Friday, January 27, 2012

Willie and Joe Back Home by Bill Mauldin

In 1940, 18 year old William Henry Mauldin joined the war effort.  While soldiering he offered to do cartooning for his unit’s newspaper.  His creation of Willie and Joe, two “down-on-their-luck” GIs, would endear him to thousands of fellow dogfaces and win him the Pulitzer Prize five years later (the youngest winner at that time). 

During the war, Willie and Joe’s resilience, humor, and camaraderie served as partial redemption for the brutalizing and dehumanizing conditions of their existence (xii).  General Patton reportedly hated the sloppy twosome, but when he tried to stop the cartoons, General Dwight D. Eisenhower stepped in to support Mauldin’s “foxhole realism.”  It was good for the soldiers’ morale to feel that someone understood them and it was good for folks back home to understand some of the hardships of war, albeit in small and humorous doses.  Many of these cartoons were immortalized in Mauldin’s biography, Up Front

Willie & Joe: Back Home  is quite a different story.  Just as Mauldin had championed the cause of the lowly recruits on the battlefield, he came to their defense after the war.  The book’s introduction states: Our collective memory and history books emphasize the national unity of the time, a patriotic and unquestioned support for the cause and those who fought for it.  But the everyday reality was far more complicated…. Most distressing to Bill was the public’s continued ignorance of the special hardships borne by combat veterans, who represented only 5% to 10% of uniformed personnel.  As he had relentlessly shown in his Willie and Joe cartoons, the American army was really two armies, one that fought and another that didn’t.  Up Front had chronicled how those farthest removed from combat claimed the lion’s share of benefits: alcohol, ribbons, promotions, good clothing, hot baths, decent food, entertainment, black market luxuries, and women.  Bill was stunned to see this disparity extended to the home front… The real Willies and Joes were isolated, in the shadows, misunderstood and overlooked, alienated survivors out of 100 million dead worldwide. More serious were the economic disadvantages that former dogfaces suffered.  While engineers, journalists, draftsmen, and clerks had acquired skills in the army that gave them a leg up on the competition at home, riflemen had gained little useful experience and had a far tougher time finding jobs than other veterans.

Mauldin post-war cartoons were extremely hard-hitting and divisive and his career took a nose dive as paper after paper dropped his column.  Reading the book’s intro is essential to the understanding of many of the drawings.   They are the work of a gifted but disgruntled artist and, frankly, they’re depressing.  However, I recommend the book to those who are interested in WWII history because of Mauldin's fame, and also because it reveals many of the prevailing attitudes of post-war America.

Mauldin won two Pulitzer prizes for his cartoons and some say he should have won a third for the one he drew on the day of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

Youtube has a short video of his cartoons (unfortunately, most captions are cut off) and also a four minute tribute.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Books on the Covenants

My Bible study group is going through an eleven-week Precepts course on the covenants.  The course is excellent in itself, but I’ve learned even more as I’ve looked into additional resources. 

Kevin J. Conner has written a book called The Covenants, in which he highlights all nine covenants in the Bible.  (Who knew there were nine? I didn’t.)  It is very detailed and written in outline form so it doesn’t seem “readable” at first glance.  However, it is extremely informative and one can dip into (or skim over) chapters of choice.

Another book is Aliyah by Richard F. Gottier.  Gottier’s book emphasizes one aspect of the Abrahamic covenant, the land of Israel.  “Aliyah” means the immigration of Jews into Israel and the author writes, “The re-gathering of God’s chosen people from the farthest corners of the earth is the great fulcrum around which He is orchestrating the final moments of history.”  Although I appreciated Gottier’s thoughts, his narrow focus made the book less personal than the other sources.

Last, and best of all, was The Two Covenants by Andrew Murray, the writer of many devotional classics.   In this book he compares the Old and New Covenants and expertly explains why the first one (in its seeming inadequacy) was necessary before the advent of the second.

The Old Covenant was indispensably necessary to waken man’s desires, to call forth his efforts, to deepen the sense of dependence of God, to convince of his sin and impotence, and so to prepare him to feel the need of the salvation of Christ. (p. 28)

This is only one of dozens of passages I underlined.  Murray writes that if Christians had a true understanding of the nature of their covenant-making and covenant-keeping God, they would have the faith to move mountains.  His Two Covenants is one of the most inspirational books I’ve read in years.  Highly recommended!  (I bought it for 99 cents on my Kindle, but had to get a paper copy so that I could read and re-read favorite passages with more ease.)

Later postscript: One additional book I’ve read on the covenants is By Oath Consigned by Meredith G. Kline.  This book is not written for laymen because it assumes that the reader has prior familiarity with various Greek and Hebrew words as well as with numerous scripture references.   I was able to read it only because I’ve been to seminary and because I’m very interested in this subject.

I was disappointed to read that the study of the covenants is sometimes called "Covenant Theology" and is considered to be a doctrine of the Reformed Church, which may be why I’ve never heard about it before, since I’m not from that church tradition.  I have loved immersing myself in this subject via the Scriptures and feel sorry that it is determined to “belong” to one denomination or another.   Whether or not it ultimately points to election, it is a valid and important Bible theme.  I’m much richer for having studied it.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Quote on Christians as "Book-Focused" has an interesting interview with Alan Jacobs who teaches at Wheaton.  His book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction has been reviewed by several of my favorite bloggers.  This question intrigued me:

Christians are known as “people of the book.”  Do you see a great obligation for Christians to be close readers, as opposed to unbelievers?

His response:  I don’t think of it in terms of “obligation” but rather as a natural consequence of being Book-focused.  If you take all American colleges and universities, about 3% of students major in English.  Here at Wheaton College it’s closer to 10%, and that’s in part because my students come from Bible-centered families who give their children the message that what they read, and how they read it, can be vitally important for their lives.  This makes them inclined to be receptive to words on the page… It’s just natural that people who revere Scripture would be more attentive to the written word than most other folks.

Not all non-believers are oblivious to the power of words, nor do all Christians revere and study the Bible, but I do like the idea that when we are "Book-focused," it makes us receptive to words in other contexts.  

Friday, January 13, 2012

Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

“There is no detective in England equal to a spinster lady of uncertain age with plenty of time on her hands.”   When my sister sent this quote, I knew I had to read the book. 

The Murder at the Vicarage introduces one of Christie’s most popular sleuths, Miss Jane Marple.  Marple would appear in eleven more novels and numerous short stories.  In this book Colonel Protheroe is murdered and just about everyone has a motive.  Even the vicar's wife looks suspicious!

Christie writes an engaging tale with colorful characters; she succeeds in keeping you guessing right up to the end.  Good writing, a darling heroine, and British witticisms all add up to an enjoyable read.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown by Maud Hart Lovelace

Although I’m a huge fan of children’s literature, I haven’t visited it much in the past few years due to the fact that three of our sons are now in college.  But the other day I wanted a light, fun read and picked this off the shelf.  The story is about two little girls growing up in Minnesota at the turn of the century, a time when cars and telephones were new and exciting inventions.  The book opens with references to Lady Audley’s Secret and contains many delightful allusions to books throughout its pages.

Twelve year old Betsy is an aspiring writer.  Unfortunately she’s been influenced by sensational and melodramatic novels and is writing stories with similar themes (“Lady Gwendolyn’s Sin”).  Betsy’s mother and father handle this problem with gentleness and sensitivity.  Instead of condemning her, her father gives her a library card and 15 cents for lunch so that she can spend all day Saturday in town, reading the classics.  Her trips to town open up a new world to her.

Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown is a book about simple pleasures and great kindnesses.  With its references to classic books, it’s good writing, and it’s pleasant tone, I found it hard to put down.  Thank you to fellow book blogger, Sarah, for putting this author on my radar.  I loved this book!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

When I think about World War One, I think of mustard gas, trenches, no-man’s land, rats and disease, but I never knew that horses played any part in it.  Thanks to Michael Morpurgo’s book , I’ve learned a few things.  Though tanks and machine guns would eventually change the face of that conflict, initially all the major combatants began with cavalry forces. 

Another revelation for me was Michael Morpurgo himself.  He’s written over 100 books and is England’s third Children’s Laureate, but until my son brought War Horse home, I’d never heard of him.

The British Council on Literature describes him as old-fashioned because “unlike many of today’s authors for young people, Morpurgo rarely features contemporary family issues such as divorce, inadequate parents or urban social problems.  Instead many of his books have historical and rural settings, and he uses his gift for telling enchanting stories to explore timeless values such as stoicism, courage, and trust.”  

War Horse is the story of Joey, a British thoroughbred who is shipped off to France to help in the war effort.  The book is written from his perspective as he responds to the people he meets, which include English and German soldiers as well as French civilians.  Men of every kind are drawn to the beautiful horse and the story is built around their words and actions toward him.

The inspiration for the story came from Morpurgo’s conversations with a WWI veteran who told him that in the horror of the war the only thing that kept him sane was being able to talk to his horse. “That was all that kept me surviving ‘cause I would go to the horse lines each night to feed the horses, and I would talk to my horse, and I’d talk about my mother, and I’d talk about my sweetheart and about home.  And about being frightened. Terrified.  Particularly the last one.  You could not talk amongst your chums about being terrified ‘cause everyone was terrified.  People were dying all around you and you saw things that you simply couldn’t talk about.” 

Morpurgo has given his readers a gift.  In situations where hope seems lost, love and compassion break through the darkness, reminding us that in this world of woe there are still threads of grace.  Highly recommended.