Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Kevin Imitates Paul Harvey Narration-Technique to Tell of Another Hero

Kevin Imitates Paul Harvey Narration-Technique to Tell of Another Hero

By Kevin Stoda, Wiesbaden, Germany

Over the past few years, I have often tried to introduce readers to the histories and tales they didn’t hear in school. This past week, I have focused on the American non-violent expert, James Zwerg, and the Germanic peace movement organizer and writer, Bertha von Suttner.

In this article, I will introduce the biography of another person who set his marks high during the 19th and 20th Century, but who is a much more famous peacemaker than either Mr. Zwerg and Mrs. Suttner. In order to inspire you to really think about what kind of role-model and hero you would like present and future generations to come to appreciate and to copy, I will use Paul Harvey’s the rest-of-the-story narration technique.

I realize that Paul Harvey has gotten adequate bad publicity as of late due to the recent revelation of how closely he worked with J. Edgar Hoover over the decades, but I believe the technique itself is politically neutral. Moreover, this narration-technique of Harvey shines the light on the far corners of [and awakens] our imaginations by not revealing the name of the biography till the very end of the tale.

In short, it is an excellent short-story technique, which we as educators can use to train students to imagine and predict what will come next in a tale. In this way, we can more systematically also appreciate that truth is often more fascinating than fiction. In an age when too many youth and their parents do not read and when too many have the shortest of attention spans, the rest-of-the-story technique trains us to be better readers and listeners—as well as more curious and more willing to test our own hypotheses about life in general.


“Born on January 14, 1875 in a country village in Alsace (then part of Germany; later part of France), [HE] was the son of a Lutheran pastor. A little-known fact is that Jean Paul Sartre was [HIS] cousin. Because of the difference in their ages, Sartre referred to him always as "Uncle."[1]

“[B]oth of his grandfathers were talented organists; many of his relatives were persons of scholarly attainments. [He] entered into his intensive theological studies in 1893 at the University of Strasbourg where he obtained a doctorate in philosophy in 1899, with a dissertation on the religious philosophy of Kant, and received his licentiate in theology in 1900. He began preaching at St. Nicholas Church in Strasbourg in 1899; he served in various high ranking administrative posts from 1901 to 1912 in the Theological College of St.Thomas, the college he had attended at the University of Strasbourg. In 1906 he published The Quest of the Historical Jesus, a book on which much of his fame as a theological scholar rests.”[2]

This famous organist and scholar had “also made a profound study of Nietzsche and Tolstoy, recoiling from Nietzsche's adulation of the all-conquering ‘superman’ and being greatly attracted to Tolstoy's doctrine of love and compassion.”[3]

This young German speaking man, who had also met Albert Einstein in his early college days, however, felt he had another life calling—i.e. a calling completely separate from the world of academia and high class music he had grown up within.

You see, the young man “had always felt a strong yearning towards direct service to humanity. In 1904, he came by chance upon an article in the Paris Missionary Society's publication indicating their urgent need for physicians in the French colony of Gabon.”

After the young academic finished reading this article, he sat down and wrote about what he had come to realize in that key junction of his amazing life. One biographer notes, “When he had finished the article, he put the magazine aside and quietly began his work. But his search was over. He saw his time and place; his future, his life, took clear shape... The young [European scholar and musical artist had already] reached the point of view that atonement for the wrongs that the Christian -- the white man -- had done to underdeveloped peoples -- the black man -- was in itself a justification for missions.”

In short, although at this point, the gifted young man seldom spoke in detail on his political and social views on the centuries of colonialism that had mad Europe the most powerful continent, he was certainly part of the movement that would lead to the end of European colonialism in a few short decades. “The following Sunday the sermon he preached included these words: 'And now, when you speak about missions, let this be your message: We must make atonement for all the terrible crimes we read of in the newspapers. We must make atonement for the still worse ones, which we do not read about in the papers, crimes that are shrouded in the silence of the jungle night.'... Later he wrote, 'Our institutions are a failure because the spirit of barbarism is at work in them... Our society has also ceased to allow to all men, as such, a human value and a human dignity; many sections of the human race have become merely raw material and property in human form.'”

Like Gandhi, who was saying the same things a half a world away in South Africa, this young European man chose to leave the comfortable world of his adult education and go to Africa and make a difference.

However, he first had to do something unheard of.


The gifted artist and famous scholar determined at the age of 30 to change his career and to enter medical college. In short, his doctorates in theology (1900) and philosophy (1902) were not all-that-helpful in his new calling.

However, for the next phase of his life on earth, he desired so much to become a real medical doctor that he bubbled with great enthusiasm. He had so much enthusiasm that he was almost turned away from that medical school outright. In his manylater publications, he later revealed that when he arrived at his college’s school of medicine to enroll, the doctor’s there almost assigned him to a Psychiatrist for a follow-up study. They thought this gifted academic and organist had completely “lost it”.

Seven years later and after having graduated from medical training, this determined Christian initially received a similar initial rejection—this time by the very missionary institution in Africa that had inspired him originally to try and make a difference in the world. That is, the Paris Missionary Society rejected this young medical doctor’s application to serve in their African missions. They, too, questioned his ability to make a difference there in Africa—without being a burden to others who were less idealistic than he.

In order to eventually travel to Africa, the young man—with his three doctoral degrees—had to learn to raise his own money. Finally, by 1913 he left with his family for his first years of work in Africa. Alas, WWI broke out the very next year. Due to his Germanic background, the young man was arrested in Africa and eventually taken to southern France to prisons and prison hospitals (and medical camps) for the duration of hostilities in Europe.

During his time in southern France, he ended up in the very same medical center that Vincent Van Gogh had stayed in. He had appreciated Van Gogh’s work years before—and recognized the location from memory. Until it was confirmed, that that institution had in fact been Van Gogh’s sanitarium years earlier, the young doctor himself thought he might be “losing it”.

“In July 1918, after being transferred via Switzerland to his home in Alsace, he was a free man again. At this time . . . , born a German citizen, [he] had his parents' former (pre-1871) French citizenship reinstated and became a French citizen. Then, working as medical assistant and assistant-pastor in Strasbourg, he advanced his project on The Philosophy of Civilization, which had occupied his mind since 1900. By 1920, his health recovering, he was giving organ recitals and doing other fund-raising work to repay borrowings and raise funds for returning to Gabon. In 1922 he delivered the Dale Memorial Lectures in Oxford University-- and from these in the following year appeared Volumes I and II of his great work, The Decay and Restoration of Civilization and Civilization and Ethics. The two remaining volumes, on The World-View of Reverence for Life and a fourth on the Civilized State, were never completed.” [4]

However, this same scholar and artist needed and desired to return to his work in Africa. So, in 1924, at the age of nearly 50, this multi-talented humanitarian returned to Gabon in Africa, where he had begun a hospital mission prior to the war. By hand, he and others rebuilt the hospital, which soon came to be known more as a medical village. Soon whole families lived with their invalid-stricken family members there helping with their recovery. Together, these family members, other volunteers, and the good doctors built more living and hospital structures, planted gardens, and healed patients together.

In the 1930s, this hospital founder in Africa was joined by his grown daughter. Together, they sought to cure peoples of malaria, tuberculoses, leprosy, and other ailments. Sometimes in the evening, the aging head doctor sat down at his piano [with organ pedals attached] and played with drummers or with the other local bush- and jungle musicians.

“This is how he described [a] crucial moment [in his life journey]– ‘For months on end I lived in a continual state of mental excitement. Without the least success I let my thoughts be concentrated, even all through my daily work at the hospital, on the connection between a positive view of the world and ethics. All that I had learnt from philosophy about ethics left me in the lurch. I felt like a man who has to build a new and better boat to replace a rotten one that’s no longer seaworthy, but does not know how to begin. I was wandering about in a thicket in which no path was to be found. I was leaning with all my might against an iron door which would not yield.’” [5]

Meanwhile “in this mental condition I had to undertake a longish journey on the river... to visit Madame Pelot, the ailing wife of a missionary, at N’Gomo, about 160 miles upstream. The only means of conveyance I could find was a small steamer, towing an over-laden barge, which was on the point of starting. Except myself, there were only Africans on board, but among them was Emil Ogouma, my friend from Lambarene. Since I had been in too much of a hurry to provide myself with enough food for the journey, they let me share the contents of their cooking pot.”

Finally, “[s]lowly we crept upstream, laboriously feeling - it was the dry season - for the channels between the sandbanks. Lost in thought I sat on the deck of the barge, struggling to find the elementary and universal conception of the ethical which I had not discovered in any philosophy. Sheet after sheet I covered with disconnected sentences, merely to keep myself concentrated on the problem. Late on the third day, at the very moment when, at sunset, we were making our way through a herd of hippopotamuses, there flashed upon my mind, unforeseen and unsought, the phrase, ‘Reverence for Life.’ The iron door had yielded: the path in the thicket had become visible”.

This doctor’s focus on the “Reverence for Life” as a personal theology has ong-since been adapted by individuals, statements, political organizations, ecumenical groupings, environmental activists, and modern nations and tribes all over the planet.

In 1950s, the hard work humanitarian was awarded a Nobel Prize, even as he continued his work in Gabon and in further continued in his voracious writings. His Nobel Prize winning address focused on Nuclear Madness of that Cold War period.

Often on tour in the U.S. in that Cold War-era, the good doctor became an enemy of men like J. Edgar Hoover and leaders of the House Un-American Affairs Committee as he spoke out ever more against the nuclear weapons of the USA and the Soviet Union.

However, even as he was labeled a person non-grata in the USA by 1958, both the Soviet Union and the USA were slowly moving towards the first Nuclear test-ban treaties. By the 1960s, John F. Kennedy had made our hero and his views welcome in the White House again.

In fact, in the middle of the October Missile Crisis of 1962, JFK and Dr. Albert Schweitzer took time to correspond and share ideas with one another.

JOHN F. KENNEDY once wrote to Albert Schweitzer:
“I read your letter on the nuclear testing problem with interest and sympathy. - You are one of the transcendent moral influences of our century. I earnestly hope that you will consider throwing the great weight of that influence behind the movement for general and complete disarmament.”

Schweitzer certainly is the kind of heroes the world needs in 2010. I will certainly tell my children about him and his life’s efforts.

Won’t you?









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