In the months following the Japanese attack
on Pearl Harbor, William Faulkner wrote “Two Soldiers,” a short story about two
brothers separated by war. It was published by The Saturday Evening Post
on March 28, 1942, as German U-boats camped along the eastern seaboard and the
first American troops landed in Britain. With the country whipped into the
hysteria of a big war’s opening days, Faulkner’s story focused upon an
emotional conflict—recognizing that politics change not just the world,
they change people.
Faulkner advanced his call to humanism with his Nobel Prize–acceptance
speech eight years later, while American soldiers were deploying to Korea and
the world was experiencing new kind of panic post–Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Faulkner protested the generalized fear seizing our cultures, the resulting
objectification and alienation that threatened to stymie compassion and
creative expression. “I decline to accept the end of man,” he said, famously,
summoning writers to remind people of the human capacities for love and hope
and pity. “The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man,” he said, “it
can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”
In the late summer of 2003, first-time writer-director Aaron Schneider
released a short-film adaptation of “Two Soldiers.” Within a citizenry
habituated to color-coded terror alerts, Faulkner’s old salvo of perseverance
and hope reached new ears. On February 29, 2004, Two Soldiers received
the Academy Award for Best Short Film (Live Action).
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