Category Archives: ethics

Building Bridges for the Enemy

Before Alec Guinness donned the robe of Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, he played a British Lieutenant Colonel in a POW camp in Burma during Word War II.

The year was 1957 and Guinness would win an Academy Award his portrayal of Col. Nicholson In “The Bridge on the River Kwai”.

In this fictional tale, the POWs were forced by the Japanese to build a railroad bridge, which is of strategic value to Japan’s war effort. However Nicholson refuses when the Japanese commander demands that the officers do manual labor next to the enlisted men – a violation of the Geneva Convention.

Nicholson eventually wins this battle of wills because he refuses to back down on this mater of principle. He then determines to show the Japanese just what British officers are made of. He takes over the redesign and construction of the bridge, committed to constructing a superior structure. He is convinced that what he is doing is right and proper. His men, on the other hand, have concerns with aiding the enemy.

I wonder how often we may stand on principle, and feel justified in doing so, but miss the bigger, more important truths – unwilling to bend for the greater good.

We see this in history with the refusal of the prohibitionists to soften the language of the constitutional amendment to allow production and consumption of beer and wine, ultimately leading to the repeal of prohibition.

We see it in denominational theology, where maniacal focus on fine points of conviction can divide congregations, detracting from efforts to take care of  “the least of these”, and making disciples.

We see it in conservation efforts, politics, business and personal relationships where the greater good is sacrificed on the alter of “my way or the highway”.

Maybe it’s time to do a little ego check. Perhaps sometimes by standing only on principle, and refusing to see the bigger picture, we too are building bridges for the enemy.

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