Friendship Is a Passport

Julien Bryan - USA
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, September 11, 2009
Julien Bryan
Julien Bryan via the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Julien Bryan traveled the globe making movies about the world’s cultures. In spending time with people, Bryan came to believe that despite differences in politics and religion, we all share a desire for adequate food and shelter, honest work, justice, freedom and dignity.

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As a little boy, I believed devoutly in a very personal God who listened to my every word and took a very personal interest in all of my activities. I actually talked to Him a great deal. He was a God of love, but He was also a God of fierce and rapid justice. I felt as though His eyes were on me all the time.

I was raised a Protestant, and, as I look back, I can see that somewhere along the line I learned to be suspicious of and condescending to all other sects. Then, at 17, during the First World War, I joined the ambulance service of the French Army and served for six months at Verdun. My friends were simple French soldiers. With one or two exceptions, they were all Roman Catholics. I went to Mass with them, carried them when wounded, saw them die. And I came to like them as people, to admire their courage, to respect their right to their faith, which was so different from my own.

Twenty years ago, I began to make films about people all over the world. I took them as I found them — not as I wanted them to be. Wherever I went, I soon discovered that when you break bread with people and share their troubles and joys, the barriers of language, of politics, and of religion soon vanish. I liked them, and they liked me. That was all that mattered.

I came to find that the peoples of this world have much more in common with one another than they have differences. I have found this true wherever I have gone — even in Moscow and the far reaches of Siberia. The most hardened Communist would eventually break down if you were kind to his children. This was true even though he knew that he might be arrested the next day for becoming friendly with a foreigner.

As for the common man in Russia, my belief is that in spite of 34 years of Stalin and regimented thought-control, he still loves his land and his church and his family. And he hates the cruelty of the secret police and the incredible stupidity of the Soviet bureaucrats. In fact, I believe that in a fundamental way he is very much like us; he wants to live his own life — and be let alone.

All over the world I have watched the great religions in practice: Buddhist monks at their devotions in Manchuria; Shinto priests in their temples in Japan; and only last autumn, the brave and hardy Serbian Muslims at their worship in Tito’s Yugoslavia. I have come to hold a deep respect for all of man’s great religions. And I have come to believe that despite their differences, all men can worship side by side.

For myself, I believe in people — and in their given right to enjoy the freedoms we so cherish in America. I believe in justice and knowledge and decent human values. I believe in each man’s right to a job and food and shelter. And I sincerely believe that one day all of these things will come to pass.

My real faith, then, is a dream that in spite of daily headlines prophesying man’s destruction, we can build a better world, a world of peace and human brotherhood. Yes, even in our lifetime! This is my faith and my dream. In my small way, I want to have a share in making it come about.

Documentary filmmaker Julien Bryan made educational movies exploring cultures as diverse as the nomadic tribes in Saudi Arabia and the mountain families of Appalachia. His films were translated into 40 languages and shown around the world.