i love twentieth-century history, especially accounts of world war 2. i am always stunned by the depth of courage and sacrifice displayed by the generation just before mine. contemporary americans are incapable of their abnegation.
one of the books i read on vacation was inferno by max hastings described as “a monumental work that shows us at once the truly global reach of World War II and its deeply personal consequences.” it is well-written and exhaustive (it covers the entire war in all theatres–from africa to russia to the pacific to europe) containing many interviews and first-person stories.
i want to share one part with you, my bloggy buddies, that had a real impact on me. hastings told the story of a british officer who wrote to his parents before being killed in his first action in north africa:
I should like you to know what it is I died for . . . There is, I feel, both in England and America a tremendous surge of feeling, a feeling which, for want of a better word, I shall call ‘goodness.’ It is not experienced by the politicians or the newspapers, for it is far too deep for them. It is the heartfelt longing of all the ‘middling folk’ for something better–a world more worthy of their children., a world more simple in its beliefs, nearer to the earth and to God. I have heard it so often among soldiers in England and America, in trains, in factories in Chicago and clubs in London, sometimes so poorly expressed that one can hardly recognize it, but underlying it all is that craving for a new life.
i tend to spiritualize everything i read, i own that, but think about this with me.
jesus said “no one is good” (mark 10:18) yet a british soldier is ready to die for goodness: an abstract feeling, a heartfelt longing of all the ‘middling folk’ for something better. paul wrote, “there is no one who does good, not even one” (romans 3:12), yet this brave man is ready to lay his life down for a world more simple in its beliefs, nearer to earth and to God. he’s not a theologian, he is a warrior, but he recognizes that underlying it all is that craving for a new life.
but the hopes of the world are not realized in a peaceful society. mankind’s cravings are not satisfied in victory or accomplishment or even goodness. the longing of the created being is fulfilled only in relationship with his creator. i’ve seen spiritual wealth in the midst of abject poverty–a russian peasant or a haitian villager. and i’ve seen (more often than i care to remember) emptiness and superficiality in spite of great material wealth.
yet we continue our search. in inferno, max hastings quotes journalist ernie pyle:
These gravely yearned-for futures of men going into battle include so many things–things such as seeing the ‘old lady’ again, of going to college, of holding on your knee just once your own kid, of again becoming champion salesman of your territory, of driving a coal truck around the streets of Kansas City once more and, yes, of just sitting in the sun once more on the south side of a house in New Mexico . . . It is these little hopes that made up the sum total of our worry rather than the visualization of physical agony to come.
oh, if they could only hear the gospel!