Archive for the ‘World War I’ Tag

Feast of Paul Jones and John Nevin Sayre (September 4)   Leave a comment

Apotheosis of War

Above:  The Apotheosis of War, by Vasily Vereschchagin

Image in the Public Domain

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PAUL JONES (NOVEMBER 25, 1880-SEPTEMBER 4, 1941)

Episcopal Bishop of Utah and Peace Activist

colleague of 

JOHN NEVIN SAYRE (FEBRUARY 4, 1884-SEPTEMBER 13, 1977)

Episcopal Priest and Peace Activist

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INTRODUCTION

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The Episcopal Church commemorates the life of Bishop Paul Jones on September 4.  On this, my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, I do the same and add to the feast his colleague and fellow Episcopalian, John Nevin Sayre.

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PAUL JONES (I)

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Jones, born on November 25, 1880, at Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, was a cradle Episcopalian and a son of a priest.  After graduating from Yale University he attended the Episcopal Theological School, Cambridge, Massachusetts.  There, in 1906, Jones heard the Bishop Franklin S. Spalding, of the Missionary District of Utah, speak of the challenges of evangelizing in the Mormon-dominated state.  Our saint volunteered to serve in Utah.  And he did, at St. John’s, Logan.  In 1914 Jones became the archdeacon in the missionary district.  Later that year he succeeded Spalding as bishop.  Our saint built up the diocese well during his tenure (1914-1918).

Jones got into deep trouble for speaking out based on his conscience.  He was a pacifist, for he was convinced that Jesus disapproved of settling conflicts violently.  Jones also argued for recognizing the moral validity of conscientious objection to war.  Both church and society, he insisted, should respect the choice not to engage in violence.  All of this was politically dangerous to advocate for in the United States in 1917 and 1918, a time when much of the population contracted war fever.  In the realm of the ridiculous, Dachshunds became Liberty Hounds, German Shepherds became Alsacian Shepherds, and frankfurters became hot dogs, among other examples of renaming dog breeds and food products.  The city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, banned the performance of the music of Ludwig von Beethoven, who had been dead for 90 years.  Besides, given the composer’s political position regarding Emperor Napoleon I (he considered Bonaparte’s self-promotion a betrayal of principles), would Beethoven have supported German imperialism in 1914-1918, had he been alive?  Reason be damned, this was wartime panic and intolerance.  States and the federal government passed laws suspending the freedom of speech and redress of the government.  Certain opponents of U.S. involvement in World War I went to prison for their nonviolent activities, such as giving speeches and distributing leaflets.  (The First Amendment to the United States Constitution be damned also, apparently.)  Jones had to contend with false allegations of being pro-German and anti-American.  He got off relatively lightly, though; the Episcopal House of Bishops forced him to resign from both the Missionary District of Utah and the House of Bishops.  Years later he got to rejoin the House of Bishops yet without a vote therein.

Jones served as the executive secretary of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, devoted to the nonviolent resolution of conflicts, from 1919 to 1929.  A colleague there was John Nevin Sayre.

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JOHN NEVIN SAYRE (I)

With Paul Jones

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Sayre came from a distinguished family.  He, born on February 4, 1884, at South Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, was a grandson of John Williamson Nevin (1803-1886), the great German Reformed minister and Mercersburg theologian.  Our saint’s aunt was Alice Nevin (1837-1925), who contributed much to the life of the Reformed Church in the United States and to the civil life of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  Sayre’s mother was Martha Finley Nevin (1824-1917), daughter of John Williamson Nevin and sister of Alice.  Our saint’s father was Robert Heysham Sayre (1844-1917), the manager of the Bethlehem Iron Works and the founder of the Sayre Mining and Manufacturing Company.  Sayre’s brother was Francis Bowes Sayre, Sr. (1885-1972), an attorney and diplomat.  Francis Sr. was a professor at Harvard Law School (1917-1923), the Advisor in Foreign Affairs to the King of Siam (1923-1925), the U.S. Ambassador to Siam (1925-1932), the Director of the Harvard Institute of Criminal Law (1932-1933), the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (1933-1939), the High Commissioner of the Philippines (1939-1942), and the U.S. Representative to the United Nations Leadership Council (1947-1952).  In 1913 he married Jessie Woodrow Wilson (died in 1933), daughter of President (Thomas) Woodrow Wilson (in office 1913-1921).  Through Francis Sr. our saint was able to gain access to prominent people, such as President Wilson, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (in office 1933-1945), General Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964), and Emperor Hirohito (reigned 1926-1989).

Our saint was a well-educated man.  He graduated from Princeton University (B.A., 1907) and the Episcopal Theological School, Cambridge, Massachusetts (B.D., 1911).  He also studied at the Union Theological Seminary, New York, New York (1908-1910) and the University of Marburg, Germany (1913-1914).  Sayre also taught at Princeton University (1911-1912) and at Boone University, Wuchang, China (1913).

Sayre became a pacifist in 1914.  He agreed with Jones that warfare was incompatible with the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.  Sayre, Assistant Rector (1915-1916) then Rector (1916-1919) of Christ Church, Suffern, New York, found his congregation to be less than fully supportive of his pacifism.  He resigned and helped to found Brookwood School (1919-1921), where he taught nonviolence for two years.  In 1921, when Brookwood School became Brookwood Labor College, an experimental residential two-year institution for workers, he transferred to the U.S. branch of the Fellowship of Reconciliation.  (He had helped to found that branch six years earlier.)  Sayre edited The World Tomorrow from 1922 to 1924 and served as the organization’s associate secretary from 1924 to 1935, serving under Jones during part of that time.  Sayre traveled the world as he sought to resolve conflicts nonviolently.  In 1927, for example, he, via Francis Sr., gained access to U.S. senators and State Department officials and thereby succeeded in halting the planned U.S. bombing of innocent civilians during a conflict in Nicaragua.

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PAUL JONES (II)

With John Nevin Sayre

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Jones spent his final years as the chaplain of Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio.  He also functioned as a spiritual advisor to students and a member of the faculty, as a well as a traveling speaker.  Other causes for which our saint advocated were economic justice (from a Christian Socialist perspective) and civil rights for African Americans.  In 1939 he and Sayre helped to found the Episcopal Pacifist Fellowship (now the Episcopal Peace Fellowship).  Toward the end of his life Jones helped to resettle European Jews fleeing the Nazis.  He died of multiple myeloma at Yellow Springs on September 4, 1941.  He was 60 years old.

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JOHN NEVIN SAYRE (II)

With Francis Bowes Sayre, Jr.

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Sayre, active in pacifist activism for most of his life, spent most of that life with Kathleen Whitaker, also his partner in activism.  She and her mother, pacifists, had emigrated from England in 1916.  Kathleen became the second Mrs. Sayre in 1922; the marriage ended when Sayre died in 1977.  (Sayre had married his first wife, Helen Augusta Bangs, on June 28, 1910.  She died two years and two days later.)  Other organizations through which the Sayres worked for peace and reconciliation included, of course, the Episcopal Pacifist/Peace Fellowship, the National Peace Conference and the International Fellowship of Witness.  Their pacifism translated, not surprisingly, into opposition to the Vietnam War.

Other favored causes included helping conscientious objectors in Europe and the United States during World War II, sparing the lives and facilitating the release and repatriation of Japanese prisoners of war after that conflict, advocating for civil liberties, and working for civil rights for African Americans.  Sayre died at South Hyack, New York, on September 13, 1977.  He was 93 years old.

A nephew, Francis Bowes Sayre, Jr. (1915-2008), a grandson of Woodrow Wilson, became an Episcopal priest, and from 1951 to 1978, the Dean of Washington National Cathedral.  True to his family heritage, he opposed Jim Crow, McCarthyism, and the Vietnam War.

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CONCLUSION

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As time moved on, so did ecclesiastical institutions.  The Lambeth Conference of 1958 approved the following resolutions:

Resolution 101 The Reconciling of Conflicts Between and Within Nations 

The Church’s Work of Reconciliation The Conference urges all members of the Anglican Communion to further the ministry of reconciliation by: (a) developing deeper understanding and fellowship with churchmen of every land; (b) extending the use of clergy and lay workers in lands other than their own, the exchange of teachers and seminarians, and the participation by lay visitors in the Church life of the countries they visit; (c) the general use of the Anglican Cycle of Prayer to undergird this wider sense of community; (d) participation everywhere in the wider community of all Christian people in the ecumenical opportunities open to them.

Resolution 102 The Reconciling of Conflicts Between and Within Nations – Christian Citizenship

The Conference calls upon all Christian people to recognise their duty of exercising to the full their responsibility as citizens in the national and international policies of their governments.

Resolution 103 The Reconciling of Conflicts Between and Within Nations – Christian Citizenship

The Conference calls upon all Christian people to strive by the exercise of mutual understanding, calm reason, and constant prayer, to reconcile all those who are involved in racial, political, economic, or other conflicts.

Resolution 104 The Reconciling of Conflicts Between and Within Nations – The Rights of Men and Nations

The Conference declares that the Church is not to be identified with any particular political or social system, and calls upon all Christians to encourage their governments to respect the dignity and freedom of people within their own nations and the right of people of other nations to govern themselves.

Resolution 105 The Reconciling of Conflicts Between and Within Nations – Sharing Material Resources

The Conference draws attention to the widespread poverty in many parts of the world; it notes with thankfulness the measures taken to help under-developed countries to become self-supporting, and calls upon Christians in more favoured lands to use their influence to encourage their governments in the task of relieving poverty by a generous sharing of their material and technical resources with those in need.

Resolution 106 The Reconciling of Conflicts Between and Within Nations – Modern Warfare and Christian Responsibility

The Conference reaffirms that war as a method of settling international disputes is incompatible with the teaching and example of our Lord Jesus Christ, and declares that nothing less than the abolition of war itself should be the goal of the nations, their leaders, and all citizens. As an essential step towards achieving this goal the Conference calls upon Christians to press through their governments, as a matter of the utmost urgency, for the abolition by international agreement of nuclear bombs and other weapons of similar indiscriminate destructive power, the use of which is repugnant to the Christian conscience. To this end governments should accept such limitations of their own sovereignty as effective control demands. The Conference further urges the governments of the leading nations of the world to devote their utmost efforts at once to framing a comprehensive international disarmament treaty, which shall also provide for the progressive reduction of armed forces and conventional armaments to the minimum necessary for the maintenance of internal security and the fulfilment of the obligations of states to maintain peace and security in accordance with the United Nations Charter.

Resolution 107 The Reconciling of Conflicts Between and Within Nations – Modern Warfare and Christian Responsibility

The Conference calls Christians to subject to intense prayer and study their attitudes to the issues involved in modern warfare, and urges the Church to continue to consult regularly with scientists and political leaders about the many problems of ethics and conscience which arise from advances in nuclear research.

Resolution 108 The Reconciling of Conflicts Between and Within Nations – The United Nations

The Conference affirms the need for strengthening the United Nations and to this end: (a) urges that serious consideration be given to the revision of its Charter, the more effective use of, and respect for, the existing processes of international justice, and to the creation of adequate means for enforcing its decisions; (b) commends wholeheartedly the work done under the aegis of the United Nations, whereby the skills and resources of member nations are made available for the benefit of the whole of humanity; (c) recommends that all Church people be asked to pray for God’s blessing upon the officers and declared purposes of the United Nations; (d) urges that all Church people be asked to encourage community study regarding the constitution, the plans, and the needs of the United Nations.

Resolution 109 The Reconciling of Conflicts Between and Within Nations – The United Nations

The Conference draws attention to the work of the Committee of the Churches on International Affairs (within the World Council of Churches) and urges Anglicans to support its efforts to bring an informed Christian opinion to bear on international issues.

Resolution 110 The Reconciling of Conflicts Between and Within Nations – Condemnation of Racial Discrimination

The Conference affirms its belief in the natural dignity and value of every man, of whatever colour or race, as created in the image of God. In the light of this belief the Conference affirms that neither race nor colour is in itself a barrier to any aspect of that life in family and community for which God created all men. It therefore condemns discrimination of any kind on the grounds of race or colour alone. The Conference would urge that in multi-racial societies members of all races shall be allowed: (a) a fair and just share in the government of their country; (b) a fair and just share in the control, development, and rewards of the natural resources of their country, including advancement to the highest level of attainment; (c) the right to associate freely in worship, in education, in industry, in recreation, and in all other departments of the common life.

Resolution 111 The Reconciling of Conflicts Between and Within Nations – The Church in an Industrial Age

The Conference urges the provinces of the Anglican Communion to give special study to the task, strategy, and ministry of the Church within industrial society, and by the use of bold and imaginative experiments to strengthen the impact of the Christian faith upon the whole life and pattern of industry.

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I am not a pacifist.  I have tried to become one, but I have not been able to, pardon the term, reconcile certain uncomfortable realities with idealism.  Sometimes the best choice is a bad one, albeit the least or lesser bad choice.  I write this post on the anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic bomb in 1945.  As much as I deplore the human costs (including to innocent civilians) inherent in that act, I also know that the human costs (including to innocent civilians) would have been far worse had an invasion of the Japanese home islands occurred.  Forcing Japanese surrender also kept Soviet troops out of Japan.  President Harry Truman made the decision he had to make; he chose the lesser of two evils when no good option was available.  I also recognize the fact that reconciling with, not antagonizing, Japan after World War II made the world a better place for Allies and Japanese alike.  I wonder world history would have been different had the victorious Allies been kind to Germany and nicer to Japan at Versailles Palace in 1919.

Although I am not a pacifist, I refuse to condemn those who are.  They remind the rest of us of the importance of seeking peace–not just the absence of conflict, but the reality of reconciliation.  “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” may have been originally a moral step forward, insofar as its purpose was to curtail violence, but reconciliation is superior.  As Delenn, the Minbari Ambassador to Babylon 5, said in Passing Through Gethsemane (1995), one of my favorite episodes of Babylon 5 (1994-1998), “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” leaves many people blind and toothless.  Is it not better for all of us to retain our eyes and teeth and to strive for peace, or at least the absence of conflict?  Some violence is necessary, sadly, but most of it is morally unjustifiable.  Frequently the motivation for violence is revenge or pride, not self-defense.  Even when violence is in self-defense, it might damage the one who commits it.  Wildred Owen (who died a week before the armistice in 1918, wrote a poem in the voice of two soldiers.  One soldiers tells the other:

I am the enemy you killed, my friend.

I knew you in the dark; for so you frowned

Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.

Let us sleep now….

Also, given the long tradition of people from various religions (including, unfortunately, Christianity, named after the executed Prince of Peace) engaging in violence at the proverbial drop of a hat, from antiquity to the present day, I derive comfort from the fact many faithful people seek to incite nonviolence in the name of God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 6, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE TRANSFIGURATION

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Merciful God, you sent your beloved Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near:

Raise up in this and every land witnesses who, after the examples of your servants

Paul Jones and John Nevin Sayre,

will stand firm in proclaiming the Gospel of the Prince of Peace,

our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you

and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Malachi 2:17-3:5

Psalm 76

1 Peter 3:8-14a

John 8:31-32

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 561

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Feast of Clifford Bax (July 13)   Leave a comment

Clifford_Bax

Image in the Public Domain

CLIFFORD BAX (JULY 13, 1886-NOVEMBER 18, 1962)

Poet, Playwright, and Hymn Writer

Clifford Bax (1886-1962), brother of composer Sir Arnold Bax (1883-1953), was born in London, England.  Our saint traveled when young, studying art in Germany, Belgium, and Italy, before turning to literature and becoming a skilled poet and playwright.  Some of his published works were:

  1. Twenty Chinese Poems (1910);
  2. Poems Dramatic and Lyrical (1911);
  3. Square Pegs:  A Rhymed Fantasy for Two Girls (1920);
  4. A House of Words (1920);
  5. Antique Pageantry (1921):
  6. The Traveller’s Tale (1921);
  7. Up Stream:  A Drama in Three Acts (1922);
  8. Polite Satires (1922); and
  9. Island Far (1925), a book of recollections.

The text which brought Bax to my attention was a hymn, “Turn Back, O Man, Forswear Thy Foolish Ways” (1916), written during World War I.  That conflict, unfortunately, was not the “war to end all wars.”  No, President Woodrow Wilson’s prophesy from 1919 proved correct; a much worse global war followed it.  And World War I destroyed empires, changed the map of Europe and parts of Asia, claimed the lives of many people, and devastated a generation.  Bax’s hymn is a profound text, one which Godspell (1971) bastardizes and makes frivolous.  I prefer the Gustav Holst music:

Turn back, O man, forswear thy foolish ways.

Old now is earth, and none may count her days,

Yet thou, her child, whose head is crowned with flame,

Still wilt not hear thine inner God proclaim–

“Turn back, O man, forswear thy foolish ways.”

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Earth might be fair and all men glad and wise.

Age after age their tragic empires rise,

Built while they dream, and in that dreaming weep:

Would not but wake from out his haunted sleep,

Earth might be fair and all men glad and wise.

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Earth shall be fair, and all her people are:

Nor till that hour shall God’s whole will be done.

Now, even now, once more from earth to sky,

Peals forth in joy man’s old, undaunted cry–

“Earth shall be fair, and all her fold be one!”

The Handbook to The Hymnal (1935), companion volume to The Hymnal (1933), Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., said:

In spite of the flame of reason which crowns the brow of man, in spite of the lessons of history, he still goes forth in his foolish ways, still fails to hear the gentle voice of God which speaks in his bosom….This call to repentance rises with holy indignation from the soul of the poet, who sees what ruin man’s folly and wrath have wrought, and sees as well what good will and brotherly kindness might do.

–pages 438 and 439

Or maybe we should dress in tacky clothing and sing and dance atop the World Trade Center.  O wait, those towers do not exist anymore.  Agents of hatred destroyed them.  No, sober spirituality, not frivolity, fits that text well.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 22, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT SYNCLETIA OF ALEXANDRIA, DESERT MOTHER

THE FEAST OF SAINT ADELARD OF CORBIE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF SAINT VINCENT OF SARAGOSSA, DEACON AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT VINCENT PALLOTTI, FOUNDER OF THE PALLOTINES

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Dear God of beauty,

you have granted literary ability and spiritual sensitivity to

Clifford Bax and others, who have composed hymn texts.

May we, as you guide us,

find worthy hymn texts to be icons,

through which we see you.

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 44:1-3a, 5-15

Psalm 147

Revelation 5:11-14

Luke 2:8-20

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 20, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINTS AMATOR OF AUXERRE AND GERMANUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; SAINT MAMERTINUS OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; AND SAINT MARCIAN OF AUXERRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF JOHANNES BUGENHAGEN, GERMAN LUTHERAN PASTOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCELLINUS OF EMBRUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF OLAVUS AND LAURENTIUS PETRI, RENEWERS OF THE CHURCH

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Behind the Lines, a.k.a. Regeneration (1997)   6 comments

Just one example of the excellent cinematography in this movie

All images in this post are screen captures I obtained via a legal DVD and the PowerDVD program.  

BEHIND THE LINES (A.K.A. REGENERATION) (1997)

Starring

Jonathan Price as Captain (Dr.) William Rivers

James Wilby as Second Lieutenant Siegfried Sassoon

Stuart Bunce as Second Lieutenant Wilfred Owen

Jonny Lee Miller as Second Lieutenant Billy Prior

Tanya Allen as Sarah

Dougray Scott as Captain Robert Graves

John Nevillle as Dr. Yealland

Paul Young as Dr. Brock

Directed by Gillies Mackinnon

Music Composed by Mychael Danna (who also works with Atom Egoyan)

Based on the Pat Barker novel Regeneration

1 hour, 54 minutes long

Rated R in the United States

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World War I devastated Europe, devouring much of a generation of young men, ending monarchies, and ending the existence of several nations.  The old order, which began the war in 1914, perished, giving birth to the bloody Twentieth Century. This war has inspired some excellent movies, including All Quiet on the Western Front, Paths of Glory, Grand Illusion, and A Very Long Engagement.  To this list one ought to add Behind the Lines, a.k.a. Regeneration, if one has not done so already.

I do not want to reveal too many plot points, lest I spoil the movie for those who like to discover a movie during the first viewing.  So, with that statement, I begin.

The film’s setting

Most of Behind the Lines takes place at Craiglockart Hospital, a military asylum in Scotland, in 1917.  Almost all of the patients here are severely shell-shocked, and, for some of them, their sanity is a thing of the past.

Lt. Sassoon and Capt. Rivers

Captain William Rivers, a senior psychologist, runs the asylum.  His job is to render as many of his patients as possible fit for combat again.  Not surprisingly, some of them think that he is cold-hearted, at least at first.  He is not.  In fact, Rivers is quite humane, thinking of his patients as men first and foremost.  He is also a patriot, understanding his work as essential to the fight against German militarism.  And, unlike many of his superiors, he knows well the high human cost of that fight.  In fact, treating so many severely damaged men is giving him a bad case of what we now call Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Rivers commands great respect among his superiors, so they give him the option of treating or not treating one Second Lieutenant Siegfried Sassoon, a respected officer who, until recently, has served with great distinction on the Western Front.  But Sassoon has turned into a critic of the war, writing that it is a conflict of conquest, not liberation, and that his government has prolonged said war needlessly.  London wants Sassoon either discredited or convinced to recant.  Rivers accepts the assignment to persuade him to recant.

Rivers

Fortunately for Sassoon, he has friends and allies who protect him.  A superior officer, Captain Robert Graves, has lied to protect Sassoon from a court-martial.  Sassoon is a homosexual.  London has not cared about his sexual orientation until recently, for the government has decorated him for battlefield bravery.  However, now that Sassoon has become a vocal critic of the war, there are some influential people in the capital city who might use his homosexuality as a pretext for a trumped-up charge of treason.  Rivers knows how to manipulate the system to protect Sassoon from this fate.

Sassoon is not a pacifist, for he cannot say honestly that no war is ever necessary.  He has, however, concluded that the Great War is not such a conflict.  Thus he raises a question with which his psychologist begins to wrestle.  But this is the Royal Army during World War I, and, as Rivers says early in the film, “We all have our orders.”

Second Lieutenants Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen

Recovering the war before returning to combat is Wilfred Owen, who is happy to meet Sassoon, a more experienced poet.  Throughout the movie we see Sassoon functioning as a literary mentor to Owen, encouraging him to write about the war.  And so we see Owen writing his classic poem, Dulce et Decorum est.

The eyes of Second Lieutenant Billy Prior

We also meet Billy Prior, who suffered a major trauma on the Western Front.  When we first see him, he is a mute with repressed memories.  He does speak again, however.  And he recalls the incident which prompted his breakdown:  He found an eyeball in his trench.  (That was a disturbing flashback.)

Prior’s self-image hinges on returning to combat, to join the “club of all clubs,” as he puts it.  He interprets his breakdown as a failure, a stain on his character.

Sarah

Prior is attracted to Sarah, a kind young woman who lives nearby.  She works in the munitions factory and admits that she is not sure if she loved her late boyfriend, who has died in the war.

So Prior has to decide between the war and a good woman.  I would choose the latter.

I do wish that there had been more scenes with Tanya Allen’s Sarah.  This is a movie about war veterans, I understand, but, with such a male cast, female roles are small.  The only actresses with more than one scene are Tanya Allen, who, of course, portrays Sarah, and those thespians who play the unnamed nurses.  And Ms. Allen is rather easy on the eyes.

Behind the Lines is a movie to watch carefully, to which to devote one’s full attention during the viewing experience.  The cinematography is well-done, the soundtrack is appropriately sad, and the actors are adept at communicating at least as much with their eyes and facial muscles as with the delivery of their dialogue.  Their is nothing exploitative in this movie, and the verbal descriptions of combat are more graphic than the visual depictions.

I will reveal the end, however, for the most moving scene is the final one.  We know from history that Wilfred Owen died a week before the November 11, 1918, armistice took effect.  So nobody should be surprised to learn that Owen dies at the end of the film.  The moment I saw his first scene, I knew that he was going to die.

Capt. Rivers reads a letter from Lt. Sassoon

The war is over.  People are celebrating in the streets.  But Captain Rivers is sitting quietly in his office and reading a letter from Sassoon, who has returned to combat, captured and killed more Germans, and survived to see the end of hostilities.  He informs Rivers of Owen’s death and thanks him again for “gentle miracles.”

Rivers reading

Sassoon quotes something that Owen, with whom he had been corresponding, sent to him.

Rivers weeps

Owen retold the story of the near-sacrifice of Isaac, from Genesis.  In Owen’s version, however, Abraham looked at the animal then slew his son as well as “half the seed of Europe, one by one.”  Captain Rivers reads these words and cries.

Behind the Lines is a human story, a tale of deeply wounded men, most of whose injuries are invisible, trying to do the right thing, as they understand it.  They do not always agree or like each other, but they wind up respecting one another.  Their best of their humanity saves them from the worst of others’ humanity.

This is the first of three Tanya Allen movies I plan to review at this blog.  The others are White Lies and Fancy Dancing.  It was, in fact, the listing of this movie on Tanya Allen’s IMDb page that brought my attention to Behind the Lines.  She played Sarah in this Canadian-British movie after concluding the role of Audrey, the laconic intern who had great difficulty finding a bran muffin, in The Newsroom (1996-1997), a wonderful Canadian comedy series I advise people to watch.  (The complete episodes and a television movie from The Newsroom universe are available on DVD.)  The talented Ms. Allen has demonstrated her acting range well between The Newsroom and Behind the Lines, both of which preceded Starhunter and Starhunter 2300, the complete episode guide to which I have written on this blog.

Until White Lies….

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 3, 2011 COMMON ERA