“It is the writer's role to menace the public's conscience.” — Rod Serling, creator of “The Twilight Zone”
Before he died suddenly this year, I wrote a one-act play based on a chapter in my friend Bill White's life.
Bill was a warrior, not for war but for peace. He was a foe of injustice and a friend to anyone in need, a sensibility formed in the eighth grade when he ran away from a Catholic military boarding school for boys. Sent there by his parents out of love, thinking it would help him to honor the teachings of the church, it made him question them even more. He couldn't understand why a religion that preaches “Thou shalt not kill” was molding boys into soldiers. He was made to wear a uniform, carry a rifle and march in cadence. A week before graduation he ran away.
Alone, confused and afraid, he made his way to Chicago, where he was befriended by a woman whose profession is looked down by most. They formed an unusual friendship. He made her a better person. She gave him a future to live for. He told her how at the school he found inspiration in going to the riverbank to meditate, and in the words of Anne Frank. In the play I chronicle their friendship and add a dream sequence with Anne Frank.
Bill yearned for a time when humans around the globe will somehow switch from our bloodlust expressed so starkly by Anne in her diary, “There is an urge and a rage in people to kill and destroy,” and by Louise Hibler, the mother of my best friend in a remarkable letter she wrote to her son, Warren, a pilot in World War II.
“In your last letter you were thrilled over a beautiful sunset. So you see God's handi-work can still be seen, though it's hidden from the eyes of most of the money-and-power-mad people on the earth today. If they would delight themselves in such things their hearts would not be turned and inclined to creating wars and destruction. Yet there are even more beautiful things in this world created by God than sunsets, and these are the peace-loving souls in people whose hearts wax cold when they read of the blood-curdling atrocities which are assigned to our soldiers. (for instance the invasion on Tokyo) There are a lot of innocent people there, too, and to think that our boys should destroy them ... though most of our people think different than I do. But if they don't change their hatred into peace and kindness our nation will meet with the same fate, our industries and homes will be made targets. I firmly believe that God will protect all His people who have peace and kindness in their hearts and good will toward people of other nations.”
Anne Frank had similar advice: “Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy.”
Warren and his plane vanished just days before the end of the war.
Anne Frank died in a concentration camp.
At the age of 19 while serving in World War II, Rod Serling wrote a letter to his unborn children:
“I want you to feel ... a semblance of the feeling of a torn limb; a burnt patch of flesh; the crippling, numbing sensation of fear; the hopeless emptiness of fatigue. All these things ... should be taught and demonstrated in classrooms along with the more heroic aspects of uniforms, and flags, and honor and patriotism.”
Bill would ask, why aren't they taught? I would add, why is it controversial to be against what Martin Luther King called “the madness of militarism?” When I was a high school English teacher and brought up similar points about the Vietnam war, I was fired. The madness continues. As the peace group CODEPINK reports. “U.S.-supported Saudi bombings of Yemen's Hodeida post have created a situation where every 10 minutes a Yemeni mother watches her child die of malnutrition.”
“I Dream of Anne” asks these questions as well. Starring local high school students Anthony Hayes and Nadia Riley, and teacher Jodi Depoy, with Patty Hunter and Paul Brandt, generated this comment by another teacher, “ I'm so touched by it.” You will have a chance to add your own thoughts on May 27 at 7 p.m. in Headwaters Park West in the discussion that follows and we end with the screening of a documentary called “inspiring” that blends a segment about Bill and his school with the mission of Save Maumee's epic canoe trip from Fort Wayne to Toledo. The next day at River Drums offers a host of kid-friendly events.
Anne Frank expresses Bill's yearning with the touch of a poet:
“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can't build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us, too. I can feel the sufferings of millions, and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”
Terry Doran is a resident of Fort Wayne.