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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

What I’m Reading: A Man of Peace in a World at War

Stella Carpenter, daughter of The Salvation Army’s fifth general, George Carpenter, begins this biography of her parents with the story of her discovery of a large, green, wooden box containing the “correspondence, private letters, manuscripts, articles, drafts, reports, lectures, sermons, etc.” of her parents, “the records of a lifetime” (Carpenter vi). When she shared the discovery with her brother, he said to her, after a pause, “You know what this means?  You will have to write a biography” (Carpenter vi).

Unfortunately, her biography of her parents is as unorganized as a shoebox full of old photos. She draws one out and looks at it for a while, reminiscing about where and when it was taken, who was there, and the lovely things they said. Then she draws out another, and another. It is a loving reminiscence, but hardly a biography, and certainly not a critical evaluation.

The title is very wrong, too, for two reasons. 1) Its about both George and Minnie Carpenter, not just him, the “Man of Peace…” and 2) his pacifism is scarcely mentioned. There is no examination of how he applied those principals to the administration of The Salvation Army during the years of World War II. Which was disappointing to me, since that was expressly what I was looking for.

If you want a warm and soft focus, sentimental account of the lives of General George Carpenter, and Minnie Carpenter, (and you don’t mind enduring some bad writing) this book is a fine choice.  It is full of saccharine anecdotes to warm your heart and bless your soul. But if you want a critical examination of his life and principles, and the consequences of his work, you’ll have to look somewhere else.

(and-don't be confused... there's a biography of Kofi Annan with the same title...)

Carpenter, Stella.  A Man of Peace in a World at War. Australia. Privately published. 1993.

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