Tag Archives: World War I

How Thomas Barrow on Downton Abbey turned me against a Universal Draft!

27 Feb

How Thomas Barrow on Downton Abbey turned me against a Universal Draft!

In the second season of Downton Abbey, Thomas the footman turns into Thomas the medic and gets deployed to the front in World War I.  While in the trenches, terrified with everyone else of the incoming rounds, he purposely raises a hand with a cigarette in it above his trench to draw incoming fire.

It works and wins him a trip home to England, where he gets to employ his medical talents till the end of the war in relative safety.  (And he gets to continue his scheming, maneuvering ways, but that is the fun of watching the Thomas character, isn’t it?).

The U.S. and Great Britain did not enter nor fight the world wars in the same way!

My sister-in-law (in England, but aware of the history of our family both there and in Ireland) reminded me of that this morning when my Facebook page contained a discussion of the proposal that women in the U.S. register for Selective Service (the draft).  The idea is that now that women have been cleared for combat for three full weeks (if they qualify and if they volunteer) it is now time to make combat mandatory for every woman, in case of a war breaking out in the future.

If you know me at all, you know that I am not in favor of that proposal.  I don’t want to stand in the way of those rare women who do well with fifty pound backpacks, but I don’t think all of us should be training to that standard.  We are not inferior to men.  Just different.  And less suited for combat, on the average.

However, there is always that idea that women get choices while men get told to “man up.”  Combat is one of those areas.  Selective service registration has been, too.

It goes along with the idea that a woman can choose to be a homemaker/homeschooling mom or choose to have a career, while a man who stays home to tend to the homestead or to homeschool his children will usually be made a laughingstock.

Not sure how to remedy all that.  And that is not the point of this post anyhow.

But I do have a remedy for the universal draft in the U.S.   Don’t do it (see article above, about the counterproposal to stand down the requirement for men to register for selective service).  Don’t do it for anyone.

As my sister-in-law reminded me, a trained, professional Army does better every time.  We got into the habit of manning our forces at the last minute as a war began because we were pushed into World War II unwillingly.  It worked out pretty well that time so we have used it as a modus operandi ever since, taking our forces from small to large during the Korean War and the Viet Nam war by means of the draft.

Call it a money-saving gesture.

And call it foolish.

We get the Army we are willing to pay for.  And if our frugality keeps us from training and paying soldiers until we need a fullscale mobilization, it is wicked to grab a bunch of civilians, turn them into soldiers overnight against their will, and send them off on a wing and a prayer to hopefully avoid death and disfigurement.

That doesn’t matter, morally, whether they are male or female.  It may insult our sensibilities more when they are female, but morally it is the same issue.  Forced service.  Related to slavery.

Even when everyone in the ranks agrees that it was done equitably, between the rich and the not-so-rich, it is still forced service.

Our constitution provides for a strong national defense, making that a responsibility of the federal government.  As we have seen since right after Viet Nam, if the military is paid well enough, you can keep it manned without a draft.

And that, my friends, is a federal government bill that should be paid because the states can’t do it on their own (nor should they).

Whatever happens with sequestration, it remains a federal responsibility . . . (if we must have fewer troops, then we will need to serve in fewer places accordingly.  We can’t do everything anymore!).

Who would have thought that Thomas Barrow and my sister-in-law would combine their voices to talk me into a persistent belief in an all volunteer military??!!  Thanks, Carol!

A Morality Play: Season One of Downton Abbey

8 Feb

Obviously, my title is its own spoiler alert for any who have not seen Season One yet!

I also must make a disclaimer here and say that I hardly watch any modern television programs.

“Jeopardy” and some Piers Morgan interviews because my husband likes them.  The news.  That is about it.

I love movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood.  I love retro TV from the 1970’s and early 1980’s.  

I love classic novels.

I evaluate television by those standards, not by other current shows.  So if something being made now has my stamp of approval, it is an amazing and unusual work of art.

Downton Abbey is that show.  We are watching Season Three, but were given the first two seasons on DVD as a gift for supporting public television.  So I am catching up on the earlier episodes right now.

I love the beautiful home, and the precious small town atmosphere around Downton Abbey.

I love the clothes.

I love the depth of the characters that are portrayed, both upstairs and downstairs.

I started out with Lady Mary as my favorite character, but it has slowly shifted to be Mr. Carson, the loyal family butler.  My favorite scene is at the end of Season One as he hesitantly offers his shoulder to the crying Lady Mary.  Wonderful characterization!

I also love the morality of the characters.  Even the villains know when they are doing wrong and consciously choose to do so.  Things were not portrayed with so many mixed signals and analyses back in the World War I era and the show is faithful to that.  People back then didn’t call good evil and evil good.

When someone does wrong on the show, even the moral characters, they have consequences to their actions, in the tradition of the best old movies and literature (think Jane Austen’s “Sense and Sensibility”).

Sure we are all flawed sinners.  But the show rewards the good things that are done and punishes the evil ones.  Eventually.  Just the way God has set up natural consequences to work in this world.

I also applaud the fact that there is no real violence portrayed onscreen, just a few scuffles between men using their fists.  The way Shakespeare used to write his plays.  The violence takes place offscreen.  Even World War I, in the case of Downton Abbey.

So does the sex.  Yes, there are two sexual storylines, one heterosexual and one gay.  But those stories are also take place offscreen and are told by the characters involved.  When things begin to get steamy, the camera stops rolling at the kissing part.  There is no nudity nor heavy breathing.

The word is “understated.”  It involves avoiding coarseness. I applaud the show for this.

One note about Thomas, the gay character, who by our modern definition is guilty of sexual assault (and blackmail) in every one of his attempted relationships:  if I were gay, I would regard his character, the biggest villain at Downton Abbey, as a big step backwards for gay rights.  I am not sure why a kissing scene, involving him as footman to a nobleman, happens in the first episode.  It has kept many traditional Christians from carrying on watching the series.  And it is not followed up in any of the other episodes.  It is like a bone being thrown to the gay lobby, but makes no sense, in context.  And, as I said, his character is despicable after that.  

Mrs. Patmore, the cook, refers to him as a “tormented soul,” while trying to explain him to a naive young girl who has a crush on him.  That is the kindest thing ever said about Thomas. Back then, that would be the phrase used for a gay person, I suppose.  

So “Downton Abbey” is a show that celebrates morality and does not involve coarseness and a cheapening of our standards and ourselves.

What is not to like?




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