February 2009 Newsletter
Association of Contemporary Church Historians
(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)
John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia
February 2009 — Vol. XV, no. 2
It is fitting that this month’s Newsletter should pay tribute to two great Christians, both having the same birthday, February 4th, Bishop George Bell of Chichester, England and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. As was made clear in my review of the Bonhoeffer letters and paper from 1933-1935 (see December 2008), these men were closely connected from the beginning of the Nazi era, and highly esteemed each other. It is therefore a particular pleasure to have Dr Schulten’s review of Professor Tödt’s penetrating and thoughtful study of Bonhoeffer’s ethics, as well as a review of the small but valuable study of Bishop Bell, written by Andrew Chandler, the Director of the George Bell Institute, now moved to Chichester University.
It seems also appropriate this month to reprint a review of the new film, Valkyrie, whose hero Count Stauffenberg shared most of Bonhoeffer’s values, and like him paid the ultimate penalty in his attempt to rid the world of Nazi tyranny.
1. Book reviews:
a) Chandler, Piety and Provocation. A study of George Bell
b) Tödt, Authentic Faith. Bonhoeffer’s Theological Ethics
c) Howard, Protestant theology and German universities
2) W. Doino on Valkyrie.
1a) Andrew Chandler, Piety and Provocation. A Study of George Bell, Bishop of Chichester. Chichester,The George Bell Institute: Humanitas Subsidia Series 2008. 96 Pp. ISBN 10-0-9550-558-1-4 £7.50.
During the first half of the twentieth century, the two most eminent bishops of the Church of England were William Temple and George Bell, whose combined witness did much to assist both church and nation to come to terms with the disasters of two world wars and the turbulent social upheavals of that era. Both men came from clerical families, both had been Oxford dons, both rose rapidly through the ecclesiastical ranks and held episcopal office for many years. Temple indeed achieved the highest office in the Church, becoming Archbishop of Canterbury, if only briefly before dying in office suddenly in October 1944. George Bell spent nearly thirty years as Bishop of Chichester, one of England’s oldest dioceses, in the well-endowed county of Sussex on England’s south coast. Fifty years after his death in 1958, several commemorative events were held in recent months in both Chichester and London. And Andrew Chandler, the current director of the George Bell Institute, now fittingly based in the newly-established University of Chichester, has written this short but elegant assessment.
Chandler’s work was made all the easier by his access to and knowledge of the vast array of papers which Bell had meticulously collected during his life-time, and which are now housed in the Lambeth Palace Library in London. Forty years ago, Canon Ronald Jasper wrote a full biography but used these papers only sparingly. Since then fresh viewpoints have arisen about which Bell’s papers shed much new light. So this concise update is much to be welcomed.
George Bell grew up in the latter days of Queen Victoria’s reign, when the prevalent climate, both politically and theologically, was liberal and optimistic. As a student, he was captivated by the idealism of the newly-formed Student Christian Movement with its appeal to all the churches to unite in undertaking the task of “the Evangelization of the World in this Generation”. But this was more than the pursuit of personal piety. The SCM always had a strong commitment to Christian service and witness in the political and international affairs of the day. Bell’s lifelong dedication to the cause of Christian unity also included these dimensions.
These were the qualities which led him to be selected in 1914 by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Davidson, to be his domestic chaplain. He began work on the day war was declared, and was immediately engaged in confronting the moral as well as the practical challenges brought on by the outbreak of hostilities. Despite his idealism, Bell was no pacifist. He agreed with the majority of his countrymen that the German aggression against Belgium was sufficient reason to fight a just war. But he also followed his Archbishop in declaring the Church’s duty to insist that a just war must be fought by just means. At the same time, he was and remained steadfast in upholding the cause of Christian solidarity across all national lines. Thus he resisted the temptation to equate British patriotism with the cause of Christ, and was distressed when leading members of the Church of England failed to make this distinction. He upheld the ideal of Christian reconciliation, despite depressing signs of the lack of any reciprocal willingness on the German side. But for this reason, Bell became a staunch promoter of the League of Nations. He also protested against any proposals for a vindictive peace settlement, and deplored those sections of the Versailles Peace Treaty which appeared to have these characteristics.
So it was natural that Bell became a champion of European reconstruction on Christian lines. He warmly welcomed the initiative taken by the renowned Archbishop of Uppsala, Nathan Söderblom, calling on the churches to witness to justice and reconciliation in the traumatic post-war years. This ecumenical endeavour resulted in the great Stockholm conference of 1925, and led to the founding of the Life and Work Movement of the Churches, which subsequently became an integral part of the World Council of Churches. Bell was an active leader in this endeavour, recognizing the need for Christians to be united across both denominational and national boundaries. In this he differed markedly from the majority of his British colleagues, but was appreciated all the more for his courage and wisdom by the leaders of the continental churches. Together they worked for the establishment of a world-wide organization witnessing to the cause of Christian unity. The creation of the World Council of Churches can in large part be said to be due to Bell’s devoted championship of this cause.
In 1924 Bell was promoted to be Dean of Canterbury Cathedral. Here he found opportunity to encourage the wider participation of artists, musicians and writers in the cathedral’s life, and drew in such notable contributors as T.S.Eliot, Dorothy Sayers, John Masefield, Charles Williams and in the musical field, Gustav Holst. Such activities had to compete, however, with Bell’s increasing involvement in international work. Chandler does not mention the fact that Bell was often unfairly criticized, especially among the well-to-do gentry, for dashing off to meetings in Switzerland or Germany, instead of concentrating on his pastoral duties such as baptisms and confirmations amongst his flock at home.
This dilemma became all the more acute when in 1929 Bell was made bishop of Chichester, where the atmosphere was genteel and conservative. But faced with the growing crises in Europe, first economic then political, Bell’s primary witness was to uphold the cause of Christian solidarity. Especially as political and racial violence, as promoted by the Nazi Party, took over power in Germany, this situation became one of Bell’s chief concerns. He refused to believe that Hitler represented the true destiny of Germany, and consequently did all he could to support those sections of the German churches which opposed the Nazis’ totalitarian goals. He gained a close friend and supporter in the young Lutheran clergyman, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who ministered to the German churches in London from 1933 to 1935. Together they forged an alliance which kept the ecumenical movement safely in the anti-Nazi camp. Bell paid regular visits to Germany between 1933 and 1939, and even tried to influence the Nazi hierarchy through Rudolf Hess. His efforts were tireless to make the German Church Struggle better known, since he was resolutely convinced of the Church’s duty to confront the relentless barbarism of totalitarianism, and to take practical steps to assist its victims. He devised plans to offer sanctuary to refugees fleeing from Germany, and went to particular pains to find places for those German pastors evicted from their parishes, mainly because of their part-Jewish origins. Some were even offered ordination and parishes in the Church of England.
It was hardly surprising that Bell should become fervently committed to the proposition that there existed in Germany a movement of resistance, largely silenced by the Nazi oppressors, but nonetheless representing the “better Germany” from the Christian past. He was all the more persuaded after a visit he paid to Sweden in May 1942, when he was surprised to be able to renew his friendship with Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer had come directly from Germany to give his friend secret details about the opposition to Hitler, and to urge him to get some promise from the British Government that they would be prepared to make a compromise peace with those seeking Hitler’s overthrow, On his return to Britain, Bell lobbied the Cabinet to offer such recognition. But despite his well-founded information, his efforts were repulsed. The Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden, dismissed him as a “turbulent priest”, and poured scorn on a churchman venturing into the secret and dangerous world of international politics. Bell never forgave the British Government and understandably felt that its rejection of this opportunity contributed to the disastrous failure of the July 1944 plot to assassinate Hitler. But he remained convinced that, once military victory over the Nazis was achieved, then the surviving members of the resistance would deserve to be supported in the rebuilding of a new Germany on Christian lines. And this was the task to which he and his colleagues in the World Council of Churches gave devoted energy in the immediate post-1945 years.
Much of Bell’s work of advocacy and intervention had necessarily to be done behind the scenes. His temperament was eirenical not theatrical or charismatic. His public personality lacked vivid qualities. He was, as Chandler only hints, an uninspiring orator and disliked large meetings where he was not a good chairman. His favourite venue was the Athenaeum Club in central London, where the elite of Britain’s scholars and clerics met to settle their business in comfortable armchairs, and where confidential discussions could be conducted in prvate. These gave Bell the information he needed to take action, as his papers voluminously attest.
His one public forum was the House of Lords. of which he became, by seniority, a member in 1938. He used this platform to give expression to his deeply-felt moral concerns, which often seemed to be provocative, particularly in their criticisms of government policy. For example, in June 1940, Bell attacked in the House of Lords what he considered was the scandalous internment of German refugees, especially of those who had fled to England to escape from Hitler`s prisons. And even more provocatively he spoke against the Royal Air Force’s policy of indiscriminate bombing of German cities in February 1944. Such views made him highly unpopular with those who believed in the guilt of all Germans and the necessity of unrestricted warfare. But Bell`s essential moral position was based on his belief that attacking civilians by such carpet-bombing raids was unjustifiable by any Christian standards.
Chandler rightly discounts the myth that Bell was denied the promotion to the Archbishopric of Canterbury after Temple`s sudden death because of these provocative speeches. In fact, his talent lay rather in being an inspirational leader upholding the ideals of Christian civilization, and calling for the churches` resources to be mobilized in the great task of reconstruction after the overthrow of totalitarianism. As he told an audience in Edinburgh in December 1941:
“We meet here to declare that the Church is larger and greater than any national Church, or denominational Church – a Church which includes men and women of all countries and races, of all classes and cultures, a Church that is suffering in the battle, a Church that can reconcile enemy with enemy through the Cross of Jesus Christ and a Church with a mission to mankind.”
His major contribution was to be found in the international ecumenical movement, resolutely facing the continuing challenge of Communism, but again distinguishing between the Soviet state and the Russian people. In all he preserved his prophetic stance, his untiring devotion to his ethical principles and his unflagging energy in writing books, pamphlets, sermons and innumerable letters, which now form his most impressive legacy.
He will be remembered as the bishop who most outspokenly opposed Nazism, not because it was a German heresy, but because it inflicted so much harm on men and women for whom he cared. Indeed his time-consuming consistency in helping those in need and his immense compassion for the victims of tyranny continue to ensure that Bell’s reputation is that of a church leader who did what he could to remedy the evils of his contemporary world.
Inevitably such a task of bringing the Church`s conscience to bear on current problems was not to be achieved by one individual or in one life-time. Thus Chandler sees his legacy as a costly failure. The cause of peaceful internationalism in the world`s political affairs is no nearer today than in Bell`s time. The Christian churches still remain divided and unreconciled. The theological witness of the Universal Church of Christ still remains marginal, at best. But Bell`s generosity and humanity are still remembered as setting a standard to be emulated. It is therefore good that we have this timely reminder, calling us to follow his example of a challenging and demanding discipleship of witness and service in the world of today.
1b) Heinz Eduard Tödt. Authentic Faith: Bonhoeffer’s Theological Ethics in Context. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2007. 291 pages.
(This review appeared first in The Bomhoefferian, November 28th, 2008, and is reproduced by kind permission of the author)
If the ideas articulated and life lived by Dietrich Bonhoeffer have captivated your thinking and challenged your soul, then you would do well to take the time to read thoughtfully and reflectively this collection of Professor Tödt’s essays on Bonhoeffer’s theology, ethics and resistance. First published fifteen years ago in his original German, this compilation of Tödt’s insightful scholarship spans the latter half of his academic career as professor of systematic theology, ethics and social ethics at the University of Heidelberg and as the chairman of the editorial board of the German edition of The Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works. Tödt’s student, Glen Harold Strassen, captured the tenor of his writings when he stated: “Tödt’s publications have an analytical sharpness, an ethical incisiveness and a genuine truthfulness that is rare even among the best.” Strassen served as the editor of the English edition of Tödt’s essays on Bonhoeffer published here in the United States in 2007. It is this new edition that is the subject of this review.
This collection of essays by Tödt makes a significant contribution to the ever-growing corpus of Bonhoeffer scholarship. Unlike that of many who have come before and after him, though, Tödt’s analysis expounds the major dimensions of Bonhoeffer’s ethics by examining the political, ecclesiastical and family context in which Bonhoeffer wrote. His essays, however, reach an even deeper level of profundity as Tödt subjects himself to scrutiny of Bonhoeffer’s ideas by transparently wrestling with issues of guilt and forgiveness about his own experience of the German context during the Third Reich when he served as a soldier at the front during the Second World War and then was subjected to detention as a prisoner-of-war in a Russian camp for five years. Above all, in his engagement with Bonhoeffer, Tödt sought an ethic that can provide wise guidance in the face of contemporary schemes to manipulate faith for ideological ends.
Fourteen of Tödt’s essays are presented. The earliest essay dates from the 1970’s, and the latest to one year before his death in 1991. A deepening of both insight into the underlying essence of Bonhoeffer’s thoughts as well as an appreciation for the authenticity of his faith-inspired actions is evident. The first eleven essays analyze themes in Bonhoeffer’s theology and ethics. For example, Tödt tackles the ever-perplexing notion of “religion-less Christianity” that marks Bonhoeffer’s later letters to Eberhard Bethge from his Tegel prison cell. In contrast with those progressive theologians who have latched on to Bonhoeffer’s language only to fill it with a self-conceived meaning inconsistent with the whole of Bonhoeffer’s thought and life, Tödt finds that Bonhoeffer was here conceiving a Christianity not confined to ideals for merely private life or to the gaps where we cannot solve problems, but rather a Christian faith that gives concrete guidance in the center of life.
In other essays, Tödt focuses attention on an important question that has not been examined by other scholars of Bonhoeffer. He asks what was about Bonhoeffer’s ethics that enabled him to discern so clearly and speak out for the Jews and against war more decisively than other theologians and church leaders even from the very onset of Hitler’s chancellorship. In his exploration of this question, Tödt demonstrates Bonhoeffer’s insights in naming the sources of evil and self-deception as well as warning against the ways and means by which the leader becomes the misleader. Tödt also clarifies Bonhoeffer’s articulation of the vocation of the churches in speaking concretely and the vocation of groups in acting concretely as an assertion of checks and balances against authoritarianism not only in the context of Nazi Germany but also with application for responsible action in the midst of contemporary expressions of authoritarianism. Tödt’s extensive analysis of the social, theological, and ethical characteristics of the resistance movement, in which Bonhoeffer and family members played integral roles, provides both information and insights that go well beyond what can be found in other scholarship to date. This comprehensiveness in his treatment of Bonhoeffer’s resistance is the product of thoroughgoing research project that Tödt led at the University of Heidelberg.
The final three essays in this collection address contemporary history, in which Tödt examines, with an authenticity born out of Bonhoeffer’s ethics, the guilt and responsibility of Christendom in Germany. What particularly marks Tödt’s approach and the insights he offers is his resolve not to be devoted to merely an interpretation of past positions, but instead to find in Bonhoeffer avenues that advance both the present tasks of theology in the church and a better understanding of our own way of life. In 1985, Tödt himself expressed the force of Bonhoeffer’s life and words upon him in this way:
Dietrich Bonhoeffer has come nearer and nearer and become more and more important for me – not merely with one single flash of light – but in a continuing process over twenty years. Of his many remarkable character traits and abilities, the concentration with which he exposed his faith in Christ to the tests that life brought, all the way to the extreme situations of resistance, and then thought through theologically what happened him and those involved, occupies me most of all. I perceive this theology as deeply authentic and as showing the way for me as a theological teacher . . . . Bonhoeffer is not right in all things, but from no theologian am I now learning so much as from him, and, to be sure, with my intellect and with my heart.
Tödt, though, was greatly distressed by those self-proclaimed scholars and would-be theologians who did not follow the whole way through Bonhoeffer but would rather “tear out individual elements of life and thought and [either] progressively instrumentalize them or conservatively distort them,” and then advocate that the guilt for the deficits in the modern churches lies in Bonhoeffer’s guidance. In an effort to expose and counter these misuses and abuses, Tödt presents a thoroughly studied and attentively perceived exposition of Bonhoeffer’s theological ethics both in the context of his life experiences and for application in our own.
Although some portions in the English translation occasionally render the complexity of Tödt’s German syntax in stilted and strained constructions, the substance of the insights and analyses of Bonhoeffer offered by Tödt make any extra time required to slow down and re-read such passages abundantly rewarding. No other book has more opened my eyes or deepened my appreciation for Bonhoeffer’s guidance in living responsibly in the concrete realities of life than Tödt’s.
Cordell P. Schulten, M.A., J.D. <firstname.lastname@example.org>Lecturer, Contemporary Studies Fontbonne University Saint Louis, Missouri
1c) Thomas A. Howard, Protestant Theology and the Making of the Modern German University. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006; Pp.xiii + 468.
(This review appeared first in the Journal of Religious History, October 2008)
Ever since the advent of the Third Reich, Anglo-Saxon scholars have been intrigued by the question how the highly respected universities of Germany reacted to the blatant obscurantism and unprecedented barbarism of National Socialism. As is well known all disciplines allowed themselves to be “co-ordinated” (gleichgeschaltet) into the Nazi ideology of “blood and soil”. Such a large scale betrayal of the principles of rational scientific enquiry and apparent unquestioning acceptance, indeed endorsement, of state-authorised violence against helpless minorities demanded to be explained. Not surprisingly, in response to this grotesque situation a series of mostly excellent studies, chiefly by Anglo-Saxon scholars, focusing on the individual academic disciplines has appeared over recent years. What they all have in common is the aim to determine what it was in the German academic tradition that could so easily have led to this wide scale trahison des clercs. The natural sciences, the law, medicine, philosophy, history and especially theology all became fatally compromised.
Thomas Howard’s detailed study of the growth of Protestant theology from being a marginalized university discipline in imperial Germany to become a highly influential political-pedagogic force provides essential background on how this discipline fought to be taken seriously in an age of religious scepticism, and by the time of the First World War had become arguably (alongside History) the most ardent advocate of German expansionism. The patriotic motto of the time, Gott mit uns, was strenuously justified by Germany’s leading university theologians who had over the previous decades evolved a theology which identified the state/nation as the agency of the divine will for the world, indeed to be in fact the “Hammer of God” on earth. The indebtedness to Hegelianism was manifest.
The aim of the present wide-ranging study is to demonstrate how Protestant theology developed from “an apologetic, praxis-oriented, confessional enterprise in the post Reformation period to one increasingly ‘liberal’, expressive of the ethos of modern critical knowledge, or Wissenschaft (p.7). This is crucially important for our understanding of the ‘peculiarities’ of German history (Blackbourn & Eley). As indicated, much has been written about the ‘German mind’ and how it differed from the ‘Western mind’. And here the word ‘liberal’ to describe the dominant school of German theologians is highly significant. ‘Liberal’ for them meant something quite specific, viz. the approach to theology as the discipline which could account for the course of world history, and in nineteenth century Germany that meant recognizing that Almighty God was working out His purposes for humankind via the actions of the Machtstaat, the power state. The essential function of ‘liberal’ theology was to explain this. Expressed another way, the history of the power state was integral to the history of salvation (Heilsgeschichte).
Howard’s painstaking investigation could be summed up as very successful account of how Protestant theology at the German universities became the pre-eminent instrument for imperial apologetics. It thereby won for itself the highest academic respectability and remained largely unchallenged in this enterprise until the beginning of the Great War when the Swiss theologian, Karl Barth, vigorously and successfully refuted the ‘statist’ assumptions of his German ‘liberal’ mentors, in particular Adolf von Harnack. Barth certainly demonstrated most convincingly in a celebrated post-war confrontation with von Harnack how the great German ‘liberal’ scholars .through their arrogance, led their countrymen astray in claiming that Germany was fighting for a divine cause. In recounting how all this happened, the young American scholar has rendered a major service of the discipline. His work will be obligatory reading for all historians of modern Germany wishing to understand how the so-called Geisteswissenschaften i.e. the humanities, theology in particular, came to perceive themselves preeminently as ‘statist’ enterprises, and how theology progressed (or declined) from being the study of Heilsgeschichte to becoming the foremost advocate of Weltpolitik.
An added bonus in Howard’s research is his documentation, with far greater precision than hitherto, of the rise to international pre-eminence of the German university theological faculties and how they came to exert such influence abroad. Theological students from all over the world, not just North America and Britain, were drawn to study at the feet of German ‘super’ professors. Finally, there is much to be learned from Howard’s work that has relevance far beyond the international community of theologians. In the end it is a most instructive study about what constitutes ‘scientific theology’ and as such a major contribution to modern German intellectual history.
John A.Moses, Canberra.
2) Valkyrie, starring Tom Cruise
(This review, somewhat abridged, appeared first on First Things online, Jan. 6th 2009
(<HTTP://www.firstthings.com>HTTP://www.firstthings.com) and is reprinted by kind permission of the author)
Edmund Burke once said that he did not know the method of drawing up an indictment against a whole people, but in the case of Germany, that claim has been sorely tested. Ever since the horrors of the death camps were exposed, the world has been asking how such barbarism could have taken place in a supposedly civilized country. The answer, more often than not, has been to point an accusing finger at the German people, and to mock the Good Germans – those ordinary citizens who, though not murderers themselves, made Hitler’s crimes possible because of cowardice and passivity.
This tendency to ascribe mass accountability, however, has obscured an important fact: There really were good Germans, incredibly brave men and women who risked their lives, and even gave them, to save their country from cataclysmic ruin. There were far too few, to be sure, but its these people who represented Germany at its best, and should not be forgotten.
Among the noblest was Claus, Count von Stauffenberg, a Colonel who led a daring conspiracy to overthrow Hitler, and came very close to succeeding. Stauffenberg came from an aristocratic Catholic family whose love of God, Germany, and European culture led him to break with the Third Reich, after initially serving it. In fact, Stauffenberg who lost an eye, half an arm, and two fingers fighting in North Africa was actually slow to join the resisters. But when he did, he went further than any of them, placing himself, literally, on the frontlines. Stauffenberg’s attempt to assassinate Hitler on July 20, 1944, the last of over a dozen such efforts is now the stuff of legend:
Stauffenberg has gotten surprisingly little attention in America, despite our nation’s fascination with heroes. Hollywood has practically ignored him: except for one now-forgotten cable movie, The Plot to Kill Hitler (1990), His legacy has been largely confined to an occasional reference on the History Channel.
[But see the authoritative and definitive biography by the Canadian scholar, Peter Hoffmann of McGill University, Stauffenberg: A Family History, 1905-1944, Cambridge University Press, 1995]
This situation has now changed with the appearance of the new film Valkyrie, starring Tom Cruise. According to Peter Hoffmann, the leading authority in English on the German Resistance, this film is to be praised for its historical accuracy (ranking it higher than an acclaimed 2004 German production). Valkyrie opens with a voice-over from Cruise, in German, describing the horrors of the Third Reich, before segueing into English. Its 1943, and Stauffenberg (Cruise) is in Tunisia, where he suffers his traumatic injuries from an Allied air attack. After he returns home to recuperate, he meets up with other disillusioned officers, and begins measuring the level of their opposition (some had already plotted or tried to kill Hitler, unsuccessfully). Stauffenberg eventually joins an elite underground group, and becomes the catalyst to propel a new plot forward. The emerging conspiracy comes close to being discovered several times, but breathlessly advances, along a knifes edge, with everything at stake.
The challenge in this film was to sustain suspense, even with our knowledge of the conspiracy’s failure. The very fact that we know the ultimate fate of the plot gives Valkyrie a sense of tragic foreboding, and makes us empathize with the resisters all the more. Artistically, the film is striking. The script is crisp and intelligent; the production design, outstanding; and the music, engaging. Filmed on location at many historic sites in Germany, Valkyrie strives for authenticity, and is immeasurably helped by a cast of top-notch (mostly British) actors who shine in supporting roles. The film grows stronger as it goes along, and the improbable Cruise eventually blends in and manages to hold his own amongst his impressive peers. The climax and ending of the film are powerful, and viewers may find themselves unexpectedly moved.
Valkyrie is not without flaws, however. Unless one is familiar with this complex history, it is easy to get lost among the historical figures, and the reasons for their revolt. Historians still debate their motivations. Did the conspirators betray Hitler because they feared he would lose the War, or did they act out of genuine moral passion and conscience? The movie, concentrating on the suspense and action sequences, really doesn’t explore these aspects.. Had it done so, they could have utilized the latest research showing that outrage against the Holocaust was a key factor in moving them. Because Valkyrie doesn’t delve into the psychology, or moral development, of its lead characters, it misses a chance to really understand them.
Ultimately, therefore, this film lacks greatness. But to say that Valkyrie is not a great film is not to say it isn’t worthwhile. On its own terms, it is an engrossing thriller, far better than the usual Hollywood fare. Moreover, apart from its artistic and entertainment value, the film has educational and moral elements, and gratefully avoids political correctness. Certain academics have an unappealing habit of dismissing the 20 July plotters as reactionaries, while earnestly extolling the self-sacrifices of the underprivileged Communists, to quote historian Michael Burleigh. But there are no heroic Communists in Valkyrie, The film’s interpretation is clearly orthodox. The honourable Resistance, ranging from social democrats to conservative aristocrats, is correctly depicted as fighting to rescue and preserve Western civilization.
Finally, and this is a pleasant surprise, one senses something Christian about this film. The messages are subtle, but they are there: a cross around Stauffenberg’s neck; a scene in a Church, with a statue of Christ looking on; references to Scripture and the Almighty (Only God can judge us now); and an image of Nina von Stauffenberg clutching her abdomen as she realizes she might be seeing her husband for the last time: She was pregnant with the couple’s fifth child.
In a recent interview, Cruise admitted that he had no idea, until recently, about the German Resistance, and regretted that most people in the world have never even heard of Stauffenberg. Thankfully, as a result of this film, that will no longer be true. The Good Germans, at last, have finally gotten their due.
William Doino Jr. writes for <http://www.insidethevatican.com/>Inside the Vatican.
With every best wish