Born on the Fourth of July is a 1989 film based on the autobiography of Ron Kovic, a Vietnam veteran who was wounded in the war and paralyzed from the chest down. It covers Kovic’s childhood on Long Island, his tours of duty in Vietnam, his injury and recovery in a Veterans Affairs hospital, his disillusionment with the war, and his eventual participation in antiwar protests and activism. Kovic’s transition from super patriot to anti-war activist is very believable.
Nevertheless, Born on the Fourth is not for some Friends as it contains violence, profanity, and nudity. It did receive critical acclaim and two academy awards. Personally, I find parts of the film melodramatic. The veterans’ hospital scenes are over-done, not to mention an orgy of sex and booze in Mexico. Moreover, the romance between Ron and Donna is sugary sweet. So, I hesitate to place the film on my list of ten-best movies. However, it’s clearly the best post-war film about Viet Nam that we have.
I confess that the movie brings back memories. Just as Ron Kovic became a marine in an act of bravado, likewise two of my college friends joined the marines on macho impulses. One of them came back with a foot missing. He took off his prosthesis while he applied for a handicapped parking permit on the U.T. campus. With his artificial foot on, he’d never have gotten a permit to park in the inner campus.
Some of my memories are painful. Although opposed to the War in Vietnam, I never protested or otherwise took time to work against it. I was preoccupied with my education as a future Classics scholar at Princeton University. Of course, mental illness destroyed that prospect. It did guarantee a medical exemption from military service; but I feel guilty about never resisting the draft or the war.
One day I want to go to Washington and visit the Vietnam Memorial. I will touch the memorial wall with the inscribed names of almost 60,000 dead and missing Vietnam veterans. And I will pray that those absent soldiers give me absolution for what I didn’t do to help. Though dead, I trust they live in God’s Unapproachable Light.
~ Richard Russell
I believe Isaac Penington is still relevant to modern Friends even though he lived in the 17th century. After all, Penington is still read along with Fox and Penn as one of the founding fathers of Quakerism.
Penington counsels silence in Meeting but only as a preparation for vocal ministry. As I read him, Penington sees vocal ministry as the goal of Meeting. Here is what he says on the subject:
God is to be worshipped in spirit, in his own power and life, and this is at his own disposal. His church is a gathering in the Spirit. If any speak there, they must speak as the oracle of God, as the vessel out of which God speaks; as the trumpet out of which he gives the sound. Therefore there is to be a waiting in silence till the Spirit of the Lord move to speak, and also give words to speak. For we are not to speak our own words, or in our own wisdom or time; but the Spirit’s words, in the Spirit’s wisdom and time, which is when he moves and gives to speak.
~ Richard Russell
You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.
Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.
Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.
~ John O’Donohue
Submitted by Regina Haag
You can read the full poem here.
Written by John Hersey, the book describes the experiences of six people in the immediate aftermath of the atomic bombing of the Japanese city of Hiroshima. Hersey does not try to inject pathos or indignation into his account but tells the stories of the six survivors in a matter-of-fact, objective style. Of course, the events described are so horrific and surreal that we can’t help reacting emotionally. Consider what Kiyoshi Tanimoto saw as he made his way into the bombed-out city:
The eyebrows of some (people) were burned off and skin hung from their faces and hands. Others, because of pain, held their arms up as if carrying something in both hands. Some were vomiting as they walked. Many were naked or in shreds of clothing. On some undressed bodies, the burns had made patterns—of undershirt straps and suspenders and, on the skin of some women (since white repelled the heat from the bomb and dark clothes absorbed it and conducted it to the skin), the shapes of flowers they had had on their kimonos.
One would think that the suffering of the survivors would have made them hate us Americans with an undying bitterness, but such hatred was by no means universal. Consider, for example, Hersey’s description of Toshiko Sasaki’s attitude some forty years after the bombing:
(she felt that) …too much attention was paid to the power of the A-bomb and not enough to the evil of war. …warfare had indiscriminately made victims of Japanese who had suffered atomic and incendiary bombings, Chinese civilians who had been attacked by the Japanese, (and) reluctant young Japanese and American soldiers who were drafted to be killed or maimed… She had firsthand knowledge of the cruelty of the atomic bomb, but she felt that more notice should be given to the causes than to the instruments of total war.
Echoing Sasaki’s line of reasoning, I’m not clear that the United States bears an unmitigated burden of guilt for dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I am clear that nuclear weapons and war should be banished from the face of the Earth. And I’m clear that Friends who share these concerns should read John Hersey’s book.
~ Richard Russell
I characterize some activities as important and others as drudge labor. So, attending Meeting is an important, sacred experience while pulling weeds in the garden is unimportant, not sacred, and very boring. Joel Salatin, quoted in the Plough Daily Dig, has a very different idea. Here is what he says:
I’m a big fan of children’s gardens. It is so powerful when I plant a tomato seed, nurture the plant, watch the bees pollinate the blossoms, and then the little green orb comes, and then it finally turns red, and then I get to eat it and the juice runs down my elbow. That awareness of my place in the context of something bigger than me is so much more profound than being the top points getter on Angry Birds.
We have to appreciate that all we do, from cleaning the toilet to planting the tomato plant, is all sacred stuff.
~ submitted by Richard Russell
The apple’s core has centered on its seeds.
Bees shop the tree’s drupe in spring.
The adder’s stung his kiss of awakening
and hung a hissing shingle swung with creeds.
An amber honey trickles in the mead.
The song each bird is chattering
herons on stilts and chevrons its passing.
I follow her path until I am freed.
I am born from quaternity.
Four directions turn the signpost of my soul
and map the meter of my maternity.
I’ve relinquished every goal
and handed myself over to eternity
raising my anchor to begin my troll.
~ Bob Elmendorf
Sin Nombre is a Spanish language film rated “R” for nudity, violence, alcohol use, smoking, foul language, and sexual content. Friends who try to avoid sex and violence in films will want to avoid Sin Nombre. Other Friends believe that such films show us a present reality which we must know in order to change that reality to a “Beloved Community” or—in biblical language—to realize the “Kingdom of God” on Earth. Both viewpoints are valid, but I obviously belong to the latter group.
From my perspective, a searching look at illegal immigration to the United States can lead to advocating change in our immigration policy as well as increased foreign aid to those countries which produce the most immigrants. After all, if money and resources from the U.S. can better the quality of life in Mexico and Central America, the people of those countries will be less inclined to leave their homes for the paraíso of the United States.
So, what’s the plot of Sin Nombre? Well, the film follows the parallel stories of two young people who are trying to escape the harsh realities of life in Mexico and Honduras. Sayra is a Honduran girl who joins her father and uncle on a perilous journey to the United States, where they hope to reunite with their family in New Jersey. Casper is a Mexican boy who is a member of the notorious Mara Salvatrucha gang but wants to leave his violent life behind. Their paths cross when Casper and his gang friends board a train to rob the migrants who are riding on top of it. Casper saves Sayra from being raped by his gang leader, Lil Mago; but Casper kills Lil Mago in the process. He then decides to flee with Sayra, knowing that his gang will hunt him down for revenge.
Casper and Sayra must evade the gang, the police, and the border patrol as they travel northward. They also develop a romantic bond, despite their different backgrounds and goals. Meanwhile, Casper’s former friend, Smiley, who is a young and impressionable gang recruit, is sent by the new gang leader to kill Casper and prove Smiley’s loyalty to the gang. Smiley finds Casper and Sayra at the border, where a violent confrontation takes place. And—symbolically—the film ends in an American shopping mall.
So, how do I evaluate the film in artistic terms? The characters are well-developed and acted. The scenery is evocative: both the lush landscape of Mexico and the squalid poverty in which the characters live. The story is mostly believable until the end, which seems somewhat contrived. The total effect of the movie is to elicit feelings of compassion for the immigrants. One wants to do something to alleviate the plight of undocumented people trying to enter the U.S.
And therein lies the value of the movie. If illegal immigration is a personal concern, watch this film. I’d gladly loan you my copy via mail. Just email Old Chatham Meeting to arrange the loan.
~ Richard Russell
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