Episode Reviewed: Sergeant York (708-711)
Writer: Dave Arnold
Director: Dave Arnold
Sound Designer: Christopher Diehl, Nathan Jones
Music: John Campbell
Love always protects
Original Airdate: 4/07/12

Review Written by: Ben Warren, Staff Writer

Rating (out of 5):


Episode Summary

Eugene Meltsner and Red Hollard tell the story of Sergeant Alvin York, a troublemaker from rural Tennessee who became a World War I hero.


The Review

Part One: We first meet Alvin York as a rebellious young man sunken deep in the ways of society. After his conversion, we discover a man who wants nothing to do with the happenings of the world around him. Then, York sees he cannot simply remove himself; rather, he sees it is his duty―a "terrible necessity"―to become involved. Part of being a Christian, I think, means struggling to find that balance between being separate from the world while being an active member of it.

So is it OK for a Christian to participate in a war? This question has been widely debated among Christians ever since, well, Jesus told us to "turn the other cheek". After listening to Sergeant York
, Adventures in Odyssey's position seems to be...
"Force can be a valid expression of Christian charity. It is not a contradiction of Jesus' purported love ethic, as some would vigorously maintain; rather, it is consistent with love's demands". (J. Daryl Charles, Between Pacifism and Jihad)
I'll admit
Sergeant York argues this point well. Though, we shouldn't be surprised that Adventures in Odyssey is choosing to tackle this idea at all. They've talked about the issue of "just-war" plenty of times. For instance, Isaac Morton in Isaac the Chivalrous says:
"It was because of the Holy scriptures that I couldn't fight. Sir William, Jesus said to turn the other cheek, and to love our enemies and pray for them [...] There may be a time when I'll have to fight [Rodney], like to defend someone he's hurting. But to do it now would have violated what I believe in [...] It may not be chivalrous, but it's something more important: it's Christian."
This same idea is repeated in
Telemachus. Telemachus wanted a "contemplative life" and, at one point, didn't feel right about fighting robbers. He is told by his friend that...
"...when Jesus is master of a man's life, prayer becomes action and action becomes prayer. The garment has no seam [...] Can you love your neighbor as yourself and stand by as thieves cut his throat? [...] Remember this: Jesus often withdrew from the crowds to pray, but only to return to them again. If we flee from the world, it is for the world's sake. If we are contemplatives, we are contemplatives in the world".
And, yet again, in "Bonhoeffer: The Cost of Freedom", Dietrich says to his friend...
"If, as a pastor, I saw a drunken driver get behind a wheel of a car knowing that he would soon race at a very high speed down the hallway, is it enough for me to bury the victims he might hit along the way or comfort the surviving relatives? No. It is more important for me to [grab] the wheel out of the hands of drunken...by whatever means possible".
Re-emphasized throughout many Adventures in Odyssey episodes is the idea that if you're in a position to protect someone, and you choose to do nothing, you are essentially aiding and abetting the evildoers. This was, perhaps, even the point the writers made with
Memories of Jerry; perhaps Adventures in Odyssey wasn't criticizing Plato's stance on the Vietnam war, but was criticizing his refusal to do nothing.

What I wish the episode had made clear is the fact that every war is different. We cannot understand whether a war is justifiable until we can properly understand the motivations behind it. Since World War 1, North America has had to make important decisions regarding World War 2, Vietnam, The Cold War, Rwanda, and, most recently, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Was the right decision made regarding those wars? Would Alvin York have fought in any of them? We certainly don't want children growing up thinking every war their country gets involved with is the right one to personally get involved with, right? As J. Daryl Charles, author of the book "Between Pacifism and Jihad", writes:
"Christians should particularly resist the theocratic tendency and not make the mistake of Islam or of God-and-country nationalism. The political order and the religious order are to be kept distinct. The teaching of the New Testament is that the sword must justify itself. Caesar and God are not the same"
Sergeant York fails to properly distinguish between serving God and country, this episode could be construed by some as being, well, propaganda. It's easy to think Focus on the Family is "pro-war" when it has produced episodes such Memories of Jerry, The American Revelation, The Price of Freedom, Rescue from Manatugo Point. Undoubtedly, the writers would respond to such a claim like those responsible for the 1941 Gary Cooper film. Harry Warner (of Warner Brothers) claimed their film was "a factual portrait of the life of one of the great heroes of the last war. [...] if that is propaganda, we plead guilty".

Thankfully, what ultimately keeps Sergeant York
from being considered overly pro-nationalistic or pro-war is that it noticeably doesn't imply that York's own choice was necessarily the right one, or that his earlier choice of not fighting was the wrong one. Why? In the wrap up, Chris says:
"Alvin York knew that the Bible was against murder, but he also knew that sometimes fighting was necessary. How did Alvin make his decision? He read and studied his Bible, he prayed in his quiet place on the mountain, he talked to fellow Christians like Pastor Pial. Those are good ways to learn what God wants us to do when we reach those difficult choices. Then, once we know God's will for us, it's time to take action and obey. Like we saw with Sergeant York, when we follow God's will, there's no limit to how he can use us".
Notice that she isn't validating his final decision, but is praising the way he made his decision; he "prayed and talked to other Christians". Some issues, like the "just-war" one, aren't clearly talked about in the Bible. Through prayer, Christians have formed their own individual opinions on the issue. And, regardless of what people's conclusions are, I admire the show for taking a stab at this difficult topic and offering an honest and well-rounded take on it.

Part Two:
Sergeant York may have been one of the most difficult reviews to write this season. For one thing, I don't know much about the real Sergeant York. They could have called the episode Sergeant York but told the story of Moby Dick and I might not have noticed. Did you expect me to rummage through history books to see how accurately they portrayed these events? I can only trust that Dave Arnold tried to be as accurate as possible.

First, contrary to what other listeners have said, Red Hollard and Eugene Meltsner made a good pair. Red, as Bernard and Wooton often did, juxtaposed Eugene's high-brow mannerisms with his quaint and quirk personality, creating colorful chemistry between the two.

And using the Kids' Radio to tell Alvin York's story was a good idea. Although, Eugene caught me off guard when he said "Welcome to the premier of 'Famous Men and Women of History'". Really? Is this really the first time Kid's Radio had done a historical episode? Apparently historical episodes such as Telemachus, Patrick: A Heart Afire, Lincoln,
The Jubilee Singers used some other storytelling method. The exception, Hymn Writers, used a Kid's Radio show called "A Moment in Time". I wonder whether Dave Arnold considered using that old title here. Maybe Alvin York's story was considered too long to be considered "a moment"...

At first I thought it was strange to have so many different types of narrations. Although the story was told by Eugene and Red through Kids' Radio, we also had 1st person recordings from secondary characters and Alvin York's own narration. On the one hand, this mishmash of perspectives was a little unconventional and a little disorienting; on the other, it offered a fuller, well-rounded view of the events. Dave Arnold seemed to use each sort of narration for a different purpose; for instance, selections from journal entries highlighted (I'm guessing) the more historically accurate moments, while Red's narration―as he admits himself at one point―embellished, or filled in certain historical gaps.

Did it need to be so long? Hard to say. Compare Adventures in Odyssey's take on the John Newton story (told in approx. 22 minutes) and the Focus on the Family Radio Theatre one (told in approx. 80 minutes). Both are well told, but Adventure in Odyssey's Amazing Grace went straight to the meat of the story instead of spending so much time on Newton's sinful lifestyle. I think, if the Odyssey team really tried, they could have told this story as a 2-parter, focusing on his decision to go to war instead of on his conversion and romance.

However, while the story of York could have been told in less time, cutting from Dave Arnold's script might not have necessarily made for a better episode. He manages to depict so many interesting moments, people, and places, that, much like a good biography, we remain captivated with every chapter of Alvin's life story. By the end, we feel like we know him intimately.

Long or short, the totality of Sgt. York's life is inspiring and deserves the time it takes to tell it. This adaptation is a seamless and sweeping journey about York's physical and spiritual struggles. Regardless of your stance on war, Dave Arnold has taken his subject seriously, writing and directing an episode that is not only entertaining and informational but thought-provoking, and certainly worthy of the man it reflects.





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