Well, This is Some Kind of Exceptional

I feel like I have the general non-Jewish American feelings about Nazis. They are bad.

I remember watching Shoah in college and finding one part, where Lanzmann interviewed an old Nazi (secretly) who, in the grainy footage looked like he could be the brother of my grandfather. That grandfather.

Which means that, in my mind, the problem of what to do with men who were evil a lifetime ago is kind of linked both to historical evil and to familial evil (which, yes, are often the same things).

I, personally, don’t find even my parents’ belated admissions of ways they fucked up to be that satisfying. I don’t want my dad now to be sorry for standing idly by while I was stalked. I want my dad then to have stood up. To me, this is one of the great terriblenesses at the heart of living–that there is no real justice, no real restitution.

For me, seeing a 90 year old man discovered to be a Nazi in hiding in the U.S., even if he’s put on trial and lives out the rest of his life in prison, it seems to me so too little so too late as to be practically meaningless.

However, I am not all people and I am certainly not someone whose families were annihilated by people like that. So, my feeling on the matter is that, even if I would not find tracking down ancient Nazis satisfying, if that’s what even a few of their survivors want, then that’s what we should do. My feelings in this case are mostly beside the point.

If that’s what even a few of their survivors want, then that’s what we should do.

But, it turns out that we, America, are Nazi collaborators. After the war, the ones we thought would be useful we brought here and gave jobs. Not just in the space program, which we already knew, but as spies for the CIA and the FBI.

So, all those Nazis that we find living in the U.S. and make a big show, no matter their age, of deporting for trial, those are just the Nazis who aren’t our friends. It turns out that America faced an ethical question similar to the one I outlined at the beginning–if we don’t think it’s that bad to keep some Nazis around, is the anguish of their victims more important than our feelings?

And we decided, apparently, that, no, the anguish of their victims was not that important to us. We’d throw them a bone every so often by finding a Nazi every now and then who wasn’t useful to us, so that they’d believe we actually gave two shits about finding Nazis. But we’d keep our Nazis safe and sound.

I guess I’d find this less upsetting if we didn’t still run around acting like we have the moral high ground all the damn time. But we never look the terrible things we do in the face. We never say “Yes, we acknowledge these are our bad people, our wrong-doings, our evil.” We always make excuses and go back as quickly as we can to ignoring and pretending we are always on the side of right.

2 thoughts on “Well, This is Some Kind of Exceptional

  1. If I can focus on the more personal aspect of what you’re saying, this:

    I don’t want my dad now to be sorry for standing idly by while I was stalked. I want my dad then to have stood up. To me, this is one of the great terriblenesses at the heart of living–that there is no real justice, no real restitution.

    is both really, dreadfully true and completely backwards. It seems to me that your feeling this way is probably a sign that your father isn’t sorry in a meaningful way. He has learned to say he’s sorry, but he hasn’t learned how to read a situation better, how to trust you (or any other woman in your situation). And you don’t have any confidence that, given a similar situation now (may it not happen), he would react any differently than he did before. It seems likely to me that if he had done some fundamental changing, you would see that and be ready to forgive him. That’s not looking for restitution in the sense of making something whole that had been broken; most of the time humans can’t achieve that, since we can’t reverse time. But it is ensuring that a wrong won’t be repeated, and that is something we can manage.

    I don’t know how to apply this viewpoint to a larger national, political situation. States aren’t people, and we’re fools if we expect them to act that way. But I think that there’s a similar psychological, maybe moral, value to the sort of Truth and Reconciliation actions that they’ve developed in South Africa, and a recognition that we can’t fix the past but we can fix the future.

  2. Yeah, I think that’s it. I mean, I genuinely think he is sorry. I just also don’t believe that he understands why it happened or whose responsibility it was to put a stop to it or even how profoundly it affected me–both because it was a traumatic experience and because I was held responsible for it.

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