History, literature, film, and scripture are loaded with stories and examples of redemption. Buddhism gives us the story of Aṅgulimāla, a pathological mass-murderer who became a follower of the Buddha and went on to be enshrined as a "patron saint" of childbirth in South and Southeast Asia.
Rick Blaine, the character played by Humphrey Bogart in the 1942 Hollywood classic Casablanca, put side his cynical bitterness and seeming indifference to the rise of the Nazi Third Reich to help Isla Lund (played by Ingmar Bergman) -- the former lover who jilted (and embittered) him -- escape the grip of the Nazis with her husband, an anti-fascist Resistance fighter. The movie ends with Blaine declaring his determination to join the Resistance in Morocco.
The New Testament tells the story of Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector and a wealthy man:
"Jesus looked up and said to him, 'Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.' Zacchaeus stood there and said to Jesus, 'Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.' And Jesus said to Zacchaeus, 'Today salvation has come to this house. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.'"
Zacchaues was perhaps inspiration for Charles Dickens' character Ebeneezer Scrooge, a vicious exploitative capitalist turned into a benevolent and kindly employer when the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future visit him to tell him the story of his heretofore miserable, money-grubbing, and misanthropic life.
Malcom X told his life story to Alex Haley as one of redemption. It was a tale of progression from violent and criminal hustler (known as "Detroit Red") to the righteous and radical channeling and focusing his anger at White Society as a fiercely eloquent Civil Rights fighter for all the oppressed.
When the leading munitions and arms manufacturer Alfred Nobel read a premature obituary that condemned his as "the merchant of death," he bequeathed his fortune to establish the annual Nobel Peace Prize.
After a long career of leading bloody, racist, and imperialist interventions in the Philippines, China, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, the United States Marines Major General J. Smedly Butler was at the time of his death, 1940, the most decorated Marine in U.S. history. Upon retirement in the early 1930s, however, Butler became widely known for his outspoken lectures against war profiteering, U.S. military adventurism, and what he viewed as nascent fascism in the United States. In 1933, he exposed the "Business Plot," telling a Congressional committee that a group of wealthy American industrialists were planning a military coup to overthrow Franklin D. Roosevelt, with Butler selected to lead a march of veterans to become a fascist-style dictator. Two years later, Butler published War is a Racket, which has been widely quoted by antiwar activists ever since. America's left and anti-imperialist intellectual Noam Chomsky has long kept on his wall a framed picture of the following statement from Butler's book:
"WAR is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives...I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents."
The United States' greatest President, Abraham Lincoln, found a measure of redemption on the slavery issue during the Civil War. Like many moderate Republicans in the late 1850s and 1860-61, Lincoln was -- much to the chagrin of abolitionists like Frederick Douglass -- "unwilling to jeopardize the Union by interfering directly with slavery in the states." (Eric Foner, Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men: The Ideology of the Republican Party Before the Civil War [New York: Oxford University Press, 1970], p. 215.)
He undertook the Civil War with the sole stated aim of restoring the treasonously seceded slave states of the southern Confederacy to the Union. Faced with early Confederate victories and the need to cripple the South's slave-based economy to defeat it, however, Lincoln bowed to pressure of the abolitionists and let his longstanding moral opposition to slavery find voice in the Emancipation Proclamation. From that point on, the epic conflict was a struggle over the slave system.
In his justly famous Gettysburg Address of November 1863, Lincoln called the Civil War a struggle to see whether a nation "dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal...can long endure." He identified the Union Army's cause as "a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." In his less well remembered but equally eloquent Second Inaugural Address of March 4, 18654, Lincoln left no doubt about where he stood on the need to abolish chattel slavery:
"Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
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