Robert De Niro’s “The Good Shepherd”

Another movie this evening, Robert De Niro’s The Good Shepherd (2006), about the origins of the CIA during the forty years right from the beginning of World War II. It reminded me, for its complexities, its articulation of truth and truthworthiness, its cynical moves and its “cool” acting, of the TV series on John Le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (1979). Some elements that made me think in the movie are the following. (1) The idea expressed by a Russian colonel who attempts to flee to the West, that the power of the Soviet Union had been systematically overrated by people who wanted to promote economic and military interests and, therefore, needed a strong enemy. (2) The danger of an organisation of clerks and civil servants who just want to do their job well, but by doing so structurally become a part of some very dangerous power games. Particularly the latter reminded me of Laurence Rees’ book Auschwitz: The Nazis and the “Final Solution” (2005), that I read in its French translation Auschwitz. Les Nazis et la “solution finale” (Albin Michel, 2005), in which the author argues that Auschwitz became possible because German civil servants and military people tried to find the best technical solutions possible for problems that arose on the way to an increasingly severe persecution and Holocaust of the Jewish people. It’s people who are trying to do their best at the job, without asking any further questions, who become the pawns of an efficient killing machine.

This second observation connects with a concern that has grown over the years. I have found myself as part of administrative structures and attempting to do my job as efficiently as possible, there where I was situated in the machinery of administration. I helped build up an administration which in the end, partly because of my own efficiency, began to do in a very efficient way a number of things that I could not anymore agree with. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in a text called Nach Zehn Jahren (usually published as a part of his letters from prison, Widerstand und Ergebung), referred to his experience of the abgrundtiefe Bösheit des Bösen (the unfathomly deep evilness of evil): under the cloak of good and worthwhile events, evil finds its way. Serious discernment is needed to unveil these tricks of evil, as Saint Ignatius Loyola would point out in the advanced rule for spiritual discernment in his Spiritual Exercises. In a more “funny” way, this can be found in C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. I also like to refer in this context to the impressive movie The Devil’s Advocate (1997), featuring Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves.

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