©2014 By Bob Litton
A certain word I have heard and read used strangely over the past thirteen years is “innocents”. During that period I have been tempted to write a column about its illogical application but refrained because I anticipated that my point would not be understood. All I would accomplish would be to call down a frenzy of rebuke upon my head. Now, however, I believe sufficient time has passed that I might, with at least a modicum of safety, venture to state my perspective on that term’s proper and improper utterances.
Definitely excluding the relatives and close acquaintances of the 9/11 victims, the horrific fate of all those people appalled me as much as most of my fellow citizens. Yet I did not feel as much sadness as I thought I should. Angry, now that I was; but I was as angry at the official guardians of our nation as I was at the unknown suicidal militants. My employers cancelled work that day. I walked the short distance from my apartment to White Rock Lake and sat upon a concrete picnic table and tried to figure out how I felt, how I should have felt. A policeman drove slowly down the narrow roadway at the lake’s verge and looked up toward the low hilltop where I was brooding; he, like all the law officers in the country, was probably looking at everyone suspiciously that day, but he didn’t stop.
What I finally concluded was that it is difficult for me to get tearful over any tragedy involving a mass of unknown humans, while I had choked up and my eyes had dampened a few years before when I happened upon the obituary of one of my former Food Stamp clients. I guess in that single trait I am similar to Ronald Reagan, who, one of his former aides had revealed, could not comprehend the hardships endured by a blurry populace but could sincerely and deeply empathize with a suffering individual in front of him. (I sure hope I don’t share any other traits with that nincompoop.)
As the following days succeeded and more information became available, I grew even angrier with those responsible for the disasters, and admiring of those passengers on United Flight 93 who managed to thwart the hijackers’ attainment of their primary objective; I tried to imagine if I could have had the courage they had shown.
But another element that reappeared over and over again during the following months grated on me: the continual use of the word “innocent” to describe the victims. Perhaps that was the first time I had ever heard the word used so frequently; if it had been previously uttered after any similar occurrence — say, on December 7, 1941 — I could not recall it (I was only one year old at the time). Why were the news people and politicians using that word? I wondered. Yes, the victims — the vast majority anyway — could be described as unarmed noncombatants. Yes, all of them had been unwarrantably defenseless. But “innocent”? Such a description leaves our military and police forces open to the aspersion of “guilty”! What else could it mean?
Recently I viewed a VHS tape of the 1942 Academy Award-winning film (six Oscars) Mrs. Miniver, which starred Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon. It is the story of an English middle-class family, residents of an idyllic village, who find themselves unexpectedly becoming involved, both as participants and as victims, in the start of World War II.
There are two scenes in that film that impressed me as very pertinent to the argument I presented above: an encounter between Mrs. Miniver and a wounded German pilot whose plane had been shot down near her village, and a sermon at the film’s end that eloquently expresses the view that no one is exempt from the duties and harms of war.
Concerning the first scene, while her husband is away with other local men rescuing the soldiers at Dunkirk and her eldest son is off flying a mission against German positions in Europe, Mrs. Miniver happens upon the injured pilot hiding under a shrub. The German, pointing a Luger at her, commands her to take him to her home. She offers to take him to the village clinic. He refuses, demanding only food and a coat. During their conversation in her kitchen, Mrs. Miniver asks him why he and his comrades want to harm innocent people in their homes. He retorts “maniacally” that the English are the enemies of the German people and that, regardless of his own fate, other German pilots will appear and give the weak British their just deserts for resisting the power of the Third Reich. None of the British are innocent, he exclaims, because they are all enemies of Germany.
After feeding the German pilot and then disarming him after he has fainted, Mrs. Miniver calls in the police to haul the fellow off. Later, Mrs. Miniver’s daughter-in-law of only two weeks is killed by a bullet from a German plane while the two are returning from a flower show. (This is the weakest scene in the film because there is no indication of the shell hitting their car or causing any physical injury to the young lady.) Other beloved local citizens are also killed in the German attack.
A few days later, presumably the following Sunday, the village’s survivors meet in the now roofless church for worship and memorials. The vicar gives what has been recognized as an inspiring talk, not just for the characters in the film but also for all the peoples of the various Allied nations. I am going to quote it in full here, for, as I said, it speaks more eloquently on the points I related at the first of this post:
We in this quiet corner of England have suffered the loss of friends very dear to us, some close to this church. George West, choirboy. James Ballard, stationmaster and bellringer, and the proud winner only an hour before his death of the Beldon Cup for his beautiful Miniver Rose. And our hearts go out in sympathy to the two families who share the cruel loss of a young girl who was married at this altar only two weeks ago. The homes of many of us have been destroyed, and the lives of young and old have been taken. There’s scarcely a household that hasn’t been struck to the heart. And why? Surely you must have asked yourselves this question? Why in all conscience should these be the ones to suffer? Children, old people, a young girl at the height of her loveliness? Why these? Are these our soldiers? Are these our fighters? Why should they be sacrificed? I shall tell you why. Because this is not only a war of soldiers in uniform. It is the war of the people, of all the people. And it must be fought not only on the battlefield but in the cities and in the villages, in the factories and on the farms, in the home and in the heart of every man, woman and child who loves freedom. Well, we have buried our dead, but we shall not forget them. Instead they will inspire us with an unbreakable determination to free ourselves, and those who come after us, from the tyranny and terror that threaten to strike us down. This is the People’s War. It is our war. We are the fighters. Fight it then. Fight it with all that is in us. And may God defend the right.
I encourage all my readers to peruse the fuller synopsis of Mrs. Miniver at Wikipedia. Here is the URL to that article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mrs._Miniver_(film)
Now, with all that said, I will acknowledge the existence of some categories of true innocents. They are babies, incarcerated criminals, retarded persons, and lunatics.
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