Ruminations about War and Peace on the 10th anniversary of 9/11
by Marc Susan
The greatness of a nation doesn't always have to be defined in terms of its military might, or its proficiency at retaliating when attacked by people from another nation or belief system.
When traumatizing events occur, it is not necessarily a good thing to proudly state that the nation hasn't changed because of it. (responding to President Obama's speech on the morning 9/11 2011)
Disaster, any disaster, anywhere, in any country, prompts some people to be extremely courageous and unselfish, while at the same time it brings out the worst in others.
Revolutions can be quiet revolutions ‑ revolutions of the mind. The courage of a nation is sometimes defined by soul searching, by de‑constructing hatred, by refusing to think in terms of losing and winning... by shoving old believe systems aside when they have clearly proven to lead to economic crisis, discord and war.
Such a nation is Germany. Lest we forget they're not just a nation of car manufacturers, they also have a long tradition of great thinkers and philosophers. In the post WWII years writers like Heinrich Böll and Günter Grass and many others managed to dig deep into the German soul and show why the indifference of ordinary citizen can easily be manipulated by opportunistic and immoral leaders.
Somehow of their efforts paid off. In the end you can see that Germany's Nazi past is not hidden as if it was an accidental shameful mistake, sort of like politicians talk about "collateral damage" nowadays. On the contrary ‑ it is much written about. It is part of their educational system. It is considered important to make children aware of the horrors that happened and why they happened. It has become part of Germany's culture ‑ plenty of monuments, exhibitions movies etc. which tackle this painful subject in a great variety of ways.
Germany rose from the ashes, paid huge sums of money as "reparations" to countries that had suffered from their follies. They also rebuild their country, and up to this day it is the strongest most stable one in all of Europe. And that is not all. They're very reluctant NATO partners, who are not at all gung ho to engage in the idiotic wars other nations cooked up to bolster their patriotism and the hegemony of the world's resources.
In the early years of the 21st century a Dutch‑Jewish friend of mine ‑ who had settled in Germany after many years of living in the U.S. ‑ invited me to come over. He was teaching in Cologne and he wanted me to meet his students. I did and I was very much moved... these were not the same German youngsters from earlier days... They had traveled the world. They spoke several languages and had evolved into true cosmopolitans.
Germany was the first European nation to ban nuclear power. Recycling and thinking green is a passion over there, and if there is any country were young people protest against bad governmental decisions, then yes, that is the German people too. Meanwhile Berlin has become the Art and Artist Mecca of the world, and all that by means of using their heads instead of their flag and their guns.
It was about 1963 when my father drove me to Amsterdam's Central Station. As I got out of the car he said, "Remember, Marc, the war is over and Holland and Germany have to become friends again." And so I boarded a train direction Bieleveld to spend my Summer vacation with a German family.
I was in my mid‑teens and didn't know much about the war, as my parents and other adults around me refused to talk about it. Well okay, a teacher had shown a documentary about Auschwitz in class once, from which I recall only piles of emaciated corpses. Friends had told me confusing stories and I had read the occasional commemorative book. And when I was much younger, I asked my mother, "What did papa do during the war." To which she answered, "He shot the Germans in their ass and they ran home." And that was about it.
It wasn't a remarkable vacation, but they had a son, Fritz, of about my age and we had a good time hanging out with his friends. Fritz also had a fine collection of weapons, nothing serious like a Mauser or a machine gun, but good enough to spend hours in the garden shooting at cans and birds.
Fritz's parents were exactly what you imagine an average German middle class couple to be. Conservative, bourgeois, polite, yet cordial and the atmosphere in the house was "Gemütlich."
One evening, after dinner, Fritz's father took me apart and showed me a flat velvet black box full of medals. And yes, these were all awarded to him for his bravery as a combatant in WWII.
"Holland is a beautiful country, and the people are friendly. We still go on vacation there ‑ we love the beaches," Fritz's dad said, and he lifted one of the medals out of the box, holding it up to me, "Look, that is the famous Iron Cross, I bet you've heard about it."
By then I had turned into a pillar of frozen Jewish salt, but apparently he noticed my face looked oddly pale. "You have to understand, Marc, I just did what my country asked me to do. But I've got nothing against the people of your country ‑ we're neighbors after all." I said nothing. And there is nothing more I'd like to share with you about this little excursion into Germany. It's just a memory ‑ that's all.
Back home I started to ask questions, not to my father, as we rarely had conversations, but to myself. Why didn't I have grandparents? Why did I have so few relatives, and weren't these so called aunts and uncles I knew, not just friends of my parents who were acting out what they perceived as a mission of mercy?
I started to read books about the war ‑ many. But none of them gave me the answers I was looking for. And perhaps I was not even ready for the truth. It was only in the 90s, after spending days and days in the library of L.A.'s Holocaust Museum and years of other research, that suddenly I got hold of my family trees. And there it was... almost all of my family had been gassed in Nazi concentration camps.
So what did it get me, besides boxes full of printed out emails and documents?... Seven years of psychotherapy at a specialized clinic named Centrum 45 in Holland to overcome depression, and the occasional story written for my Facebook friends?
For fucksake, Marc, what has all this old Nazi garbage to do with the 10 year anniversary of 9/11... you may ask yourself...
On the morning of 9/11 I was sitting behind my computer at home in Ithaca, NY. An email from an emergency service came in, minutes after the second plane crashed into the WTC towers. I turned on the radio and followed the story for awhile... Just about when commentators started to declare that "America is under attack", I had a strong urge to take a long walk and listen to the birds singing in the trees... and so I did. See, I sort of guessed the next words that would be pumped into people's psyche would be "America is at war." But to me war is an
entirely different thing than what happened that day in NYC. War is more like what happened and still happens in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan... tens of thousands of soldiers invading another country... 24/7 bombings, killing and maiming hundreds of thousands of civilians, destroying a countries infra structure, torturing suspects in unspeakable ways, and all of this not for a day, but for years and years on end.
The horror! It's horrible that 3 to 4000 people died on 9/11. But the true horror is the pain in the hearts and minds of their family and friends which they will have to carry for the rest of their lives. It's equally horrible that the American government and "The Coalition" decided to cater to feelings of blood thirst and revenge, killing hundreds of thousands of "foreigners" in moot wars of attrition which eventually ruined the U.S. economy and cast millions of their own countrymen into a life of abject poverty.
George Bush in his now famous TV interview recorded on May1st, 2011 ‑ reflecting on his visit to Ground Zero not long after 9/11, "I sensed there was blood thirst in the air, and I wanted to respond to that."
To me it's hard to fathom what Middle Eastern families and friends of the hundreds of thousands killed by means of Western bombs, missiles and murderous assaults will tell their offspring... What moral values do we expect them to pass on to their children? And will they ever forgive our destructive and exploitative efforts to force our ideas, about democracy, capitalism, free trade and freedom, upon them?
Asking the right questions may sometimes be more relevant than being convinced you have the right answers.
As the Tao says, "Not‑knowing is true knowledge. Presuming to know is a disease. First realize you are sick; then you can move towards health."
The Hague, Netherlands, September 2011