A story that sounds exactly like a lie

A story that sounds exactly like a lie May 25, 2021

Helen Jin Kim’s essay on “The Atlanta Shootings, Evangelical America, and the Korean War” (which, as the title suggests, covers a lot of ground) has me calling shenanigans on none other than Billy Graham himself.

Kim quotes from Graham’s article about his Christmastime trip to preach to soldiers and Marines near the front of the Korean War in 1952, “I Saw Your Sons at War: The Korean Diary of Billy Graham”:

“Never in my ministry have I preached with more liberty or power. The Spirit of God seemed to fall on the meeting.” Many of the “big, strong, tough Marines” were “weeping unashamedly” because of their “sins and their need of a Savior.” One of the “big” Marines who had calloused hands from years of fighting gripped Graham’s hand and thanked him with “tears streaming down his face.” Graham associated this Marine’s spiritual awakening and emotional release with increased masculinity: “I was proud of him, and proud of every one of those men, the finest of American youth. Everyone was a rugged, he-man. Everyone was a courageous, red-blooded American.”

I am unable to believe this account. That’s partly due to Graham’s star-spangled hyperbole, describing every G.I. Joe as, well, G.I. Joe. But it’s mainly because of the Former Guy, whose repeated clumsy performances of this trick revealed exactly how it’s done, ruining the effect for every would-be magician to follow. I suppose it was still an effective, semi-plausible device in the early ’50s, but now that we’ve seen it done so poorly by a less proficient trickster, it is impossible for us ever again to believe any tale involving a “big, strong, tough” and “rugged he-man” with calloused hands and “tears streaming down” his face.

Is it possible for such a thing to happen? I’m sure it is. There are, in fact, many big, strong, tough men in this world, many with calloused hands who are not so damaged by the Marion Morrison model of false machismo that they’re unable to feel or express emotions. And it’s entirely possible that some subset of such men will have occasion at some point to cry despite being in proximity to self-aggrandizing schemers eager to exploit their display of emotion in service of their own personal financial and/or political agendas.

But only a willing fool would ever again accept any such story without extraordinary proof. Once any reasonable person hears those tell-tale features of the now hackneyed lie — the big, burly man, the calloused hands, the tears streaming down his face — that person will correctly conclude that this story must be presumed false unless proven true. If we cannot say with 100% certainty that Graham was lying, we can say that the burden of proof was on him to show that he wasn’t, and he provided nothing to meet that burden. We can say with 100% accuracy that Graham told a story that sounded exactly like a lie and that makes him sound exactly like a liar.


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