Man in a word has no nature; what he has. ..is history.
~ Jose Ortega y Gasset
I am sitting here trying to find some happy little story to post in order to break up the litany of horror that my blog has become, but … I can’t. Even the articles I find about folks that sympathize with the natives do so because the indigenous people were suffering such atrocities. I can’t seem to filter out the bad when I write about that time period, and probably shouldn’t try to. Violence and disregard for human rights, Native human rights, permeated everything. I am writing about war, and war is ugly. Terrible.
Perhaps part of why we do repeat history is that we don’t like to look at it. Why would we? The things human beings are capable of are scary as hell. We like to believe in cause and effect. Personal cause and effect, in that there is a reason bad things happen to people. And if we can believe there are reasons, then we can also fool ourselves into believing we can control our fate, and avoid bad and scary things. History, if carefully considered, blows that theory out of the water.
If one wants to read a truly terrifying book, find Holocaust Testimonies, the ruins of memory, by Lawrence L. Langer. It contains testimonies of survivors and while the memories recounted are heartbreaking, the greater realizations are even worse.
Survivors had to come to terms with the fact that past actions were no indicator of future experience. None.
“ … there is no connection between the victim’s life and the victim’s fate… “ Heroes died while prisoners who became Kapos survived the war. As did folks that stole food from other prisoners and snitched to bring favor from the guards.
I think modern culture has spoiled us by always providing happy endings. I will watch or read a tragic story, but I really do expect some sort of” ah ha !” moment at the end, that makes me feel better and gives me hope.
Langer’s book notes that
“Most of their [survivor’s] stories nurture not ethical insight, but confusion, doubt and moral uncertainty…. tragedy and history … demands some idea of causal sequence … But when consciousness expands into a universe so violated that old designations like tragedy and history lose their force…. [In these testimonies] the cherished voices of continuity, adaption and renewal speak with the authority of their absence… “
Many Germans (and bad guys here) committed horrible atrocities, and went on to live long, and for some, prosperous lives. Indian killer Larrabee moved back east and became some sort of law man in his town. No kidding. Geer lived. Theodore Aldrich, thought to have killed many Indians, some of them infants, lived to a ripe old age (though I’ve read he was tormented by the memories of the war—and hope that’s true). Yet mothers that tried to save their children died. And their daughters were raped anyway.
What does it mean? Ignoring cancer doesn’t make it go away. Ignoring history seems to secure its repetition.
I would love to close with some wise and thoughtful words. Some wonderful, uplifting insight about continuity, adaption or renewal but I’ve got nothing. Anyone?