Sunday, November 27, 2011

Varian's War

Vickie and I watched Varian's War a few days ago. It is a 2001 Made-for-TV movie about Varian Fry, an American who saved primarily Jewish intellectuals and artists from Vichy France in the early days of WWII; prior to America's entrance into the war. Please note, I haven't taken the time to research the real Varian Fry - the movie is based on a true story, that much I know, and the little I have read confirms the storyline. This morning at breakfast Vickie talked about being uncomfortable with the movie, and by extension with the true story - for did you note that Varian Fry was saving artists and intellectuals?

The argument in the movie for saving artists, writers, and intellectuals was that they represented cultural hope for the future as well as being a group of people who could articulate Nazi atrocities to the outside world. This raises the question, "Are some people more valuable than other people?" The answer in 2011 from the general public is usually, "Yes. Some people are more valuable than others based on their contributions to society."

To the film's credit it shows a number of people seeking asylum from Fry and his associates who are turned away because they are average moms and dads and kids - they are not culturally special. The film does not gloss over the choices made by Fry - but I wonder if the contemporary viewer has any philosophical angst about turning away normal people in favor of special people? I suspect there is emotional angst during one prolonged scene of people being turned away to likely face death in concentration camps, but once that scene has passed I think it's probably business as usual for most viewers.

How many older people have I known who think they have no value to family, friends and society? Many. What does it say about our society when that thinking is prevalent? We are valued in terms of our use, of our utilitarian contribution to the greater welfare of the state and society. We are machines and when we start rusting out it is time to dispose of us. 

As Vickie discussed the film with me an irony hit me square in the face; Varian Fry was doing much the same thing Hitler was doing - he was judging between people based on something other than people being created in the image of God; while Hitler was judging in racial terms, Fry was judging in intellectual terms - both judgments meant life or death. I am not saying that Fry and Hitler were identical, I'm not saying that Fry was close, I'm not saying that Fry was evil as Hitler was; but I am saying that underlying Fry's actions was an utilitarian view of men and woman and children that held that social contribution is what matters as opposed to intrinsic worth.  

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