a response." - Gandhi
I write this at 3:52 in the morning on Saturday, September 12, 2009. My wife and kids are asleep, and all is peaceful.
Yesterday was the eighth anniversary of the attacks of 9/11. It was also the day that a little known man in Owosso, Michigan, named James Pouillon, was shot in front of a high school by a man who hated him for his speech.
The details are sketchy at this point. Pouillon, apparently a kindly person in his sixties, a man in generally poor health (he required oxygen tanks to get by), was locally notorious as "the abortion sign guy". He would sit in public places holding pictures of aborted babies, or sometimes would drive huge trucks around small towns in Michigan driving adorned with similar pictures of aborted children in living color.
That's terribly dangerous business. Nothing is more provocative than pictures of dead and mutilated babies. The tactic of confronting people with the visual evidence of abortion creates deep hostility in some, both among those who are "pro-life" and those who call themselves "pro-choice." One member of my family, for instance, who is profoundly pro-life, finds these pictures deeply abhorrent, and cannot abide either seeing the pictures themselves or those who would wave them in public, both because they are revolting and because they are disrespectful of the dead. Corpses are, or should be, apolitical.
Many agree: The pictures ARE abhorrent. They DO provoke. And, apparently, it cost him Mr. Pouillon his life.
But Mr. Pouillon did achieve something unprecedented: this is the first time to my knowledge that any pro-lifer has died in the cause of the abolition of abortion.
This is something new.
(I do not regard those who kill abortionists--like the executed Paul Hill--as pro-life. Anti-abortion, maybe, but not prolife; you can't be prolife AND a murderer: that's kinda the point.)
Let me preface the rest of this essay with the following notation: I am an unashamed advocate of immediate, absolute, complete, and utter suppression of legal abortion everywhere in the United States, at once, without exception, and without apology.
Legal abortion is profoundly evil. It must be abolished.
I so believe just as I stand for the absolute, complete, and continued suppression of slavery: for the very same reasons. There is an undeniable parallel between the two, er, practices.
It is cruel, evil, and not civilized to kill helpless people, just as it is to keep them in chains. And pretending that they aren't people says far more about the pretender than about the unborn (or the enslaved).
But--I'm not stupid. While I would love to see this occur, I also know that the time for it has not yet come, and will not come for many years. But come, eventually, it will.
I have no illusions that abortion can be totally suppressed. There will be criminals, always, always, who will perform clandestine abortions, just as there will always be car thieves. We still have slavery, even sex slavery, today, 150 years after Abolition. The well known case of Jaycee Lee Dugard illustrates that all too well.
Making abortion illegal won't make it completely disappear; but it certainly will reduce the number of abortions, just as abolition reduced 4,000,000 slaves in 1861 to, oh, one (that we know of) in 2008.
But that said: I do not know enough about James Pouillon to offer his biography in this collection. So, instead, I'd like to talk about two of his historical antecedents.... one as a comparison, and the other, as a warning.
ADDENDUM 15 SEPT 09: Jim Pouillon's obituary can be read here.
ELIJAH P. LOVEJOY
For the moment, I'll let the indispensable (well, to me, anyway) WIKIPEDIA, the source of all wisdom and knowledge, and their wonderful OPEN SOURCE LICENSE provision saves me the necessity, for now, to rewrite his biography. Here's what you need to know about the man.
Elijah Parish Lovejoy (November 9, 1802 – November 7, 1837) was an American Presbyterian minister, journalist, and newspaper editor who was murdered by a mob in Alton, Illinois for his abolitionist views.
He had a deeply religious upbringing, as his father was a Congregational minister and his mother a devout Christian. He attended Waterville College ... in his home state of Maine, and graduated at the top of his class. Afterwards, he traveled to Illinois and, after realizing that the area was largely unsettled, he moved to St. Louis, Missouri in 1827. There, Lovejoy worked as an editor of an anti-Jacksonian newspaper and ran a school. Five years later, influenced by the Revivalist movement, he chose to become a preacher. He attended the Princeton Theological Seminary and became an ordained Presbyterian preacher. Once he returned to St. Louis, he set up a church and became the editor of a weekly religious newspaper, the St. Louis Observer. He wrote a number of editorials, critical of other religions and slavery. In May 1836, he was run out of town by his opponents after he chastised Judge Luke E. Lawless, who had chosen not to charge individuals linked to a mob lynching of a free black man.
Lovejoy moved to Alton, Illinois, where he became editor of the Alton Observer. On three occasions, his printing press was destroyed by pro-slavery factions who wanted to stop his publishing abolitionist views. On November 7, 1837, a pro-slavery mob approached a warehouse belonging to merchant Winthrop Sargent Gilman that held Lovejoy's fourth printing press. Lovejoy and his supporters exchanged gunfire with the mob. The leaders of the mob decided to burn down Gilman's warehouse, so they got a ladder and set it alongside the building. They attempted to climb up ladder to set fire to the warehouse's wooden roof, but Lovejoy and one of his supporters stopped them. After the mob set up their ladder along the side of the building for a second time, Lovejoy went outside to intervene, but he was promptly shot five times with a shotgun and died on the spot.
Elijah P. Lovejoy was by our standards today a religious bigot. A fanatical Presbyterian, he attacked other religions openly in his writings. He once called a judge a "papist" for refusing to prosecute those who lynched a black man.
But there is also no questions that he stood up for the rights of black men and women in a time when they were not even recognized as human.
In St. Louis, Lovejoy quickly established himself as the editor of the anti-Jacksonian newspaper, the St. Louis Times, and as the headmaster of a coeducational private school. In 1832, upon influence of the Christian revivalist movement led by abolitionist David Nelson, he decided to become a preacher. He then studied at the Princeton Theological Seminary, and upon completion, went to Philadelphia, where he became an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church in April 1833. Upon returning to St. Louis, he set up a Presbyterian church and also became editor of a weekly religious newspaper, the St. Louis Observer. In 1835, Lovejoy married Celia Ann French, who would later bear him two children.
Lovejoy wrote various pieces expressing his siding with social reform movements and New School Presbyterian, as the editor of the “Observer”. Lovejoy criticized Baptists, Cambellites, Roman Catholics and pro-slavery advocates through his writing. He criticized the influence of the religion in St. Luis hardly, and sided with anti-Catholicism views of Lyman Beecher. Although many Missourians disapproved, he supported the freeing and emancipation of slaves. He maintained that he was expressing his freedom of speech, even though many threats were brought against the newspaper.
In May 1836, Frank McIntosh, a free black man who was jailed in suspicion of murder, was hanged by a mob. Lovejoy angrily cried out. The judge presiding over the grand jury investigation of the hanging, Luke E. Lawless, informed the jurors that an insane frenzy gripped the mob. Lawless said that legal action should not be taken against any particular individuals, because the jury did not know about the mob’s mentality. Lovejoy scolded Lawless for not caring about the lynching, calling him a “Papist”.
The day after Lovejoy published his comments... the same mob [returned and] destroyed his printing press. In response, he announced that the paper would move to Alton, Illinois. Once Lovejoy was in Alton, he became the editor ... the Alton Observer. However, his printing press was destroyed yet again by another mob.
Lovejoy’s printing press was stolen three times in Alton by ... pro-slavery groups, and was thrown into the river. He was given another printing press from the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society. Once he had received his new printing press, word went out and pro-slavery mobs decided to destroy it. In October 1837, Lovejoy was asked to leave Alton by many leaders, but he rejected [such a move].... angrily argu[ing] that he has as much right to be [t]here than anyone else.
"Argu[ing] that he has as much right to be [t]here than anyone else"? Shades of Mr. Pouillon, who once sued in Federal court, obtaining $1 in damages, so that he could protest abortion on a public sidewalk.
Mr. Lovejoy, in spite of his name, in many ways does not seem like the kind of person who would be invited to soirees in Hollywood, New York, or Washington. People would view him today as a fanatic, a freak. Well, that he was. But he was an unapologetic advocate for the enslaved blacks held in bondage during a time when even mentioning the subject was considered a serious breach of manners.
Today, we view the advocates of slavery with a combination of loathing, contempt and pity, as well we should. We also remember with honor other advocates of abolition, such as William Lloyd Garrison, John Greenleaf Whittier; Harriet Beecher Stowe; Fredrick Douglass; Charles Henry Langston and John Mercer Langston. And of course, above all, Abraham Lincoln.
But we forget that the pro-slavery advocates had one motivation that we today choose to forget: at every moment, at every instant, owners of slaves were terrified of slave rebellion: the thought that the men who picked their cotton and the women who raised their children (and sometimes bore them!) would rise up one fine day and (to quote Ed Bearss in Ken Burn's The Civil War) "murder them in their beds." And they feared Abolitionists the same way that a man carrying an open gasoline can fears a lit cigarette.
Abolitionists in that century, just as prolifers in ours, were viewed as bloodstained fanatics with the blood of murdered innocents on their hands: the abolitionists with the victims of slave rebellion, and prolifers with the blood of abortionists.
Do not forget that Nat Turner, in 1831--only seven years before the death of Lovejoy--led a rebellion that killed 55 men, women, and children, before being suppressed violently and viciously by fanatical white militias that killed over 200 blacks in retaliation.
It is in view of this fear -- and rage -- that puts the mob that killed Lovejoy in proper context. Again, Wikipedia:
On November 7, 1837, pro-slavery partisans congregated and approached Gilman's warehouse, where the printing press had been hidden. According to the Alton Observer, shots were then fired by the pro-slavery advocates, and balls from muskets whizzed through the windows of the warehouse, narrowly missing the defenders inside. Lovejoy and his men returned fire. Several people in the crowd were hit, and one was killed.
As some began to demand the warehouse be set on fire, leaders of the mob called for a ladder, which was put up on the side of the warehouse. A boy with a torch was sent up to set fire to the wooden roof. Lovejoy and one of his supporters, Royal Weller, volunteered to stop the boy. The two men crept outside, hiding in the shadows of the building. Surprising the pro-slavery partisans, Lovejoy and Weller rushed to the ladder, pushed it over and quickly retreated inside.
Once again a ladder was put in place. As Lovejoy and Weller made another attempt to overturn the ladder, they were spotted. Lovejoy was shot with a shotgun loaded with slugs and was hit five times; Weller was also wounded. Suffering the same fate as its predecessors, the new printing press was destroyed; it was carried to a window and thrown out onto the riverbank. The printing press was then broken into pieces that were scattered in the river.
And so died Elijah P. Lovejoy, with five shotgun slugs in him.
Let it not be forgotten that Mr. Lovejoy died with a gun in his hand--and that, in providing a defense to the building and those inside it, several of the mob had been shot, and one (not further identified) was killed. Mr. Lovejoy died in an act of violence in which he directly participated.
This makes him naturally somewhat ambiguous. Did he contribute to his own death? Almost certainly. And he certainly contributed to the death of the man who attacked his warehouse, if not directly, than as an accomplice.
But one has the option of using deadly force in defense of an occupied building being attacked by a violent mob. That point is established law and was so even then. (To illustrate the point: Here in Detroit, we remember and honor one Dr. Ossian Sweet, a black doctor who was put on trial in for killing a white man while defending his home in 1925 under similar circumstances. Dr. Sweet was eventually acquitted. The judge in his case, Frank Murphy, is honored today by the court building in Detroit that bears his name.)
In short, you have no right to shoot to kill someone to defend an unoccupied building. You can kill to defend one that is occupied. End of story. So the shooting of the man in the mob was, by any standard, a justifiable act of self-defense.
Still. It is possible that a more passively resistant response, a la' Mohandas K Gandhi, would have spared the life of the arsonist trying to burn down the building. It might well also have led to the burning death of everyone inside. (With all respect to the Mahatma, I'll take death by five shotgun slugs over being burned to death any time.)
So Mr. Lovejoy was not a nice guy. He was a fanatic, a religious bigot, and an advocate of something that could have led (or so it was thought) to the murder of innocent (yes, white) people.
He dedicated his career, his work, and ultimately his life, to the cause of the abolition of slavery. He didn't have to do this. He could have just stayed home.
But he didn't. Something made him hear the call of duty at that crucial time and say... "I will do this."
He also spoke the absolute truth: slavery was a crime and those that maintained it were morally criminal.
He stood up and spoke truth, not just to power, but to a raging mob. He paid for his courage with his life.
He was the first white man to die in defense of abolition. And in so doing, he changed the world.
He is however also called today by some the first casualty of the American Civil War.
Let us pray that Mr. Pouillon, God rest his soul, does not come to bear a similar title.
ADDENDUM: JOHN BROWN
The sequel to the death of Mr. Lovejoy came a few days later at a memorial service in his name. A strange, gaunt man, an utter failure in life in everything he tried, stood at the back of a church and said, "I hereby dedicate my life to the absolute abolition of the institution of slavery."
This man was John Brown.
I will not honor Mr. Brown with a full biography nor remember him with a picture. I believe he was a terrorist, no matter the righteousness of his cause. He was viewed by many contemporaries, even Lincoln and Grant, as a misguided fanatic.
Before the Raid at Harper's Ferry, John Brown and his sons murdered five pro-slavery men with swords. And while his actions at Harper's Ferry were for what cannot be denied was a very good cause, they led to the greatest war this nation has ever known.
John Brown has one 20th century parallel, and I do not mean this comparison as a compliment to either man: Timothy McVeigh. Both men were outraged at a vile injustice: Brown's being slavery, McVeigh's being the 1993 deaths of the Branch Davidians at Waco. But their rage at these injustices consumed them and turned them into the very monsters they thought they were fighting. Nietzsche warned us: "Who stares into the abyss should beware, eventually the abyss may stare back at you!" So here.
Both were justly executed.
It is likely that, given the circumstances of the nation in the late 1850s, that armed conflict was the only way to extirpate slavery. But let us also remember the words of Lincoln at the Second Inaugural Address:
The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
Let me repeat it: "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh."
Woe to the slave owner. But woe, too, to the men who pointlessly and needlessly murdered in the cause of abolishing slavery.
Let Brown be a warning to the rest of the Tattered Remnant. Don't let rage at injustice turn you into the monster that you wish to fight.
ADDENDUM: September 21, 2009
Someone left a comment on my blog entry about Jim Pouillon. It's important enough that I'm going to address it here in the main blog rather than in a comment.
The estranged son of the martyred (yes) Jim Pouillon apparently released the following statement about him:
James M. Pouillon criticized his father, slain pro-life activist James L. Pouillon, in an mlive.com post on mlive.com on Sept. 13:
It will be impossible for some to believe, but my dad really didn't care about aborton.
He did this to stalk, harass, terrorize, scream at, threaten, frighten, and verbally abuse women. He had a pathologic hatred of women: his mom, my mom, everyone.
After my mom finally left him and he lost his favorite punching bag the violence and abuse that was always contained within our 4 walls was unleased on the people of Owosso.
My dad used the pro-life movement and 1st Amendments foundations to defend him, support him, and enable him. He fooled them all.
He was at the high shool because my niece was there, and female family members were always his favorite targets.
Again, my dad didn't care about abortion. He wanted to hurt people, upset people. He enjoyed making people suffer.
His goal was to be shot on a sidewalk. His goal was to make someone so angry, to make them feel so terrorized, to make them feel the only way they could make him stop was to kill him.
His pro-life stance was the most perfect crime I personally know of. He hid behind the 1st Amendment and was allowed to stalk, terrorise, harass, be obsene [sic], ect. These things are crimes. Offending people isn't a crime, and having different political views isn't a crime, but he committed several crimes over the last 20 years and got away with it.
Yes I really am his oldest son. Owosso is now rid of a mad man.
The Flint Journal confirmed that the post came from his eldest son, Dr. James M. Pouillon, a podiatrist.
A friend of mine observes that the above statement is "too perfect," and that it sounds like Pouillon Jr. is a vehement pro-abort, as "so many medical doctors are" (he's a podiatrist, or something). Pouillon Jr. is likely "horrified" at what his father did for many years.
And perhaps it is true we are rid of a mad man. But we were rid of a mad man, too, when John Brown's neck was stretched. And if so, like Brown, nothing may become the man's life so much as his leaving of it.
He may have been a bastard. He may have hated women. I leave his judgment to God. "Greater love hath no man than he that gives his life for a friend." Regardless of his motivations, he died for the unborn, even if he did deliberately court martyrdom.
And whatever you may say of him: Even if he was a wife beater, he never killed anybody. Which is far more than I can say about any abortionist--or aborter.
Or John Brown.