A Bell for Adano


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An evening pause: This lovely and poignant scene from the 1945 film, A Bell for Adano, showcases the superb acting of Gene Tierney and John Hodiak. He is an American commander of Italian descent put in charge of an Italian village now under U.S. rule near the end of World War II. She is a local Italian girl longing to find her sweetheart who went off to fight for Italy and is now missing.

The movie was based on a short but profound book by John Hersey. And what I remember most from that book is this speech by the Hodiak character in trying to explain to the Italians the right way for government officials to act:

Adano has been a Fascist town. That is natural, because the country was Fascist, therefore the town was also. But now that the Americans have come, we are going to run the town as a democracy.

Perhaps you do not know what a democracy is. I will tell you.

Democracy is this: democracy is that the men of the government are no longer the masters of the people. They are the servants of the people. What makes a man master of another man? It is that he pays him for his work. Who pays the men in the government? The people do, for they pay the taxes out of which you are paid.

Therefore you are now the servants of the people of Adano. I too am their servant. When I go buy bread, I shall take my place at the end of the line, and I will wait my turn. You too must behave now as servants, not as masters. You must behave as the servant of the man without shoes just as much as the baron. If I find that any of you are not giving the type of service that I desire, I shall have to remove you from office.

Remember: you are servants now. You are servants of the people of Adano. And watch: this thing will make you happier than you have ever been in your lives.

I think every politician in America should be required to read this book, and learn a little humility. It might help them do a better job. It also, as Hersey wrote, might make them a bit happier.

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  • Publius II

    Hersey wrote another short but thought-provoking book that has stayed with me ever since I read it decades ago. “Hiroshima” started as an article that he did for The New Yorker in 1946. It documents the fate of six residents of the city and survivors of the bomb.

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