Monday, January 16, 2012

The Missionary Position

Now that I've got your attention, I want to share an idea about Mormons.  We've seen them at airports, in third world countries, and have rejected them at our doorstep countless times.  But maybe there is something to be learned from these missionaries that has nothing to do with Joseph Smith or polygamy.

I read a very interesting feature article in Bloomberg's Business Week magazine.  It describes the two-year missionary program that male Mormons complete after high school.  In God's MBA's: Why Mormon Missions Produce Leaders, writer Caroline Winter takes us inside the Provo Missionary Training Center, which dispatches 20,000 young Mormons to the farthest corners of the planet. The author suggests that this experience might be the reason there are a disproportionately high number of Mormons who have leadership positions in business and politics.  With two Mormons currently running for President,  I wonder if there might just be some truth to that.  Romney did his mission in France (Winter recounts some juicy anecdotes about his time there) and Huntsman served in China.  And if so, is it the fact that these pre-adults are going abroad that gives them an advantage, or is it the regimented, disciplined lifestyle? Or is it the fact that they have one of the toughest sales jobs on the planet?

To me, this logic makes perfect sense.  Sell something really, really difficult.  Then sell something a little more marketable.  Suddenly, selling the more marketable thing must seem like a breeze.  I mean, once you've converted someone to another religion, selling software products or apple pie or yourself as the Republican nominee must seem much easier in comparison.  Perhaps we should model a national program after the Mormon missions.  Instead of pushing a new set of religious beliefs, we push a new set of American products, creating jobs, reducing the deficit, and maybe just producing a new generation of leaders in the process.

Sorry guys, I'm not interested, but perhaps you'd like to run my company one day.

Friday, January 13, 2012

How Images of War Become Weapons for Peace

The most powerful weapon in the world has been, and can be, a photograph.  Military weapons can only destroy.  Cameras in the hands of photographers with hearts can capture love-hope-passion- change lives and make the world a better place....and it only takes 1/500th of a second. Life goes on - we photograph it. But it's much better with love.

-Eddie Adams

I just finished watching the documentary An Unlikely Weapon, directed by Susan Morgan Cooper and narrated by Kiefer Sutherland.  The film's subject was war photographer Eddie Adams, most famous for a photo he didn't particularly care for. "Two people's lives were destroyed that day.  This photo destroyed the General's life as well," Eddie said, referring to the South Vietnamese General and American ally who pulled the trigger.  Interestingly, Eddie visited the General years later in what must have been a surreal second encounter, after the General emigrated to the US and opened a pizza restaurant in Virginia.  This became an iconic image of the Vietnam War, and some would argue, helped turn public opinion against it. 

General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Viet Cong prisoner in Saigon (Eddie Adams/AP)

Subjects describe how Eddie Adams would walk in front of the troops with a gun, but carried no bullets.  Eddie photographed 13 wars and then "hit a wall" and became a celebrity/Penthouse photographer.  I can certainly understand why.

The film delves into some deeper issues that I believe continue to plagued the American male psyche. Since the Vietnam era, and maybe earlier, there is this notion that the real men in our society are the ones who fight in the wars.  It is even more acute during an election season when the jingoistic rhetoric borders on a pissing contest.  Maybe its the games we let kids play in this country.  It has gone from GI Joe action figures to virtual reality video games like Counter Strike.  Perhaps we should come up with an Eddie Adams-inspired war photography video game?  Sorry kids, no bullets, but you do get black and white, slow speed film!

The most touching moment in the movie for me was not really related to Eddie Adams.  The filmmakers interviewed the screaming, Napalm covered little girl in this other famous Vietnam era photograph, Kim Phuc.

Phan Thị Kim Phúc running down a road near Trảng BàngVietnam, after a napalm bomb was dropped on the village of Trảng Bàng by a plane of theVietnam Air ForceThe village was suspected by United States Army forces of being a Viet Cong stronghold. Kim Phúc survived by tearing off her burning clothes. (Nick Ut/AP)

Now a middle aged woman with burns still covering her body, Phuc incredibly has turned into a peace activist. She says, "I still suffer, but people get to know the picture and get involved in my life and help me.  The picture is a powerful gift for me to work for peace, and how beautiful if we can learn to live with love, with hope, and forgiveness and if everyone can learn that we dont need war at all. And if that little girl can do it, everyone can do it too."