Erik Larson’s new book, The Splendid and the Vile
, has occupied my attention during our recent spell of rainy evenings and weekends.
The book offers a gripping history of the Blitz, that devilish campaign in which the German Luftwaffe, during 1940-1941, rained hellish incendiaries and high explosive bombs upon cities across the United Kingdom. The ostensible targeting of strategically valuable assets—airfields, artillery batteries, transportation networks, weapons factories—soon gave way to indiscriminate bombing that destroyed commercial centers, churches, historic monuments, homes, and of course lives.
In London, both the Commons Chamber and the House of Lords were struck by bombs, as was Buckingham Palace and Big Ben. The latter has never been fully repaired, with some war-related restoration costs
only identified last year. Although Coventry Cathedral is probably the most widely known of churches devastated in the campaign, at least twenty other significant churches from Plymouth to York were struck. By the end of the Blitz, Larson tallies civilian deaths at 44,652, together with over 52,000 other civilian casualties.
Destruction of tragic scale can be difficult to convey. The raw tonnage of bombs, number of sorties flown, accounts of damage, and so forth become unfathomable. As effectively as Larson incorporates such data into his narrative, he tells a far better history through his efforts to humanize the Brits’ lived tragedy, especially through liberal use of personal diaries.
From Churchill’s inner circle to ordinary Londoners, we hear very human voices contending with amplified awareness of the thin line between life and death. NY Times
reviewer Candice Millard
notes that these “small, forgotten stories . . . make it possible for us to understand, even 80 years later, what made hearts race and break, and are best told by the people who experienced them, not only in a war room surrounded by military advisers but also in a London walk-up, alone.” Some responded to crisis admirably; others ignominiously. In this respect, Larson’s crisply related history not only brings fascinating perspective to Churchill’s momentous decisions, but to the parallel drama of the citizens whose trust he secured and sustained.
The Splendid and the Vile
also reminds us that when pressed against the wall, facing seemingly impossible decisions under duress, the field can seem wide open for both splendid heroism and vile disrepute. Martin Luther King, Jr., makes the point in Strength to Love
: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” Yet the measure of our character is also taken in humdrum decisions in which there is also scope for the splendid and the vile. Indeed, unless we act for good in the little things, we have little hope of splendid virtue when real challenges arise.
Jesus puts it simply: “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.” We have much, my friends, over which to be faithful and effective stewards in the Honors College and wider University. What a great blessing is ours in daily pursuing the splendid in the ordinary and sometimes extraordinary work we share.
On that note, please give attention to a few updates connected to our Honors College community:
• Charles A. McDaniel, Jr
., associate professor in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, has been appointed to a one-year term as BIC’s interim director. Chuck has a long record of success as a teacher, scholar, departmental citizen, and administrator. Students note the “above and beyond” character of his teaching and mentoring. His articles and books, including God and Money: The Moral Challenge of Capitalism
(2007) and Civil Society and the Reform of Finance: Taming Capital, Reclaiming Virtue
(2015), evince analytical rigor and fair-minded judgment shaped by Christian faith. Moreover, the character, kindness, integrity, and judgment typical of Chuck’s academic citizenship promise to serve BIC and the whole HC well in the year ahead. Thank you, Chuck, for your willingness to lead and serve.
• Today marks the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, a “horrific outburst of racial hatred and violence” about which I wrote here
last June. On this day, I’m reminded of how important it is for universities to be places of honest and humble reckoning with our history, including aspects that prompt indignation or shame. I’m pleased to note that over the past year, members of the Honors College have taken steps to think and teach with renewed care about racism’s wretched legacy, as well as the grace and justice to which Christians are called. I commend the Great Texts Program for its new course addressing Black Intellectual Traditions. Recent HC Instagram posts highlight BIC’s statement on racism and other commentary (here
), along with a UNSC capstone course on the intellectual formation and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., team-taught by Barry Harvey
, professor of theology in the Great Texts Program and Todd Buras
, associate professor of philosophy in the College of Arts & Sciences (here
). “We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right,” MLK, Jr. enjoins. Yes, indeed.
• Congratulations to Adam Moore
, assistant director in the Baylor Interdisciplinary Core, for his recognition as a Solid Gold Neighbor, an annual honor for faculty and staff deeply engaged in community-focused service. Honorees are nominated by deans, selected by External Affairs, and recognized at a public event
. Adam’s recognition arises out of his Lost in Waco
initiative, a collaborative community arts project described in a Waco Tribune article here
. In addition to the photography and stories featured in the magazine, the organization also hosts Analog Waco
. Great work, Adam!
• The University’s COVID-19 vaccination clinic has readily available appointments for faculty, staff, spouses, and dependents. Because of the protections offered by the vaccine, those who are fully vaccinated may discontinue weekly COVID testing and use of face masks in most campus settings. In addition, significant participation by faculty and staff will help ensure a full return to normal academic year life. Click here
for additional information.
All the best,
Douglas V. Henry | Dean
Honors College | Baylor University
baylor.edu/honorscollege | 254.710.7689