JOURNAL ENTRY #238
July 31, 2017
John McCain showed remarkable courage during his time as a prisoner in Vietnam. It surfaced again as he came back to Washington after learning he had brain cancer to vote against the GOP health care bill. Another of the two Republican senators who joined him won my respect for doing the same thing: We learned July 30 that Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii was diagnosed with stage four kidney cancer. A lot of people would probably have taken to bed. Hirono flew back to Washington from Hawaii to join McCain and Alaska's Senator Lisa Murkowski to sink the bill.
Desmond Doss was a conscientious objector during the Second World War. His religion prohibited him from carrying a gun. So he signed on with the army as a field medic but had to live with the mockery of his comrades. He was with his unit when they were attacked and pinned down under heavy Japanese fire on Okinawa. Doss carried more than 50 wounded soldiers to safety during the engagement. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
John Rabe qualifies as the Good Nazi. He was in Nanking in 1937 when the Japanese army began the infamous Rape of Nanking. They were raping and killing on an overwhelming scale. Rabe provided protection to potential victims in properties over which he had control. The Japanese, then taking the Germans on board as allies, conceded the issue. Rabe is credited with saving more than 200,000 people.
Helen Keller led an incredible life as a champion of women's rights. She also set a remarkable example of what can be accomplished even while deaf and blind.
There's a long list of historic figures who confronted vicious power and paid a substantial price, sometimes their lives, for not backing down. One thinks immediately Socrates, killed by the Greeks, who rarely executed anybody. He made the mistake of saying there were no gods on Olympus. He could have walked away if he'd just been willing to admit he had it wrong. And of course there's Jesus, who accepted crucifixion rather than cancel his message. And Giordano Bruno, who made the mistake of arguing that the Earth was not the center of everything. And numerous others who gave their lives rather than compromise themselves.
Other examples of courage closer to our own time include Muhammad Ali, who refused to be drafted into the army during the Vietnam War. (I can remember being disappointed in him at the time.) Oskar Schindler took his chances protecting potential victims from the Nazis. Alice Paul, who thought women should have the same rights as men, including the right to vote, led protesters across the nation, including occasionally the White House. And Mikhail Gorbachev, a liberal voice in the USSR, who made a major contribution to ending the Cold War, for which he was rewarded by losing his influence.
These acts of courage are sometimes performed by a single person, often by a group inspired by a leader. One thinks of Martin Luther King and the Freedom Riders. I was impressed early by the WWII Filipino women who confronted Japanese soldiers to get food and water to US and Filipino soldiers in the Okinawa death march. They were beaten and shot but they kept coming.
When we get discouraged by corruption or cruelty or simply indifference by those around us, we might help ourselves by taking a moment to recall the kind of stuff that the Freedom Riders and the Filipino women and their brothers and sisters were made of. That we are made of.