Sunday, June 5, 2011

Faith, Fear and Tom Hanks

by Bill Doughty
Tom Hanks was a military dependent, a Navy family member whose dad served in the Pacific in World War II.   
Tom Hanks has acted in some of the most memorable films of our time — Forrest Gump, Saving Private Ryan, Apollo 13, Sleepless in Seattle, The Green Mile and Charlie Wilson’s War.  He produced From the Earth to the Moon, Stephen Ambrose’s Band of Brothers, David McCullough’s John Adams and the controversial, powerful The Pacific.  And, he’s no doubt achieved immortality -- as the voice of Woody in the Toy Story trilogy.  
Tom Hanks transcends genres.  
He is a champion of history and reading, and he frequently encourages people to pick up a book.  Reading — especially reading nonfiction — has nourished his intellectual curiosity and ability to put history in context.
Former Navy Captain NASA astronaut James "Jim" Arthur Lovell, Jr.,
makes a cameo appearance in Tom Hanks'
Apollo 13.
Yale University invited Tom Hanks to speak to its 2011 graduating class recently where he said their imprint on history would be determined by how well they handle fear and inspire faith.  Here’s what Yale Bulletin reported: 
In the ceremony... (May 22), Hanks urged the soon-to-be graduates to begin their future by coming to the aid of the U.S. veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars, whose "faith in themselves is shadowed by the fear of not knowing what is expected of them next," he said.
Hanks spoke about the positive and negative aspects of technology for the perpetually plugged-in and connected graduates.  While Facebook and Twitter and other e-media ensure “boredom is vanquished” and certainly help us communicate, there’s a certain shallowness to the celebrity-driven culture that’s being created, he said.
Again, from the Yale Bulletin:
The continual instant access and instant communication, Hanks suggested, has also created a world where fear easily becomes contagious and divisive.
"Fear has become the commodity that sells as certainly as sex," Hanks told the seniors. "Fear is cheap, fear is easy, fear gets attention.... It's fast, it's gossip and it's just as glamorous, juicy and profitable. Fear twists facts into fictions that become indistinguishable from ignorance."
Tom Hanks on Navy’s John Paul Jones and faith and fear:
Hanks... told the seniors that he has a passion for history because of the lessons it teaches. He quoted American naval commander John Paul Jones: "If fear is cultivated, it will become stronger. If faith is cultivated, it will achieve mastery."
"Fear or faith — which will be our master?" Hanks asked the seniors.
"Throughout our nation's constant struggle to create a more perfect union, establish justice and ensure our domestic tranquility, we battle fear from outside our borders and within our own hearts every day of our history," Hanks commented. "Our nation came to be despite the fear of retribution from the king across the sea. America was made strong because people could live free from the fears that made up their daily lives in whatever land they called the ‘Old Country.' Our history books tell of conflicts taken up to free people from fear — those kept in slavery — in our own states, and to liberate whole nations under the rule of tyrants and theologies rooted in fear...
Tom Hanks on a commitment to Veterans and service:
"But we live in a world where too many of us are too ready to believe in things that do not exist," Hanks continued. "Conspiracies abound. Divisions are constructed and the differences between us are not celebrated for making us stronger but are calculated and programmed to set us against each other."
Tom Hanks at Yale: "Move forward, move ever forward."
Hanks told the seniors that they will make choices between fear and faith every day of their lives. He urged them to "take the fears [of U.S veterans] head on" for at least four years — the same amount of time they've been at Yale.
"Whatever your opinion of the wars, you can imprint the very next pages of the history of our troubled world by reinforcing faith in those returning veterans," Hanks told the seniors. "Allowing them rest, aiding in their recovery ... empathizing with the new journey they are starting even though we will never fully understand the journey they just completed, even though we will never understand what they endured. We will all define the true nature of our American identity not by the parades and the welcome-home parties, but how we match their service with service of our own."
The soon-to-be graduates' new "career," Hanks said, is a permanent one: "To stand on the fulcrum between fear and faith — fear at your back, faith in front of you.
"Which way will you move? Move forward, move ever forward," he encouraged them, "and tweet out a picture of the results."
According to Douglas Brinkley, in an insightful profile last year in Time magazine, “Hanks has become American history's highest-profile professor, bringing a nuanced view of the past into the homes and lives of countless millions. 
Brinkley reported that Hanks became intensely interested in military history after reading the two-volume, 1,882-page Library of America Reporting World War II: American Journalism (1938 to 1946).
Hanks read William Manchester and John Hersey.  His Pacific is based on Eugene Sledge's With the Old Breed and Robert Leckie's Helmet for My Pillow.  He was inspired by McCullough, Ambrose, Barbara Tuchman and Doris Kearns Goodwin.  According to Brinkley, “Leon Uris's fact-anchored novels — Mila 18, Armageddon and Exodus — taught Hanks to feel history in a way no high school teacher ever did.”  
According to Brinkley, author of The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America,There's no such thing as a definitive history. But what was once a passing interest for Hanks has become an obsession. He's a man on a mission to make our back pages come alive, to keep overhauling the history we know and, in the process, get us to understand not just the past but the choices we make today.”

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