All that’s necessary for evil to win in the world is for good men to do nothing.
Like all of you, I am saddened by the news that has come out of Penn State University over the last few months regarding Joe Paterno and the horrific cover-up that allowed God only knows how many young boys to sexually abused by Jerry Sandusky.
According to the official report issued by former FBI Director Louis Freeh on 12 July 2012, the late Paterno was not only aware of the events that have been ongoing since 1998 but he apparently was the key to a decision by top university officials to back away from alerting state authorities to a 2001 shower incident involving a boy.
“I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Paterno,” Freeh said. “But the facts are the facts. He was an integral part of an active effort to conceal.”
Paterno, with 409 career victories – the most in NCAA history among major college coaches – retired shortly after Sandusky was arrested in 2011 with games still left to play on the schedule. He died in January 2012. With his passing, many questions will never be answered, at least not in our lifetime on this planet.
I grew up a huge fan of “Joe Pa.” He was one of those “enemies with honor” that I still respected even though his team would usually beat my own. As an 8-year old kid, I first learned of that concept in a story by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in The Mighty Thor #133 (1967). The tale, Valhalla (titled after the Viking term for “heaven” and the given name of my own home) was about Harokin, an Asgardian barbarian who died fighting against Thor and the soldiers loyal to Odin. Yet so heroic and legendary was Harokin in battle that even in defeat, Thor and his comrades saluted his valor and worthiness as an enemy.
I’d feel the same way a decade later as I read the accounts of Robert E. Lee and his surrender to Grant at Appomattox in 1865. Even in defeat, there was no doubt of the respect the Union soldiers had for the silver-haired Lee. They stood in line and saluted as he rode by.
So what do we make of Paterno and his legacy? It’s as simple as right vs. wrong. I am more angry than sad when I think of Paterno. Any sympathy in my heart goes out to the young men who will spend the rest of their lives trying to move past a horrific attack … yes, ATTACK … there is no other word for it … on their lives.
Should PSU take down the Paterno statue? Yes. Should the library be re-named? Yes! How can this even be a debate? No amount of victories on the football field can make up for the willful neglect of our children.
I recall how I felt when I “discovered” the 1961 film, Judgment at Nuremberg. I was an adult, an Army Major having just arrived at USTRANSCOM in 1996 and viewed it on a classic movie channel on TV one Saturday afternoon.
Judgment at Nuremberg is one of the great films of all time. From the excellent script by Abby Mann, its skillful direction by Stanley Kramer and possibly one of the greatest casts ever assembled for a motion picture, it works on every level.
The subject trial takes place in 1948 long after the trials of the major German military generals when most people had lost interest in such proceedings. Writer Mann chose to write about the trial of German judges, the people who above all should have seen the evil of Hitler and his followers coming.
Assigned to the trial as Chief Judge is Dan Haywood (Spencer Tracy). The prosecutor is Colonel Tad Lansing (Richard Widmark) an “Army man” who vows to convict the four ex-German Judges. Defending the accused is Hans Rolfe (Maximillian Schell) who must convince the court that the defendants were acting only for the love of their country.
Other actors in this star-studded cast include Montgomery Clift, Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich, William Shatner, and Werner Kemperer (he was the Camp Commandant in Hogan’s Heroes; as a real-life Jewish German who fled Germany to escape Nazi oppression, he once commented how much he enjoyed playing “COL Klink” as a complete buffoon).
Schell, who made a career of playing Nazi officers in film (A Bridge Too Far, The Odessa File, Cross of Iron), deservedly won an Oscar for his outstanding performance as Rolfe.
Perhaps the most haunting of all the roles to me was defendant and respected Judge Ernst Janning (Burt Lancaster) who has written several books on law accepted the world over.
Over the course of the film, Janning (Lancaster) works tirelessly to distance himself from “vermin like the others on trial here.” Casting an iconic actor like Lancaster helped make the case to the audience … he’s not really a bad guy, is he? He’s Burt Lancaster for goodness sake!
The movie fully impacted me at the very end. Upon the conclusion of the trial and the guilty verdicts, Judge Hayward (Tracey) agrees to visit Janning (Lancaster) in his cell. Janning tells Hayward, “I truly didn’t know … I didn’t know that it would come to the mass executions.”
In the film’s most powerful moment, Judge Hayward responds, “It came to it the first time you (Janning) signed the order for the execution of a man you knew was innocent!” Wow! Moral compass suddenly righted again!
Let’s have some respect for Paterno’s family in all of this. And of course, I understand that this is emotionally devastating for alumni and fans of PSU. But let’s not let our vision be blurred by refusing to see the truth. The way ahead is contained in the very words of the PSU alma mater, sung at virtually every home game Paterno coached.
The line reads:
“May no act of ours bring shame to one heart that loves thy name.”