Saturday, December 27, 2008


"I didn't know who the Americans were," she said softly with a far away look. "I just looked up and it was their planes and their bombs that killed my mother. We didn't care for Saddam Hussein any better but he didn't kill my family."

There's confusion and complexity in war that doesn't suit the "sound bite" religion of dichotomies. "There's a man with a gun over there, telling me I've got to beware.......People carrying signs, mostly say, hoorah for our side....paranoia strikes deep," wrote Steven Stills in the Buffalo Springfield "For What it's Worth" hit of the late 1960's.
"What choice did we have," the old German man told me. "If I didn't go to the front they'd send me and my family to the camps. It wasn't just jews in the camps. It was Germans, Ukrainians, Poles, anyone who didn't do as we were told."
One of the best psychiatry jokes is, "What's the opposite of being paranoid? Thinking you're following someone."
"It was night," she said. "I was just a little girl but my mom was giving me the 4-10 because the men had told her the rebellion had started. She took the 22 and we went to our rooms. Only in the morning did she realize that she had the 4-10 ammunition and had given me the 22 ammunition. If anyone had come the guns wouldn't have mattered. We were just glad to be alive in the morning."
So many people were on the 'wrong side' of conflicts. What's politically correct is always changing to suit the flavour of the month political authorities. The "baby killer" becomes the "patriot" becomes the "has been".
Where it was once "cricket" to kill the purple and save your own orange ass it overnight becomes decidedly bad form to do any such thing. The polka dots on the other hand must kick striped ass to be men. It's all wrapped up in the cultural imperatives of manifest destiny and whatever other words can justify or explain events afterwards. Mostly a very unhappy God is being used to justify the grandiose killing of an unknown soldier third planet from the sun in a distant arm of a minor galaxy .
And the winner always writes history even more so today than before. When Trotsky became politically incorrect Stalin airbrushed his face from the Communist photo albums. Given the technology of the day you can still see the truth of power. Today the technology is so much better that Trotsky would never have existed.
"Better to be judged by a jury of one's peers than be carried in a coffin by six friends," the policeman told me about firing his gun in self defence. At the time those in the know who'd never themselves been attacked by killers, even if they were 'only' 20 year old killers, who'd never shot guns and depended wholly on the police for their safety, had suggested that this equally young cop 'should have just wounded the guy....not killed him." Too much television and too little knowledge of predators alive or wounded. Survival is such that neither wanted to die but only one attacked.
Everyone has an opinion and more often than not the correctness of that opinion depends on distance from reality.
It was once thought that drug addicts spent too much time in their fantasy worlds and lost track of reality but now the television, play station culture has people equally out of touch with reality.
"They were coming through windows with AK47's to kill my mom and sister.Of course I shot them," he told me. He'd been 16 when his family left South Africa and moved to Canada. "I don't talk about anything like that here. People don't understand. They're all mixed up here. It's good in a way. This much ignorance only happens when people are so safe. That's why I like it here."
I listened to a CBC radio interview yesterday of Melissa Fung the remarkable Canadian journalist who was taken hostage recently in Afghanistan and later released . She was telling the shocked interviewer that the Pakistani man had randomly picked her for a hostage. It was "just business". "He'd have preferred a man because they're easier to take care of." "This is their family's work.....capturing hostages and ransoming them for money." The interviewer's incredulity seemed to be that there wasn't anything terribly political about the whole affair. It was all just random and opportunistic. It could happen to anyone and more importantly it could happen here.
This interview is an extraordinary documentary of history where those who are faced with the front lines of reality try then to explain their experience to those who are priviledged to be in the back lines of power. Increasingly it comes across like those who have tried to explain a religious experience to a person who hasn't known any such encounter. It's like talking to a older virgin poet about lust transformed by love. You know they don't want the bodily fluids and they're really angry that there's sweat but that's the reality. They look at you like you're dirty and you just give up trying to answer their questions or explain to them why their poems aren't quite human.
Life, real life, does not come packaged. It's instinct and survival. Nuremberg wasn't about a particular time and place but rather more so about the human condition. Milgram's seminal research taught us all our frailties and how thin the veneer of civilization is. Perhaps it's getting thinner as the Westpoint psychologist Gross in On Killing would argue that television violence and 'sound bite religion' is teaching us in a thousand different ways that 'might is right'.
I don't like the American war machine. The Guess Who's American Woman, banned all over the states in the 70's still remains a favourite of mine. But that doesn't mean I want the communists, fascistts or taliban in charge. Often the devil one knows is better than the alternative. I don't think Obama has an easy job of staying alive when so much of the world economy revolves around selling arms and ammunition, the NATO nations themselves being the greatest arms producers. They're the good guys. The bad guys more often than not just want the money. Who want's to change the paradigm.
"I'd rather be a hammer than a nail," sings the saddest song of man. The reformer is forever the enemy of anyone who benefits from the status quo.
In it all I admire the hope and resilience and those that continue despite the losses and failures. In spite of all the easy ways out they continue to know that the Gorgon's knot isn't supposed to be cut with an axe or knife. There's always another way. In the end my faith is that what happens is usually the best of a bad lot. And we all know politics makes strange bedfellows.
Right now we have it easy. If Star Trek or Men in Black have any say about the future we're going to be trying to get along with insectoid species and relate to the intelligence in a crystal. When that time comes we'll look back and remember the songs 'These are the good old days."
My own New Year's wish is of course, Peace on Earth Personally, though I hope I'm less quick to judge, less willing to choose sides, more forgiving and tolerant. Mostly I hope to continue hearing from people who were there what it really was like and not to believe the 'spin' or 'sales pitch' or propaganda that gets added to the simpler complex confusing tale of reality and truth. "
"Confusion is the harbinger of change," said the famous Wisconsin psychiatrist Dr. Whitaker. It's too easy to stay in the safe zone of my own predjudice, thinking I'm growing when really I may be stagnating.

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