back to some darkness

July 2, 2008

I’ve been thinking about a comment Ned left on my dark words post.

The example you give, Liz, illuminates what you were struggling to talk about quite well – how useful is the label “killer” when thinking about your dad? not “how useful is it to call someone a killer” in the abstract (though that’s interesting too), but did the label “killer” mess with your dad’s mind, did it provide any useful guidance for him when he needed it, did it facilitate better understanding on his part or on the part of anyone else?

I imagine my dad did not think of himself as a killer, although I don’t know for sure and maybe I will ask him. But it was not until I was able to get to know something about his combat experience that I was able to get to know him. Given that, the “killer” label has helped me understand my dad in a profound way, because it has allowed me to be close to the events that most shaped his life and to understand what is dark about him. And through that I’ve learned that darkness is often much more complex than it looks from the outset and to really understand it one often has to suspend judgment. It makes me think about Daniel Mendelsohn talking about the Jewish Secret police in these little towns in Poland and the Ukraine who identified Jews to the Nazi’s and how he said could not judge them from his place in history because it’s unfair to say what he would have done if he had the chance to save his own family by turning in someone else. I know we’d all like to believe we’d have been heroes, but I’m not sure I would have been very heroic when I think of the Nazi tactics to punish sympathizers who hid Jews, which often consisted not only of killing everyone in the household of the sympathizer, but killing everyone in the the town and the towns nearby that shared the sympathizer’s last name.

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