Sunday, January 22, 2012

Red Tails

"Make justice your aim, stand up against evil, listen for the cry of the lost, and defend the forsaken." Isaiah 1:17

Movie theatres have been long overdue for a movie like Red Tails, the heroic story of the Tuskegee Airman, the African-American pilots of the 332nd fighter group and the 477th bombardment units of the US Army in World War II.

The Tuskegee Airman stand out for two reasons: first because of the fact that, before the civil rights era, these men were able to overcame racial prejudice and unjust laws in the service of their country; and secondly, because they fulfilled their duties with incredible precision and success, above and beyond that of many other squadrons and fighting units during WWII.

Red Tails gives audiences a glimpse into this oft-forgotten piece of history by following the stories of a few of those pilots during 1944 and 1945. It is also a tale of what it means to live up to the call to "...make justice your aim, stand up against evil, listen for the cry of the lost, and defend the forsaken" (Isa. 1:17).

The Tuskegee Airman knew a thing or two about injustice and facing evil. Not only did they see the destruction and horrible acts of cruelty by the Nazis, but they also faced an unjust system of racial segregation and sinful racism from the very people they fought alongside from their own country.

Yet they continued to soldier on, despite the obstacles. Even though they were given an opportunity to travel overseas with the Army during WWII, they were reduced to insignificant roles and leftover missions, far behind enemy lines.

But thanks to the prophetic leadership of Col. A.J. Bullard (Terrence Howard) in Washington DC - facing off against racist military brass, the Tuskegee Airman are finally given an opportunity to step up on the battlefield. They are tasked with the job of defending bomber planes as they fly into Axis territory. In some respects, it represents another challenge: to dutifully defend by air the very soldiers who discriminate against them on the ground.

Yet despite this, they passed with flying colors (red, to be exact, as their P-51 Mustang aircraft bear the color on their tails). Through their aerial skills, they are able to truly "...stand up against evil, listen for the cry of the lost, and defend the forsaken," and that's just in the skies.

These brave men teach us a valuable lesson: that, to make justice our aim for all people, we must always stand against evil, listen for the cry of the lost, and defend the forsaken, even if those cries and forgotten souls are the people we dislike most. Their role in the war is simply to defend life. The movie shows us that it was tempting to be a hot shot hero (and some of the pilots on screen do succumb to that temptation) - but being a skilled wingman is what wins the war.

In our lives, it can be tempting to look for power and glory for ourselves. But in the end, sometimes the best thing we can do is be good wingmen.

Yes, there may be battles that we can easily win by ourselves. In the movie, the hot-headed Joe 'Lightning' Little (David Oyelowo) wants to single-handedly face off against the Nazis as well as the white racist airmen stationed near his unit in Italy. And while he is a skilled fighter (in the air and on the ground), he cannot truly claim victory on his own. He needs the other Tuskegee pilots, and he needs the other soldiers (white, black, or otherwise) in the route towards victory on any front.

We need one another. And even if we see injustice and evil, and hear the cries of the lost and forsaken, we can do more in concert with others than we can do on our own. It's tempting to be the brazen hero, but if we do it, we can crash and burn - which doesn't help anyone.

Instead, we must work together. The Tuskegee Airmen worked together to defend the WWII bombers they were assigned to, no matter how simple that task was in the grand scheme of the war. The white soldiers needed the Tuskegee pilots - and the Tuskegees needed each other - to win the day. And looking further ahead, the civil rights activists needed the heroism of the Tuskegee Airmen in their own march towards freedom.

And while Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose holiday we celebrate this month, was a heroic figure of social justice, he needed thousands of men and women, white and black, to stand with him as his wingmen as he marched on Washington and declared "I have a dream..."

No matter how great we are, we all need wingmen. And we all need to be wingmen. Working together as a human race is our ultimate goal, so in whatever small ways we can, we must move in that direction by supporting, loving, and fighting alongside one another. And as one united community, we can truly accomplish the greatest things.

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