In a valley on the Russian Front, 1916, a single apple tree survived the carnage of war. Hungarian soldiers groping their way through the rubble in the dark saw the tree in the first light of dawn, still green, standing next to what used to be a cottage. As the light grew, suddenly a chorus of bird song swelled from the tree. Owls, crows, sparrows, finches, swallows, doves, all sheltered in the tree, and for a brief moment forgot their fear of each other.
This scene comes from Kate Seredy's The Singing Tree, published in 1939. It's the sequel to The Good Master, which describes her childhood on her uncle's farm in the Hungarian Plains. In The Good Master, Uncle Marton takes in the screeching, bratty Kate and teaches her to behave, ride a horse, take care of the chickens, and become a delightful, if still impish, human being. In The Singing Tree, Uncle Marton and Kate's father are drafted into military service, leaving Uncle Marton's 14 year old son Jansci in charge of the farm. By war's end, the family has taken in 6 Russian POWs assigned to work on their farm, six German children from bombed out cities, grandparents, a neighbor and her baby and another neighbor and her mother. The Russian's refrain: "Russko, Magyarsko, li'l German, all same!"
But people are not all the same. The world is full of those who "hate instruction, and cast (God's) word behind them...who give their mouths to evil, whose tongues frame deceit, who sit and speak against their brother..." Psalm 50. The end of the book expresses hope, at war's end, for peace, as the village celebrates the "words of the American president" and hopes for healing and a return to their innocence. We know from history that these hopes were dashed. The gentle, generous Jewish storekeeper's son would probably disappear at Dachau. The Russian POWs would go home to Lenin and Stalin, and would probably starve during the collectivizations. The little German boy, whose mother thanked God that her son learned, in Hungary, not to hate--would he grow up to be a Nazi? or a member of the resistance? or an exile who saw the hate coming and got out of the way? And of course Jansci, at age 43, would find his farm and his homeland swallowed up by the Red Army. The next generation of evil would unleash its demons on Europe and the rest of the world while the ink was still wet on the first editions of "The Singing Tree."
I reread these two books because I have assigned them to #3 daughter, who is working her way across Europe in geography. They were especially jarring to me because I got an email from someone about a sergeant who came home from a hard year in Iraq to find his wife had cleaned out the furniture and dumped him for another guy.
Our troops are the front line against the jihadis, a culture willing to destroy everything good in the name of their cause. A number of the "suicide bombers" are actually developmentally disabled people told to drive a truck and park it; the bombs are dentonated by remote control. The same people who scream about "defiling" the Koran blow up fellow Muslims in their mosques. They bomb places where children gather. They murder dozens at funerals. In Iraq we are fighting a culture of death and murder. The sergeant had to kill some terrorists. He had to take a stand against evil, and he did what had to be done.
"War is so terrible, who would want it?" asks Seredy in "The Singing Tree." Answer: evil people. We have to keep fighting evil, whatever form it takes. That can mean going to war. And we owe it to our troops who do this dirty job to keep telling them, yes, we appreciate you; yes, we will support you; yes, we have to fight evil, and we know you've done your best."