Thursday, October 20, 2005

House Un-American Activities Committee

On this day, in 1947, the House of Representatives opened public hearings into alleged Communist influence in the motion picture industry. In response, a group of actors formed the Committee for the First Amendment. To read more about the CFA, go here: CFA. It's not, unfortunately, all that well-written an article, but it is informative. So, plow through it if you can; it's worth it.

Here's why I mention this today. I honestly think/fear that we're at another spot in history where we're in danger of becoming our own worst enemy. We are the greatest threat to democracy -or in danger of becoming that, to avoid over-stating my case.

But one thing that the investigation into the film industry teaches us is that we're all given a unique place to make a difference in the world. We don't choose it; it comes to us. These actors and directors just wanted to make movies, for heaven's sake. Or they wanted to be wealthy stars, or whatever.... They had a different plan for how their lives were going to play out. But they were pushed into activism and some of them accepted it splendidly. Gordon Kahn, the screenwriter for The African Queen, wrote this in a letter to his wife, about the HUAC's demand that he identify colleagues involved with the Communist party:

If now, in full flight from any principle I possess, I went and recanted everything and every decent thing I believe in, it wouldn't be enough. They'd want to know 'Who else? Now that you are purged who else? Give us names, dates and places!' Do you think I could live with myself for a minute after I did a thing like that? Or with you? Or could face my children? If this is a decent world when they grow up, they'd spit on me and be perfectly justified in doing so... No. I've got to hang on to something and if I can't be the most prosperous writer, I want to be able to hold my head up among the people of America and the world.

Leave aside the obvious fact that I wish there were screenwriters of such literacy working today. I'm still impressed. And as much as I'd like to think I'm mostly influenced by... you know.... (insert solemn voice here) THINKERS, there is something to be learned here. Do the next right thing. Do it over and over. It is not given to me to effect huge global change, but I can make my little corner of the world better and more just.

It's just that doing that isn't entirely consistent with the plan I thought I had for my life. Oh well.

Thanks to the Peace Calendar for the substantive information in this post. The homiletics are mine ;)


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