The difference between politics in the USA and in Europe is often as small (or big) as one three letter word: God. In Sunday's debate on health care Rep. Dale Kildee (D - Michigan) mentioned the afterlife. "I'm not going to jeopardize my eternal salvation", he said, assuring listeners that federal money would not be used to pay for abortions and that he could vote for the bill. To many Europeans such words, especially in the context of a parliamentary debate, sound bizarre. Is this because most European countries have clear rules for the separation of church and state? Or is it because the secularization of the Old World has reached a point where people dare not even think along religious lines? Take Austria, a country rooted in Catholicism: In left leaning circles atheism is defended with a vehemence reminiscent of the fundamentalism of the Christian right in the United States. It will be interesting to see if and how things change over the next decades, as Muslim men and - hopefully - women enter politics.
Recently I stumbled upon Visions of Mary, a war story by Joseph Richardson. The book begins in a present day emergency room in Tennessee: A physician, a good guy who takes his work seriously, fights to establish the identity of a man who was found wandering about in a snow storm. The M.D.'s questions bring up memories of World War II in the disoriented patient. Thanks to the lost man's recollections we eventually learn that he is Colonel John Stone, an American war hero. The colonel tells the physician how he enlisted and became a pilot, how he married his sweetheart, Mary, and how he almost died when the Japanese shot down his plane, the "China Doll," in the last months of the war. After the attack, Stone and his men found themselves on a raft in the middle of a shark infested nowhere called the Pacific. Without food, water and radio connection their death seemed imminent. The men's fight for survival is where the book turns exciting: plunged into this crisis,