Thursday, January 24, 2013

Culture 101 (part 7) - Band of Brothers

Auschwitz Liberated January 1945

War is hell ...

Yet, in the history books, not many words are spent on the great periods of peace.  Peace and tranquility seem to be boring - at least in literature.  That gives credence to the saying - no news is good news.  (So said Ludeovic Halevy.)

But wars are the things that great stories are made of.  The epic battles are retold in many forms -  songs, ballads, plays, poems, stories, novels, movies ...  They are rich with heroes, villains, victims, oppressors,  political leaders, military generals.  The plots are replete with conflicts on many levels, suffering, passion, cowardliness, valor, victories, defeats, tragedy, triumph.

In the 20th century, World War Two was perhaps the most devastating of wars in that century - at least in scope of its global conflict and causalities.  As Hitler rolled up the map of Europe, the battle lines were drawn.  The Axis powers - Germany, Japan, Italy, ... - pitted against the Allied powers  - the British Empire and its Commonwealth, free France, the United States, the Soviet Union, after Hitler double crossed them.

As the tide turned against Germany, the Soviets were one of the first to liberate the inmates of the concentration camps -  such as Auschwitz on January 26, 1945.  (reference:  Soviets liberate Auschwitz)

Here is a short clip of some of that story - one of great emotion.

In the last 70 years, numerous stories have been told about World War Two - books, movies, TV shows.

One of the first major retelling of this real life drama in the 21st century was the 2001 HBO mini-series, produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, based on the Stephen Ambrose book - Band of Brothers.

As the trailer below shows, Band of Brothers is the soldiers' stories from Easy Company of the US Army 101st Airborne division.  These soldiers were in the war from before the Dawn of D-Day to the surrender of the Nazis.

The title - Band of Brothers - comes from Shakespeare's play - Henry V.

One scene is The King's Speech of the 15th century, as Henry rallies the troops on the Feast of St. Crispin  (October 25) to fight the French at the Battle of Agincourt.

From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
(reference:  Henry V)

It reminds me of Aragorn's speech at the black gate in Lord of the Rings, as shown below.

Undoubtedly, J. R. R. Tolkien was very familiar with Shakespeare ... as was Peter Jackson who directed the movie.

But I digress ....

Back to the liberation of the concentration camps.

One of the most moving episodes from the Band of Brothers mini-series is Episode 9 - Why We Fight.  Easy Company encounters their first concentration camp.  The sight of man's inhumanity to man broke the heart of even the most hardened combat soldier.

Plays from Shakespeare like Henry V, war movies like Band of Brothers, and fantasies like Lord of the Rings are told not only in books, but by the story tellers of our day - the movies.  All great stories have the multi-faceted elements of the human drama of struggle - good vs. evil, defeat and victory, and the roller coaster of human emotion.

And Band of Brothers, Henry V, and Lord of the Rings
 are part of western culture
still being told by our story tellers.


Previous posts in the Culture 101 series:

Culture 101 (part 1) - Reagan's Challenge (2012)

Culture 101 (part 2) - Easter Eucatastrophe (2012)

Culture 101 (part 3) - Paul Revere's Ride (2012)

Culture 101 (part 4) - Gold Diggers and the Great Depression (2012)

Culture 101 (part 5) - Blue Bloods and 9/11 (2012)

Culture 101 (part 6) - Gilligan's Island and Breast Cancer Awareness (2012)


photos:  Wikipedia - Auschwitz Liberated January 1945

Friday, January 11, 2013

Timeless Truths (Part 1) - A Cup of Cold Water

A Drink of Water

And whosoever shall give to drink
unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water
only in the name of a disciple,

verily I say unto you,

he shall in no wise lose his reward.

Matthew 10:42

What a vivid image illustrating the words of Jesus, spoken nearly 2000 years ago.

The picture above was the Wikimedia picture of the day for May 9, 2007.   It was a candidate for the "Picture of the year 2007" and is considered on the finest images in Wikimedia Commons.  The description:

U.S. Army Sergeant Kornelia Rachwal gives a young Pakistani girl a drink of water as they are airlifted from Muzaffarabad to Islamabad, Pakistan, aboard a U.S. Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter on the 19 October 2005."  (reference:  Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)


Giving a cup of cold water seems like a small thing, an insignificant act.  Yet, small acts of kindness speak volumes and can pay eternal dividends, especially during dark days.

From the countless acts of kindness, such as giving a cold cup of water, here are two examples from real life and fiction that stand out.

1. Schindler's List

World War Two was a dark time, and, during the Holocaust, offering a cup of cold water to the Jews or other outcasts was done at great peril.  In the movie, Schindler's List, Oskar Schindler did just this, right under the noses of the Nazis.

Throughout the book and the movie, in order to do business Oskar Schindler is continually bribing SS Officer Amon Goeth.  On one such occasion during a blistering summer day, a train of prisoners heading for the concentration camps rolls by them.  These kinds of people are seen by their oppressors as less than human and treated worse than animals - without food, water, and other necessities.

Yet, using his wits, Oskar maneuvers to have the hot cars hosed down and cooled while the prisoners are given water to drink.  Amon laughs at this act as a cruel joke, giving the condemned hope as everyone knows most - if any at all - would not survive long.  Yet, Oskar persists and bribes the NCO escort on the train to open the doors and give them drink when they stop along the way.

The first part of the clip below shows some of this scene.

The book, from which the movie was based, follows up on this scene with more detail.  Two of the prisoners on this transport, who survived the war, let Oskar know that the NCO did frequently order the doors open and had their water buckets filled.  Though most had perished, the water was a small comfort.  (reference:  Schindler's List, by Thomas Keneally, Chapter 29

What makes this story so remarkable is that it really happened, and this small act of kindness was done at great risk.  Though Oskar Schindler would be considered a backslidden Catholic - he was a womanizer, war profiteer, open fraternizer with the Nazis, he acted on the words of Jesus whereas more virtuous men lacked the courage to do so.

2.  The Hunchback of Notre Dame

This theme of small acts of kindness in dark times runs throughout the works of  Victor Hugo.  His novels  interweave godly acts of light on the dark background of a mad world.

In The Hunchback of Notre Dame,  the denizens gawk at a deformed man, considered less than human, who was flogged and tortured to satisfy a perverted sense of justice in 15th century France.  But the gypsy girl Esmeralda gives Quasimodo a drink of water while better men do nothing.

Esmeralda.  Quasimodo.  Both are outcasts. Again, this small kindness of one outcast to another speaks volumes.

A clip of the scene below is from the silent film version of the movie - The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923) .

Today, another of Victor Hugo's novels, Les Miserables (2012), is on the big screen as a musical.  And a turning point is an act of kindness by the bishop of Digne, which forever changes Jean Valjean.

Big doors swing on little hinges.
- W. Clement Stone (1902 - 2002)

So the course of  history or the saving of a life can be changed by a small act of kindness.

This leads to a new thread -

Timeless Truths

- where the ancient proverbs and wisdom will be shown how they still apply throughout the ages.

And what better way to end the first part of this new thread with these timeless words:

The grass withereth, the flower fadeth:
but the word of our God shall stand for ever.


Previous posts on similar topics:

ZAMM (part 6) - Sloth, or just not caring ...  (2012)

Anastasis (part 5) - Bible in the Oxyrhynchus garbage dump  (2012)


Photo from:  Wikipedia - Humanitarian Aid