I recently read Dachau 29 April 1945–finished it yesterday, as a matter of fact. It’s a collection of interviews and letters by the American division who first entered Dachau in 1945–I don’t know if I can say they liberated the place, because who can ever be set free of such things?
I’ve sometimes wondered if all nation-states have periods of brutal (internal or external) conquest married to racism as a matter of course, and the only thing stopping such things is geographic luck (double luck for their neighbors, no doubt), lack of resources, or just simply not being old or cohesive enough as a country to allow the racism time and space to grow and bear its awful fruit.
When I was younger I likened it to teenage acting-out, but that analysis implies a lack of responsibility. I don’t think it’s an inevitable stage of development either, but the curse of reading history is seeing countries and people turn in spirals, deepening atrocities with each pass.
The concentration camps for immigrants are a hot current news item; also hot is a bunch of apologists saying “they’re not so bad” and “you can’t call them concentration camps.” To the former I can only say “yes, they are, your racism is showing,” to the former, I will simply say, “Yes, I can, because that’s exactly what they are. Oh, and your racism is showing.”
“But there are no ovens!” some fuckwit racist apologist will wail, to which I reply, “Not yet.” There are no mass graves yet–or are there? Frankly, we don’t know, and the way things are going, I believe we will be extraordinarily lucky if the cycle of genocide is interrupted before we get to walls of bodies tumbling into bulldozer-dug pits. And if we are that goddamn lucky somehow, some racist fuckwits will try to use that sheer dumb luck to say “oh, it wasn’t so bad, you’re exaggerating,” because they know the comfortable disbelief of the half-somnolent who aren’t directly affected (yet) is their best cover.
The most hideous thing about this is that it’s not a natural disaster. It’s not an earthquake or a typhoon, it’s not a forest fire or a flood. People are doing this. People with hands shaped just like yours and mine, people who go home at the end of the day to their families or just to their solitary lives. People are caging, brutalizing, raping, and beating other people. The abusers look like you or me, they kiss their children, they drive to work and think about traffic. They are neighbors and friends and bring potluck dishes to events, they put shoes on feet that look just like yours, my friend, and just like mine.
We’re doing this to ourselves. Sometimes I think humanity deserves to be wiped from the planet if this is how we’re going to behave. Oh, Terra will still revolve, and Nature will wipe all traces of us and our catastrophe away, and in a few billion years the vastness of the globe will be alive with bird and whale song, whispering with wind through trees maybe stunted by fallout and long-ago pollution but still alive and murmuring. The planet’s going to be just fine after we choke on our own blood as a species.
Occasionally, the prospect even comforts me.
I don’t hold out a lot of hope. I used to think people could change, but change is painful and many prefer to stay miserably oblivious, content to let the rich and the malignant destroy everyone else as long as there’s a chance the bootlickers and crumb-stealers will remain unmolested. Which is a fool’s game–sooner or later, even the bootlickers are kicked.
Yes, I read that book deliberately. When I saw it on the library shelf I thought let’s try, and if I can finish it and honestly not see where current events are going echoed in those pages, I’ll hang up my crystal ball and keep my mouth shut.
You see where I ended up. There is no way to look away or keep one’s mouth shut. It’s not quite the eleventh hour before the apocalypse–but really, do we need it to be the eleventh hour before we put a stop to the bullshit?
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