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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Wednesday, July 31, 2002
    Opting for humanity
     
    George Corness, who I cremated today, was a 'war hero' of sorts, someone who had survived five years as a prisoner of war, death marches and prison camps in Germany and Poland, and had carried with him a humour and dignity which helped others alongside him through their ordeals. And - here is a special form of heroism - after his captivity he had the opportunity to retaliate against his enemies, but unlike others, he refrained. He explicitly forgave.

    I'm no fan of modern warfare, I actively resist the popular sentimentalism about war which lazily permits to go unchallenged the obscenities of the arms industry, the west's brutalization of civilian populations in eastern lands, and so on. But I want to celebrate human endeavour in the face of wickedness, and George Corness's story merits that.

    The Jewish writer Elie Wiesel made this observation about the Second World War:

    There were some men and women who, in many places, did opt for humanity. Surrounded by terror, oppressed by absolute evil, they had the courage to care about their fellow human beings... They were alone - as the victims themselves were alone - so the question we must confront is what made them so special, so human, so different?

    Maybe it was that through their ordeals they had come to terms with the ultimate questions. I wondered out loud if that was the case for George, whether these words of Julia Esquivel could possibly have also been his. How I hope they may be mine:

    I am no longer afraid of death;
    I know well
    its dark and cold corridors
    leading to life.

    I live each day to kill death;
    I die each day to beget life,
    and in this dying unto death,
    I die a thousand times
    and am reborn another thousand
    through that love
    from my People,
    which nourishes hope!