BY DAVID PERRYMAN
In 1943, during World War II, as the Allies were driving back the Axis powers across Europe, President Franklin Roosevelt was informed that huge caches of artwork and cultural treasures were being destroyed by Nazis. In response, he commissioned the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives platoon.
The group, consisting of 17 middle aged men and a few women who interrupted careers as historians, architects, museum curators and professors, searched for, recovered and returned to the rightful owners, hundreds of thousands of priceless artwork and treasures that would otherwise have been destroyed.
A Harvard professor, George Stout, was a member of the platoon and was the basis of the character portrayed by George Clooney in the 2014 movie, The Monument Men. Clooney’s character summed up the urgent mission of the platoon when he said, “You can wipe out an entire generation, you can burn their homes to the ground and somehow they’ll still find their way back. But if you destroy their history, you destroy their achievements and it’s as if they never existed. That’s what Hitler wants.”
In a broader sense, the professor was stating an absolute truth that goes to the very core of man’s existence: The fundamental difference between humanity and all other living creatures is that a life without a creed, a heritage, or a religion is a life without purpose. Consequently, stripping those anchors strips a life of meaning.
During that same war, Viktor Frankl, a young Jewish doctor from Austria, was stripped of all humanity, having passed through four concentration camps, lost his parents, his wife and most of his family. At war’s end, Frankl authored Man’s Search for Meaning, considered by many to be one of the 10 most influential books of the twentieth century.
Quoting Frankl’s message, “There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions as the knowledge that there is meaning in one’s life.”
Conversely, the most effective way to murder the human spirit is to devalue the person by eliminating its sense of greater purpose.
Observing current Oklahoma political direction, it is difficult to locate a single policy that would tend to nurture self-worth in students or teachers by saying that we are willing to commit enough funding to even bring them closer to the regional average.
It is virtually impossible to find any plan that would communicate to those without access to health insurance and health care that they have sufficient intrinsic value that we should even be concerned.
A vocal and aggressive contingent of citizens refuses to mandate that working Oklahomans who live in poverty be paid a wage that is sufficient to house, clothe and feed a family or to purchase and insure adequate, reliable transportation.
When public policy says a person has zero value, identifying one’s purpose becomes virtually impossible. Unfortunately, the devaluation of a class of people ultimately devalues all classes of people.
Oklahoma’s current preoccupation with cutting taxes has and will continue to cripple our ability to educate our children, have safe roads and bridges, allow correctional employees a safe place to work, improve access to health care, treat mental health and move this state forward.
Words of compassion ring hollow when public policy communicates that many Oklahomans are simply not worth the trouble.
The 55th Legislative Session will begin in a few short weeks. Will it perpetuate an agenda that robs them of all purpose? Or will we be led by “Monument” legislators who search for solutions, recover hope and return opportunity to the people?
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives