Note regarding comments

I love comments. I enjoy debate. I welcome both praise and thoughtful criticism. However, I've had to change comments-permissions to require self-identification. No more anonymous messages, please!

Monday, July 27, 2009

"A Lion, but No Lionization"

Fifteen years ago this week, I started the White Rose journey. The way I first read (and told) their story, it was all about Hans and Sophie Scholl. Others played very minor, very supporting roles.

And their haloes remained intact.

Over time, I learned that Hans and Sophie were not the White Rose. They were not even its leaders - neither morally nor psychologically. And the haloes of all those involved were at best tarnished. More practically seen, those haloes were nonexistent.

In 2002 I coined a phrase to express the reality of the White Rose: Sie waren keine halb-Goetter, they were no demigods. It's a phrase that has been lifted (without attribution, oh sigh) by a handful of writers who share this perspective. But more often than not, it's a phrase that has been totally ignored, if not outright rejected by those who must have haloes on their heroes.

The July 27 issue of Newsweek reminded me all over again why the whole story is important, and not the legend that malnourishes so many college sophomores.

Jon Meacham mused on the legacy of Ted Kennedy, noting that his forty-year struggle for affordable health care may finally come to fruition, even as Kennedy himself is dying. Meacham writes that Kennedy's fight for this noble cause should be told in context, that the whole man should be seen. The man whose conscience was pricked by families who could not afford the chemotherapy his young son benefited from in 1973, and the man who had no conscience when it came to Mary Jo Kopechne.

Meacham's closing paragraph is worth quoting in its entirety, as it applies to the White Rose, to Valkyrie, to the Red Orchestra, and others who resisted Hitler and the Nazis over sixty years ago. As well as to those who are not demigods who continue the good fight against injustice and intolerance well into the 21st century.

It is fair, then, to note that when Kennedy calls health-care reform "the cause of my life," he is talking about a life that is hardly a model of sobriety and statesmanship. The important thing, though, is that it is a life that has included the sober and the statesmanlike. The complexity of Kennedy's legacy—the good and the bad, the political achievements and the personal disasters—makes him an accessible, human figure, and a strangely inspirational one. For if Ted Kennedy can successfully battle demons and drink, conquering selfishness just enough to work through the decades for causes other than the satisfaction of his own appetites, then the rest of us can, too. One can be a lion without being overly lionized. Whatever happens to health care in 2009, an appreciation that frail and fallen men can do good things will be among the legacies that Ted Kennedy will leave us—and that his successors in the Senate should bear in mind, whichever desk they are assigned.

Perhaps one day, the White Rose story will receive the same treatment. From more than just a handful of us.

No comments:

Post a Comment