Krista's Journal: On Goodness and Redemption

May 27, 2004

On Being has been in creation for nearly four years and has gone through several incarnations -- a series of pilots, two years of monthly programs, and now, in the last year, the weekly show. If we are old enough to claim a body of "classic" programs, this week's program is one of them. It was one of our first pilots, broadcast for Memorial Day, 2000. Since then we've updated and re-recorded, but the bones of the hour were so strong that they have endured in more or less original form. This program was also my introduction to the art and craft of radio. I interviewed David Fox, who has made it his life's work to retell the story of four chaplains of different faiths who linked arms and went down together with their ship, the Dorchester, in 1943. In his quest, David Fox took a video camera and interviewed many of the surviving veterans of the Dorchester as well as the German veterans of the submarine that torpedoed them. My producers -- Marge Ostroushko, Brian Newhouse, and talented audio engineer Alan Stricklin -- took those old recordings and transformed them into riveting radio. At the center of this program is a collage of voices and music that harnesses the intimacy of radio -- a power to evoke not just ideas but experience, a sense of presence, in the mind and heart of the listener. I also cherish the big ideas this program conveys. This story shows us the unpredictable movement of what some would call grace -- the ripple effects that can be set in motion in one tragic moment. David Fox has traced the drama of a powerful act of courage. But he has also produced a testament to the large and small ways that events changed those who watched, across time and beyond death. And in setting up a foundation to honor other acts of courage, he has set other ripple effects in motion, from Rwanda to Japan. We're skilled, in the media, at shining a light on tragedy and despair. The legacy of the four chaplains shines an equally necessary light on a drama of goodness and redemption. In the second half of the program, we hear the story of one Vietnam veteran, Bruce Weigl, who has reached back to the country in which he was an enemy soldier and formed bonds of friendship and family. He has also been a translator and conduit, improbably, of literature and poetry across the cultures of Vietnam and America as they reconcile their disparate, intertwined experiences of war. Here's a wonderfully evocative statement that Bruce Weigl makes in this week's program, about the redemptive power, in his life, of writing. I believe that what he is describing can also result from the spoken word, language as conveyed by radio, even in the act of recalling the horrors of war:

"There's a way in which language can make the most horrible thing imaginable beautiful -- not because it celebrates that horror, but because through the language the human spirit transcends that horror. To write the poem — to write the story, to write the novel or the memoir or whatever — about that horrible thing is in a way to defeat it, to take back your life from it."

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David Fox

was director of the Immortal Chaplains Foundation.

Bruce Weigl

is an author, poet, and a Vietnam War veteran.