A war criminal & humanitarian

Anne Spoerry

Tiger Woods is one of the greatest golfers ever, but the last decade has revealed a series of affairs, transgressions, and DUI’s. He’ll play in the Masters this weekend. Is Tiger back? I’m not much of a golf fan, but I’ll keep tabs on him as he makes his way through Augusta National.

Mother Teresa is a saint and a Nobel Peace Prize Winner. She’s also criticized for not giving patients in her clinic adequate medical attention despite pulling in huge sums of money. She had dubious political connections and held dogmatic views on abortion, divorce, and contraception.

Can we accept the good works of people while acknowledging their mistakes and flaws?

While researching WHERE AM I GIVING? I came across an extreme example of this in the life of Anne Spoerry.

Famed paleoanthropologist and conservationist Richard Leakey, said Anne “probably saved more lives than any other individual in east Africa—if not the whole continent.“

Anne, a physician, learned to fly at the age of 45, so she could reach Kenyans who didn’t have access to medical care. She worked with Flying Doctors for 30 years until she died in 1999.

There was a dark reason Anne left France. She was exiled. Anne was a member of the French resistance and was captured by the Nazis during World War II. She was placed in Germany’s only concentration camp for women. When the Nazis asked her to lethally inject some of her fellow patients, she complied. One inmate said that Anne “did not hesitate” and as a doctor herself wondered “how anyone who is a medical doctor or wants to become one could deliberately execute a patient . . . I can only explain it by her fear of reprisals.”

None of this was known until after Anne died and her nephew found a document titled “Central Registry of War Criminals Consolidated Wanted List” in which he found his aunt’s name. [1]

Many of the mobile clinics she supported closed with her passing.

Anne was a convicted war criminal and a humanitarian.

When I was in Kenya, I spent a few days with former gang members who now promote peace. They called themselves The Legend of Kenya. They had committed acts in their former lives that still brought tears to their eyes.

“I’m a victim of crime and I’m a criminal,” Stephen, one of the groups members told me.  “I used to do bad things. My mind was corrupt. I was totally evil.”

He feared mob justice, where, once the community has had enough, they beat you, lay you across a tire, and then light you on fire.

“Now I’m proud to be an agent of peace and a good person,” he said.

“The darkest and best parts of him are in this community,” Rozy the leader of the group said. “People remember him as he was and as he is.”

Now Stephen volunteers at a local hospital.

Giving Rules: If we only accept the good from those who’ve never done bad, we’ll have very little good to celebrate.

Beth Anne Brink-Cox says:

I have thought about this many, many times. It’s come back to my mind again with the imminent release of “Chappaquiddick.” There is no question Ted Kennedy made the worst decisions at every turn once that car went into the water, and a young woman died because of it. I was 9 when that happened and I remember well how often it was brought up time and again, always meant to do maximum damage to whatever he was trying to achieve or attain. And yet…..when he died he was called the Lion of Congress, and there is no question how much good he did in his tireless fight for health care.

We saw the same thing when Elia Kazan was awarded his lifetime achievement Academy Award. The industry buzzed for weeks and there was a definite divide that night; many who stood in ovation, others who sat defiantly stone-faced. I thought the saddest part of that was that he did not name anyone who hadn’t already been named to the HUAC. There was an incredible movie about that dark time called “Guilty by Suspicion,” showing how completely and ruthlessly so many were destroyed, caught in the fever and panic that was relentlessly stoked by a criminally intent committee.

Would I want to be remembered ONLY for the bad choices I made? Has nothing else I’ve done counted for anything?

My daughter and I have talked a lot lately, with all the gun control issues, and I reminded her that we can THINK we know exactly how we would react in an emergency, in a terrible time of life and death that requires split-second thinking. It’s easy to say what we would do, but even the many soldiers and veterans I know who have had so much training have said that they didn’t even know how well they would react until they had to.

I guess, for me, it comes back to only God can judge. And I’m not God.

Kelsey says:

Beth, Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I also think it’s important that we look for the good in people, but not in an overly optimistic way. Nothing against optimists, but often that’s not reality. I think it’s possible to be inspired by and learn from someone’s good acts even if they are bad people or have done bad things.

Becki says:

Without trying to excuse the poor (or at times evil) choices someone made earlier, I think it’s important to look at whether that person learned from those choices and is now acting differently. In the case of the doctor above do we know if she made the choice to inject prisoners to save herself? Or did she think that injecting the prisoners might save them a great deal of suffering before dying of starvation? The rest of her life seemed to be an attempt to make up for that war-time period, and I think it’s possible to praise someone’e humanitarian efforts without ignoring things they did before that. Now, if someone discovered she had intentionally killed people during her time in Kenya, that would be a totally different story. After all, as in the case of Tiger Woods, most people like their hero stories to show flaws in the hero but for them to come back better or stronger than they were before.

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