Magazine article The Christian Century

My Lesson in Evil

Magazine article The Christian Century

My Lesson in Evil

Article excerpt

WHEN WORLD WAR II ended I had just finished my first year of college. The product of a sheltered childhood in Oklahoma, I was naive and inexperienced in thinking either theologically or politically. And yet I have vivid memories of how the world's chaos forced certain realizations upon my immature mind.

I was compelled to recognize a dimension of evil in the world that I had not known existed. I recall reading the accounts of the liberation of Auschwitz and trying to comprehend the horror of what Allied troops discovered there. I could not get my mind to accept the newspaper reports and pictures. They told me that my seemingly ordered world harbored a chaos that had threatened the foundations of all decency and goodness. Never again could I picture the world as an entirely pleasant place. I learned that human evil could overcome good; the right was not always triumphant.

I had had an earlier intimation of evil's threat during the desperate Battle of the Bulge. I recall thinking as I read the newspaper accounts that America - the obviously "righteous" home of the free and the brave -might lose the fight. How could that be? Good was always supposed to win. It was a sobering lesson on the power of darkness in a world that I had naively assumed was full of light.

THAT LESSON became even more vivid as the casualty reports came home to our little town. The boy next door, my childhood playmate, was killed by a sniper's bullet in the Battle of the Bulge as he tried to drag a wounded buddy to safety. Earlier a brother's classmate had died in the bloody invasion of Italy. Evil could spill the blood of young men whom I had known for years. Death was stalking a world that had seemed so full of life.

Indeed, at the beginning of August 1945, the threat of violent death hung like a horrible specter over my own family. Two of my brothers were in the Pacific, assigned to the first wave of troops that would invade Japan - one of them as the radar officer on a troop transport that had miraculously survived kamikaze attacks, the other as an officer in the air force. Given the stubbornness of Japanese resistance, our family was sure that neither brother would survive.

It was therefore with a sense of thankful relief that we read of the atomic bomb attacks that forced the Japanese surrender. …

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