Two weeks in on my sabbatical, and I’m doing well – and Pastor Jean is surviving all by herself. Don’t feel too bad for her – next year it will be my turn!
Last week I noted that I’m missing people. Yep – I am! During the past week, at June Dairy Days, and just around town, I’ve run into some of you, and those moments have been highlights. I knew it to be true – now I’m experiencing it – our life as a congregation really is about relationships! Thank you for being a part of the relationships that make Our Savior’s what it is.
So, what was the last week like? Worship at Our Redeemer (La Crosse) – and even there running into people with connections to Our Savior’s. I’ve also completed some projects around the house, and prepared for our trip to Germany (we leave Sunday after Pastor Jean is done with worship).
And I’ve read. Another book off my list – this time, “The Good War” – An Oral History of World War Two, by Studs Terkel (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984). OK, its a bit old, but precious. Terkel writes very little in the 589 pages. Probably (and this is no exaggeration) 98-99% of the book are the verbatim recollections by a wide variety of people on their experiences in WW 2, and shared in 1984. That makes this valuable primary source material. While a few of the voices are famous folk (an admiral, politician, even an “Andrew” sister), the vast majority are little people, simple folk. Soldiers, but also a number of civilians (even a couple of preachers!) Most of the 120 interviewed are Americans, but there are also Germans, Japanese, Russians, British and French in the pages. All sharing their story, from a variety of perspectives.
Three things stood out for me as I read. First, forget Hollywood and John Wayne. War really is hell, and for those who fought, there is no desire to return. Period. Yes, a war had to be fought, but there is no joy, no romantic heroism in killing, even one’s enemies.
Which brings me to point two – American, Russian, German, Japanese – all shared in their humanity. All of them spoke of looking at the faces of deceased (or still living) enemies, and then realizing that all believed in the rightness of their cause, and left behind families and loved ones. Political systems and leaders take nations to war, fought by ordinary folk, who are all human beings with real lives. And, we would say, loved by a real God. Both sides heard of the “evil” of the enemy, only to discover that face to face, we are more alike than we thought.
And third, those who were on the front lines, in battle, taking life-and-death risks, when the moment came, didn’t do it out of patriotism or any sense of heroic drama. They did what they had to do because of the bond they had with the soldiers by their side. For their comrade they will risk death. They would fight and even die for the relationships they had. (See, it’s relationship again!)
Finally, I’d like to share several lines from the book that I found profound or insightful. I’ve copied them below, with a brief introduction. Following each quote is the page it is found on.
Timuel Black, an African-American soldier experienced intense racism within the US Army. He pondered staying in France after the war, but decided to return. He said:
“We’re coming up the Hudson River. You could see the shore. The white soldiers up on deck said, ‘There she is!’ They’re talking about the Stature of Liberty. There’s a great outburst. I’m down below and I’m sayin’, Hell, I’m not goin’ up there. Damn that. All of a sudden, I found myself with tears, cryin’ and saying the same thing they were saying. Glad to be home, proud of my country, as irregular as it is. Determined that it could be better.” (p. 282)
Dr. Alex Shulman was a surgeon with the US Army at the time of the Battle of the Bulge. A young German soldier, cut off from his outfit, and hiding out for several weeks, was captured. He had a head wound that had become very dirty and needed to be cleaned out. He broke into tears. Shulman could speak a little German. He recalled,
“I said, ‘What are you crying about?’ He said, ‘They told me I’d be killed. And here you are, an American officer, washing my hands and face and my hair.’ I reminded him that I was a Jewish doctor, so he would get the full impact of it.” (p. 283)
Jacques Raboud was in the French resistance, and later became a priest. Reflecting on the horror of Hitler and the Nazis, he was asked, “Is this uniquely German?
“This is human. It happened before. The Spanish, in the Inquisition, under God, destroyed an entire population. What about the Albigenses? [My note – a heretical sect in France, wiped out in the 13th century, with an estimated death toll of 200,000 to one million.] It can happen again. We are all good people, but if we are led a little too far, we are going to believe everything we are told. We are ordinary people, who also can be weapons for evil Hitlers.” (p. 422)
Galina Alexeyeva fought as a teenage girl in the battle of Stalingrad, a devastating battle, and the victory that began to turn the war against Hitler. The city was virtually wiped out. She says,
“I saw prisoners of war in Stalingrad and later along the road. I felt sorry for them. Whose sons are these? What was wrong with your life. Why did you come here. What is there which we don’t have on our planet? We have rivers, fields. As a former soldier, who saw thousands of deaths, I don’t want any war repeated. Peace and war is not a cowboy movie. Don’t play around with it.” (p. 456)
Lots of other good observations in the book, including from both German and Japanese survivors of the war, but these are some that jumped out at me. The book is worth a read, especially if you can appreciate the breadth of the war-time experience (including a few gruesome descriptions), and you are OK with a bit of “salty” language. Each “voice” is it’s own unit, so while some of the units are up to ten pages, many are one or two in length, so you can stop when you need too. Not sure if the library has access to it, but I have it if you are really interested.
So, off to Germany. No books for a few weeks, but I still have seven left. Also have some writing to do (family history) after I interview two aunts in July and early August. And Rebecca keeps reminding me – we still need to do some fishing!