God’s Ways and Our Ways

Did you hear that Phil Robertson has a new book out? Yes, the “Duck Dynasty” patriarch, author of Happy Happy Happy, UnPHILtered, and (in a previous life) War and Peace, has just written The Theft of America’s Soul: Blowing the Lid Off the Lies That Are Destroying Our Country.

You can tell by the title that Robertson bears the scars of his battle with the Social Justice Warriors who tried to run him out of television a few years ago. With the help of his family and fans, including a special Facebook page that “accumulated 1.5 million likes” in his support, he survived that politically correct onslaught, and now he is taking the fight to the foe. Good for him.

In a LifeZette interview, Robertson explained what motivated the book:

We see carnage in the nation’s rehab centers. We see murders. We see people shooting other people at schools and concerts and other places. We need to take a step back and really realize that we must help our country get back on the right track. We need the Scriptures. We must go back to the Bible. We have to love our neighbors and forgive each other. We need patience, kindness, goodness. . . . We need God and prayer—and we need to understand the difference between good and evil.

It’s remarkable how much those comments echo the themes touched on by C. S. Lewis in his defense of the universal validity of traditional morality, or as he put it, “the massive unanimity of the practical reason in man.” I quoted that passage from Lewis while defending John Wayne in a new action brought by the SJWs over (among other things) Wayne’s four-decade-old disparagement of homosexuality, the same issue that got Robertson in trouble with them.

Much as I admire Robertson and his family, this is not a review of his book. I haven’t even read it yet. This is a discussion of another book, written by the matriarch of another family, whose story inspired a movie also mentioned in last week’s piece: “The Sound of Music.” As will be seen, its theme is very much the same.

The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, first published in 1949, is broadly similar to the film’s familiar tale: Would-be nun Maria is dispatched by her Salzburg abbey to the service of widower Georg von Trapp and his children. They fall in love, and he breaks off his engagement to an Austrian aristocrat and marries her instead. The family’s musical talent, nurtured as a domestic pastime, wins public acclaim, but when Nazi Germany takes over Austria, the family von Trapp must flee over the mountains.

The main difference in the first part of the story is that the real captain was never a barking martinet, not with Maria nor with the children. He’s a bit reserved and sad, but from their first meeting, Maria describes his courteous greeting and “warm and hearty handshake,” his tenderness toward the sickly child who is to be her special charge, and even an occasional “twinkle” in his eye.

The timeline is different, too. The film compresses its story into a few months in the late 1930s, but in reality Maria and Georg married 10 years earlier, and she bore him their first child, his eighth, in 1929. In the mid-1930s, the family lost its fortune in a bank failure and had to convert the great mansion into a boarding house. They began to sing publicly at the urging of friends and admirers—and as a means to support themselves. They had given concerts around Europe before the Nazis ever marched into Austria.

The confrontation with Hitler’s regime is where the difference between film and reality is most significant. In the movie, Georg is a patriot who waves the Austrian flag in the Nazis’ noses and escapes with his family cat-quick, with the Gestapo nipping at their heels, after Berlin tries to dragoon him into the German navy. But the real events are more complex.

The Trapps wept for Austria when it was reduced to the German province of “Ostmark” on March 11, 1938, and they knew of the brute force behind the façade of joyous German unity. (As bells pealed all over Salzburg, the Trapps’ music director, Father Wasner, phoned a fellow priest and learned that “a Gestapo man with a gun was supervising the ringing of the bells in every church.”) Even so, at first they had no notion of leaving. But the clouds darkened quickly.

As in the movie, Georg refused to display the Nazi flag. He even sassed the Gestapo officer who supplied him with one, saying he’d hang his rugs out the windows instead.

The children were informed at school “that our parents are nice, old-fashioned people who don’t understand the new Party. We should leave them alone . . . [and] never mention at home what we learn at school now.”

The Trapps’ first-grader got in trouble with her teacher, however, first for not singing the Nazi anthem and later for not giving the Nazi salute. At parent-teacher conferences after each of these incidents, the teacher scolded Maria. First this: “Your little girl announced in front of the whole class that her father had said he’d put ground glass in his tea or finish his life on a dung heap before he would ever sing that song. Next time I will have to report this.” And in the second lecture: “Your little girl answered, ‘Mother said if I tell in school what is going on at home, Father will be put in a concentration camp, and Mother, and all my sisters and brothers!’ Madam, you will understand that this is going too far.”

Push came to shove in the summer of ’38. Within a week the Trapps received three inquiries from the German government: Georg was offered the command of a new submarine in the German navy; his son Rupert, recently graduated from medical school, was offered a position at a Vienna hospital; and the family was invited to give a command performance in Berlin for Hitler’s birthday.

The captain had been highly decorated as a submarine commander during World War I for clearing the Austrian Empire’s Adriatic coast of enemy shipping, and he was greatly tempted by the chance to return to sea at the controls of a state-of-the-art U-boat. But the proposed theater of operations troubled him: “What do they mean, ‘eventually in the Adriatic Sea and later in the Mediterranean’? They must be pretty sure of going there someday. That means war. I can’t run a submarine for the Nazis, can I? Of course not. It’s out—it’s absolutely out.”

Of the hospital offer, Maria writes: “Of course they needed doctors. All during the last months they had in a most shameful manner persecuted, killed, and imprisoned thousands of Jews in all parts of the country, and now they were short of doctors, lawyers, dentists; no wonder the young fledgling doctors advanced in a hurry.”

And Rupert’s response to the opportunity? “Of course I can’t accept. The only question is how to word it politely enough. They’ll be quite offended. I’d have to consent to all kinds of treatments and manipulations which I am not allowed to as a Catholic—and as a man.”

As for the birthday concert, the family had these concerns: “Will we have to say ‘Heil Hitler’ then?” “Will we have to sing the new anthem on the stage?” “How about Father Wasner? The Nazis don’t like priests.” “In school we are not permitted to sing any religious songs with the name of Christ or Christmas. We can hardly sing any Bach for that reason.” “I am sure we’d have a tremendous success in Germany with our program, but will it be possible to keep our ideas and remain anti-Nazi when we take their money and their praise?”

So the captain put this question to his family: “Do we want to keep the material goods we still have: this our home with the ancient furniture, our friends, and all the things we are fond of? Then we shall have to give up the spiritual goods: our faith and our honor.” And they all agreed it’s better to be “poor but honest.”

“Then, let’s get out of here soon,” Georg said. “You can’t say no three times to Hitler—it’s getting dangerous.”

So they went to the Italian Alps for a “mountain-climbing vacation.” This was not quite as dramatic a move as the movie would have it, for there were no Nazis in hot pursuit. But—and here is where the film ends—it was the first leg of a journey to America.

The exodus from Austria was quickly followed by a storm-tossed ocean passage (paid for by an advance from an American impresario), a stressful stay in New York City and a strenuous American concert tour. Remarkably, Maria endured it all while carrying a dangerous pregnancy to term.

Maria’s kidneys having been weakened by a bout with scarlet fever, the expectant parents had consulted a specialist back in Munich. “Your wife cannot have another child,” he told the captain, and—in response to their obvious perplexity—“The child has to be removed, of course, immediately.”

“What do you mean, ‘of course’?” Maria exclaimed. “That is not ‘of course’ at all. On the contrary, it is absolutely out of the question—we are Catholics, you know.”

“The child won’t be born alive; this much I can tell you,” the doctor replied, and he told Georg, “I just hope I shall be able to save the life of the mother.”

Ordered to stay in bed and avoid excitement, Maria instead followed her conscience halfway around the world—and safely delivered a healthy baby boy.

(That’s young Johannes sitting on his mother’s lap in the picture above. Georg’s seven older children stand to the left; his two daughters by Maria stand with him at right. Father Wasner stands at far right. If you want to know how they sound, click these links. It’s not much like the kinderkitsch tunes from the movie.)

“Many years later I happened to learn about planned parenthood and birth control to guard against unwanted children,” Maria writes, and she admits having often wished that this particular baby would pick another time to arrive. “But thousands of years ago God assured us—it’s in the Book—‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways My ways.’ So if there is any planning to be done, why don’t we let Him do it?”

That takes us only halfway through Maria’s remarkable book, and it doesn’t even touch on the sequel she wrote 23 years later, telling of her life as a missionary and innkeeper after the captain passed away. “The Sound of Music,” then, is the merest snapshot of an extraordinary family’s extraordinary story. Even so, it remains the world’s all-time favorite musical. Adjusted for inflation, it’s America’s third-highest grossing movie ever, after “Gone With the Wind” and “Star Wars.”

Yet one wonders: If Maria’s book were to be filmed today, how would it be received? What about the scene where Rupert “as a Catholic” rejects Nazi medical practices, which notoriously included euthanasia? That might not go over so well, here in the land of Jack “Dr. Death” Kevorkian and Ralph “Make the newborn ‘comfortable’ while we decide whether to kill it” Northam. The bits about Maria rejecting abortion, about certain people not liking priests, about school children being set against their parents, and Christian music being shut out of school—all these things might make today’s “progressives” squirm.

Ah, yes: Progress! Who but a “reactionary” would stand against it? But the Nazis thought they were on the cutting edge of progress. So did the Communists. So do our Social Justice Warriors today. And there’s nothing in the world any one of them hates more than the idea of counterrevolution, of “turning back the clock,” of going back to the way things were before they got their hands on society. “Forward!” they shout, a battle cry common to Bolsheviks, Maoists and modern SJWs. And if you’re not on board with it, well, as the current governor of New York has said, you “have no place” in their New Order.

That’s why Phil Robertson’s new book will get nothing but a big “Hoch, ptui” from American progressives today, if they deign to notice it at all. That’s why Robertson himself is hated, as John Wayne is, as Donald Trump is. But are the progressives really on the side of progress? And is there really nothing to say for the idea of going back? Let’s give the last word on that to our friend C.S. Lewis:

Would you think I was joking if I said that you can [turn] a clock back, and that if the clock is wrong it is often a very sensible thing to do? But I would rather get away from that whole idea of clocks. We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. . . . There is nothing progressive about being pigheaded and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake. We are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.

Photo Credit: Imagno/Getty Images

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About Karl Spence

Karl Spence is a retired journalist living in San Antonio. His work has appeared in National Review, the Chattanooga Free Press, American Thinker and at www.fairamendment.us.

Photo: Die Trapp Familie an Weihnachten. Photographie. ÷sterreich. Um 1941. The Trapp Family on Christmas eve. Photograph. Around 1941.