Tuesday, July 22, 2014

What About the Nazis?

It never takes long for any discussion about morality, evil, or the nature of man to turn into a discussion of Nazism. In fact, in today’s world, Nazism—from political rhetoric to dystopian imagery—is the favorite example of evil incarnate. Any person reflecting on these themes must explain, justify, or distinguish, the Nazis. It is a serious academic question, but for us it is only academic.

However, at the end of World War II, it was no abstract question for Henry Gerecke and Sixtus O’Connor. These two men, the former a Lutheran pastor and the latter a Catholic priest, had served as army chaplains during the war. But their most challenging assignment was after the fighting stopped. That was when they were asked to serve as personal chaplains to the highest ranking Nazi prisoners, who were awaiting trial at Nuremburg. Their story, and particularly Gerecke’s, is told in the recent book by Tim Townsend, Mission at Nuremberg: An American Army Chaplin and the Trial of the Nazis.

Under the Geneva Convention, prisoners of war must be provided with spiritual guidance from their own theological traditions. During the war, this had been provided by captured German chaplains. But for security reasons, such an arrangement was not appropriate for such high-ranking prisoners. It needed to be Americans. And since the Nazis who still claimed any religion were either Lutheran or Catholic, a representative of each was sent.

Both men had visited the concentration camps—O’Connor was with the soldiers who liberated one—and both were aware of the horrors the committed under these men’s orders. Both had to wrestle with the question of how to counsel, minister to, share the gospel with, and, ultimately, walk to the gallows beside and pray over, some of the most despised men in the world.

Some of the Nazi leaders were sincerely repentant. Others rejected the chaplains outright. Still others—such as top leader Hermann Goering—wanted the benefits of spiritual forgiveness without belief in Christ. Through the course of the trials and convictions, Gerecke and O’Connor had to constantly distinguish between sin and sinner in their pursuit of these very lost souls.

Townsend thoroughly researches and poignantly tells this previously little known story. He is at his strongest when describing the interactions between Gerecke and the prisoners. Yet for all the strength of the story, the book itself strays at times. Its narrative is choppy. Its weakest points are when Townsend attempts to explain some of the orthodox Christian theological ideas of sin, evil and forgiveness. He gives the impression of explaining it in a detached way, but doesn’t fully realize the depth of his own content. While he thinks he is writing deeply and criticizing profoundly, he is only wading in very shallow water.

Yet even through these weaknesses, the message of the gospel shines through in the lives of Gerecke and O’Connor. They believed that Christ came to seek and save the lost. They taught that there was forgiveness of even the darkest sins. And when placed in a situation that challenged those beliefs, they stood firm in their faith and cared for the outcast, the despised, the prisoner … the Nazi leader.

And some of those souls may very well be in heaven today because of it.

And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)

Monday, July 14, 2014

Quiz: Who Said It?

Since the Mao Tse-Tung question was so popular, I thought I'd do another.

I came across these following passages in a book by someone you all should recognize.
In that original state of things which precedes both the appropriation of land and the accumulation of stock, the whole produce of labour belongs to the labourer. [….] As soon as land becomes private property, the landlord demands a share of almost all the produce which the labourer can either raise or collect from it. His rent makes the first deduction from the produce of the labour which is employed upon land.
* * *
What are the common wages of labour, depends everywhere upon the contract usually made between those two parties, whose interests are by no means the same. The workmen desire to get as much, the masters to give as little, as possible. The former are disposed to combine in order to raise, the latter in order to lower, the wages of labour. It is not, however, difficult to foresee which of the two parties must, upon all ordinary occasions, have the advantage in the dispute, and force the other into a compliance with their terms. The masters, being fewer in number, can combine much more easily: and the law, besides, authorises, or at least does not prohibit, their combinations, while it prohibits those of the workmen. We have no acts of parliament against combining to lower the price of work, but many against combining to raise it. In all such disputes, the masters can hold out much longer. A landlord, a farmer, a master manufacturer, or merchant, though they did not employ a single workman, could generally live a year or two upon the stocks, which they have already acquired. Many workmen could not subsist a week, few could subsist a month, and scarce any a year, without employment. In the long run, the workman may be as necessary to his master as his master is to him; but the necessity is not so immediate.
* * *
Is this improvement in the circumstances of the lower ranks of the people to be regarded as an advantage, or as an inconveniency, to the society? The answer seems at first abundantly plain. Servants, labourers, and workmen of different kinds, make up the far greater part of every great political society. But what improves the circumstances of the greater part, can never be regarded as any inconveniency to the whole. No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable. It is but equity, besides, that they who feed, clothe, and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labour as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed, and lodged.
* * *
It deserves to be remarked, perhaps, that it is in the progressive state, while the society is advancing to the further acquisition, rather than when it has acquired its full complement of riches, that the condition of the labouring poor, of the great body of the people, seems to be the happiest and the most comfortable. It is hard in the stationary, and miserable in the declining state. The progressive state is, in reality, the cheerful and the hearty state to all the different orders of the society; the stationary is dull; the declining melancholy.
* * *
People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.
* * *
Whenever the legislature attempts to regulate the differences between masters and their workmen, its counsellors are always the masters. When the regulation, therefore, is in favour of the workmen, it is always just and equitable; but it is sometimes otherwise when in favour of the masters.

I'll update this page tomorrow with the author. In the meantime, leave your best guess either in the comments below or on our Facebook page.


Answer: Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Life and Times of Indiana Jones (aka Henry Walton Jones, Jr.)

I have just completed something of a cinematic pilgrimage. It's summer, and I haven't had much time to go to the movies. Instead, in the middle of traveling and working and all the other stuff I do, I've been watching a series on my iPad that defies any particular medium. Part television show, part film franchise, I have watched the entire cinematic life of Indiana Jones in about 8 weeks.

For those of you think this means I've take an extremely long time to watch four films, let me clarify this for you.

In 1992, George Lucas began producing a TV show that defied all TV show conventions of its day, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles. Filmed in hundreds of locations around the world, it chronicled the early life of the Harrison Ford character from the film Raiders of the Lost Ark. Including those films, there exists about 42 hours of live action Indiana Jones stories available. In order to release this series on VHS in the 90's (before TV DVD box sets existed), Lucas re-edited his 42 minute episodes into 90 minute "features." Several, usually when built from pre-existing 2-part stories, make this transition seamlessly. Others not so much. Also, since the series was filmed out of chronological order over about 6 years, but is now presented chronologically, the apparent age of the character fluctuates throughout, sometimes within the same 90-minute film. However, since the series should be taken as rather tongue-in-cheek anyway, this is not so much of an issue (the films, with Temple of Doom being produced second but occurring first, suffers from the same issue, ironically).

When watched as individual 90-minute films, some of these work better than others. When watched as a 33 hour whole, as I have recently done, the effect is marvelous, as the fluctuations in tone, subject matter, and cinematic influence make for a very diverse cinematic experience and a fun ride.

We are introduced to young Indiana virtually at birth in a comedic prologue to the first film, aptly titled, My First Adventure. Indy (Correy Carrier) quickly sets off to Egypt with his father, Henry (Lloyd Owen) and mother, Anna (Ruth de Sosa), and surrogate mother, his tutor, Miss Seymour (Margaret Tyzack). There he learns the importance of learning languages and is set on the path of becoming a talented linguist. The series spends five "films" on his early childhood and sets the stage for his rocky relationship with his father and his mommy-issues. Though his mother passes away between the jump from 10 year old Indy to 16 year old Indy, we can suspect that Indy's fixation on romance, which will be explored at length, may have something to do with the absence of maternal love (or really, any love) in his teenaged life. Spring Break Adventure, the sixth film, shows Young Indy (Sean Patrick Flanery, Boondock Saints) kidnapped by Mexican revolutionaries, only to decide to take up with their cause, and then only to decide that their cause is an empty, violent one, but perhaps there is another, more noble struggle across the atlantic in the form of the first World War.

His hopes for a noble struggle are thwarted as he discovers the political mire that is the Great War. He enlists in the Belgian army under an alias, "Henri Defense," and eventually rises to the rank of captain thanks to his wits and typical good luck. He is joined by a friend, Remy Baudouin (Ronny Coutteure), a Belgian, and the first of Indy's many foreign and rotund friends. Together the men fight their way through the trenches of Europe, to the African plains, and finally join the French Secret Service, where they are forced to part ways until the end of the war.

Indy and Vicky in a Zeppelin Attack.
The film also spends some time on the aforementioned love interests. Indy's first true love is a British suffragette named Vicki, played by a young Elizabeth Hurley. She refuses his proposal of marriage on the eve of his military deployment because she believes that a woman, in her time, cannot have both a marriage and a career, and that war changes people, and by the end they might be too different to still love one another. Its a sober statement, but one the series mostly bears out, as war is, after all, hell. Sometime later, Indy has his first passionate encounter with a French dancer by the name of Mata Hari (Domiziana Giordano).
Daniel Craig's Captain Schiller.

After Africa, where Indy meets humanitarian missionary Albert Schweitzer (Friedrich von Thun), Indy dedicates himself to viewing the war as a humanitarian tragedy and seeking a way to end it. He goes on many spy missions, including the taking of Beersheba (where he defeats a German captain played by Daniel Craig and romances Catherine Zeta-Jones) in the middle east and aiding the French Foreign Legion in Morocco. He also has his first real encounter with the supernatural in the form of the legendary Vlad the Impaler (Bob Peck).

On the hunt for the diamond.
At the close of the war, Indy reunites with Remy, and while pursuing a German spy, they acquire an ancient map claiming to lead to the Eye of the Peacock diamond, supposedly given to Alexander the Great, and which will re-appear later in the opening act of Temple of Doom. They fail to find the diamond, but while Indy decides to return to America, attempt a reconciliation with his father, and attend college to study archeology, Remy determines to keep on the hunt for the diamond, and they part ways for good.

Indy and his father.
All of these adventures were, in the words of Indy's friend T.E. Lawrence, enough to fill a "lifetime." But they serve as just the introductory chapter. On returning back to America, Indy has one final blowout with his father where all issues are laid on the table. Ultimately, it is his decision to study at the University of Chicago, rather than his father's own Princeton University. Indy walks out the door, and we never know when they spoke next.

As a sort of epilogue and meta-commentary on the art forms that gave birth to the series itself, the final three films focus on music, plays, and movies, respectively, while building an interesting narrative of Indy's college years on their own. Of the three, I heartily recommend The Scandal of 1920, a musical comedy which won an Emmy for its recreation of George Gershwin's music, and quite an entertaining film. Finally, and admittedly, anti-climactically, the young Indy adventures end with Hollywood Follies, where Indy, fired from his New York Broadway job, and in need of money for school, goes out to work in the movie business, where he ends up performing the famous John Ford stunt of the cowboy pulling himself along under the wagon which would go on to inspire the truck stunt from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Indiana Jones (1935)
From here, the story jumps to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Though there were other, planned but un-produced young Indy stories set to feature Belloq, Abner Ravenwood, crystal skulls, and a misadventure in Honduras (referenced obliquely in Doom and Crystal Skull), this jump works rather well. Immediately we see that Indiana Jones is now a suave, educated linguist, grown up, a "famous" archeologist, and on the trail of the peacock diamond. Though not the greatest of the films, its a fun adventure that really does seem to be occurring to the same character I just spent 33 hours with. The first line spoken by Indy is in Mandarin, and the response is, "you didn't tell me you spoke my language, Dr. Jones," which is perfectly in line with the teenager who learned the language of every country he's ever visited (we even see him visit the great wall of China as a boy).

Indy and Marion.
Raiders of the Lost Ark is largely considered (and probably is) the best of the Indiana Jones films. Marion Ravenwood, the films female protagonist, is still probably one of the greatest female characters in an action movie. Inexplicably, they are no longer together by the start of Last Crusade. While overall, the series' view of the supernatural is at best muddled, those elements work the best here, probably because the lost Ark of the Covenant is one of the best defined and most known supernatural artifacts in human history. Of all the artifacts in these films, this one is probably the only one that still truly fascinates.

Henry Jones, Sr. and Jr.
But the emotional heart of this entire series is Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where we both flashback to Indy's youth (and discover the origin of the infamous hat) and see his reconciliation with this father (Sean Connery). Alison Doody, the actress who plays Dr. Elsa Schneider, famously said that "Sean had my part," in regards to the role typically played by the love interest in the film. By the end of the adventure, Indy finally has a dad. Which only leaves his mommy issues, which brings us to the (for now) final film.

Still kicking in 1957.
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is an unpopular film, but when watched, as I just did, in the context of this entire body of work, it serves as a very good addition to the story, and frankly presents a very exciting view of Indiana Jones' later years. We learn he was as active in the second World War as he was in the first, having attained the rank of colonel, and having returned to being a spy, this time for the Americans. He made another rotund friend named Mac (his third, if you count Remy, then Sallah [John Rhys-Davies] in Raiders and Last Crusade), but in all that time, he never found someone to marry. We learn that his father and his mentor Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliot) have both passed away, and ultimately, he has very little left in the world to hold on to. This is, perhaps, a silent critique on the American individualist ideal so well represented in the character of Indiana Jones. He's brought back into the action when a young man brings foreboding news of his old friend, fellow University of Chicago student Harold Oxley (John Hurt). Together, pursued by Russian agents, they attempt to rescue Indy's friend and recover this mythical crystal skull. Indy discovers his new young friend's mother is none other than Marian Ravenwood, and we learn some of the reasons for the collapse of their relationship. Interestingly, Indy would have attempted to contact Marion shortly after his discovery of the Holy Grail, which perhaps had given him some new insight on life, but sadly, she had already married another, and given birth to Indy's child, though for social reasons he was known as the child of her new husband.

Whatever your issues with the film, it gives our intrepid archeology more or less a happy ending. In spite of his insane, womanizing ways, he ends up with a family of his own, and the promise of an even brighter life in his twilight years. Although, one might still be able to hope that we haven't seen the last of Dr. Indiana Jones...

The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones can be streamed on Netflix, with the exception of Mystery of the Blues, which features bookends by Harrison Ford (set in 1951). The Complete Indiana Jones (films) can be purchased on iTunes or on Blu-Ray disc.
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