Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

A Question of Moral Freedom

If you’re particularly vulnerable to fear, don’t watch the 2019 German-American film A HIDDEN LIFE…not because it’s a horror film. It’s not…at least not a traditional horror film. It’s based on the true story of Franz Jägerstätter of Austria. He was beaten and tortured in a military prison while his loving wife and little girls back home on their farm were isolated and reviled—not by foreign invaders but by life-long neighbors from their village. What had Franz done to deserve abuse? Theft? Vandalism? Murder? No. He refused to take an oath of loyalty to a leader and a war he felt were evil. He said he would rather be the victim of injustice than visit it on innocent others. He and his wife prayed desperately for God to intervene in their behalf. Not even the priests were willing to speak out for them. Truth wasn’t safe. 

The frightening aspect of A HIDDEN LIFE is its similarity to the rhetoric and passion of the fascism working its foothold in the United States. At first, Franz’s neighbors—with the exception of their zealous mayor—were not fans of Adolf Hitler and the takeover of Austria by Germany. They believed in hard work and honesty and community. But gradually they came to accept the lies Hitler fed them as truths—that he was making their lives better. The men they lost to the glorious war against lesser humans were patriotic heroes. At last they accepted that anyone who wasn’t devoted to Hitler and his takeover of Europe was a traitor. It all happened almost naturally.

Regardless of how the transition in the U.S. from one president to another unfolds (and, yes, I believe the transition will occur), the specter of authoritarian rule will continue to throw its shadow across our nation as well as other nations. Many have written the conflict is not a political one. It’s a question of morality. Certain people seem to accept that their customized version of their religion or their skin color or their elevated economic status justifies discarding the principles of decency and democracy upon which their country was founded. They feel they have a legitimate right to bully less obedient neighbors. 

In response, the majority of the population must remain wary even as they sigh exhausted sighs at the long, difficult road they’re being forced to walk—watching for clues that identify foreign interference, for softening of the rule of law. The members of the far right will claim that whatever the next administration manages to accomplish won’t be enough, in spite of the enormous odds against renovating a moral, functioning nation in four years. They’ll demand the impossible and insist under their rule it would come true. They’ll foment unrest and distrust. They’ll place blame where they choose, smearing good people in favor of the corrupt.

If there’s one lesson I gleaned from the film, it was life and Hollywood are often not synonymous.  Life doesn’t always offer happy endings even when happiness is well deserved. Those who are too uninvolved may have to endure hardships they could barely imagine if people are manipulated according to their basest emotions. Those who, like Franz, refuse to deny their faith in goodness may pay a terrible cost. At one point, Franz is offered a deal if he will only sign his loyalty away. “You could be free!” says his lawyer. Franz meets the man’s gaze. “I’m already free,” he says, meaning he is able to act according to his conscience instead of on orders. 

I believe the U.S. citizens who stood in long lines, endangering their health, to vote against the fascism they saw happening around them are up to the task of defending our country in its diversity and making it better. They’ve done it before. Americans are a hardy, stubborn lot.  

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