Tuesday, January 19, 2016

That Which Cannot be Unseen

Anyone who has spent time on the internet knows what I mean by the title of this blog. Hell, I can't scroll through my tumblr feed without seeing at least a few disgusting and offensive images. Even while investigating something such as history, the researcher may stumble upon images from our cruel past.

At the bookstore we also sell books online; mostly academic stuff. Last week I sold a book entitled War and Genocide by Doris L. Bergen. The subtitle is A Concise History of the Holocaust, so you can imagine what images might be contained therein. I couldn't help browsing through the textbook, and looking at the pictures, most of which I had never seen before. One of the most shocking elements of the photos were the captions, such as "The soldier sent this photo to his girlfriend" under an image of a muddy trench filled with emaciated dead bodies.

The one image in the book which will haunt me, is that of a Polish pastor, about to be shot in front of the grave he has just dug. The view is from the butt of the soldier's rifle, as if the photographer was attempting to be creative. The pastor is still wearing his clerical collar and  his shirt sleeves are rolled up. His stance clearly says, "Fuck you Nazis! Go ahead and shoot!"

Back to tumblr: I follow a few sites, mostly highlighting weed and wilderness, but about a year ago one of the sites had posted a photo a young Iraqi boy, no more than three years old, wearing his striped shirt with the collar and shorts. He is on a table in a hospital and the top of his head has been blown off by an mortar explosion. The image is horrific enough, but his father is weeping over him with a grief most of us will thankfully never know.

I cannot forget that image of the young boy and his grieving father, and I don't want to forget it. It seemed totally out of place on that tumblr site, but it dug a hole into my soul. I told a friend at a cafe that I was reading a nonfiction book about a young boy's murder in the ghetto, and his response was, "Why would you want to read that?" I suppose I could say, as Barbara Bush said, "Why should we hear about body bags and deaths. Oh, I mean, it's not relevant. So why should I waste my beautiful mind on something like that?" Actually Babs, I would hazard to guess that you're mind is not all that beautiful. You gave birth to a war criminal, after all.

Some colleges are now issuing trigger warnings to students, so that they might be warned ahead of time about any material in the class that might offend them, or waste their beautiful minds. Who will witness the horrors of the world, if we all close our eyes? I look at the photos of the atrocities from the holocaust, and I'm aghast that anyone could be a denier. My co-worker told me that her uncle is a holocaust denier, but she doesn't talk to him much, because he's deaf. I responded, "I guess he's deaf in more ways than one."

In Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange," they create triggers in young Alex, so that he will become ill rather than excited by the prospect of violence. After a film filled with violence and rape, Alex is now cured...or is he?

Alex, being cured of his violent tendencies.
I don't think it's healthy for us to ignore or become inured to the cruelties in this world. I'm a cynic. I don't believe that there's a shining mansion on the hill awaiting us in our future, although I can think of a few mansions that could stand to be razed. [Isn't that a contradiction in terms?] Unfortunately, cruelty is part of human nature, and religion doesn't seem to help, since about 98% of our prison population identify as Christians. In fact, some of the most horrendous acts in history were done in the name of religion.

There is both cruelty and great kindness in this world, and sometimes the balance shifts more heavily towards one side or the other. We must all do our own part to live the creed that love is the most important thing. That's what I told my son the other night, so don't make me wrong.

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