Wednesday, July 27, 2005

A Little Violet in Between 

When I think about the country where I was born, the things that stand out as making life there inferior to life in the U.S. are the things resulting from a history of conservative dominance: patriarchy, racism, elitism, poverty, and horrifying political violence. I've always been offended and embarrassed by these things. I'm sure that a lot of republicans would love it there - without the poverty and political violence of course. That's the trick, isn't it? "I'll have one rightist society; hide the poverty; hold the political violence. And a biggie Diet Coke." If only...

My father's side of the family has been terrorized for decades by a ruthless war between right and left. When I was a child, I saw tanks enforcing martial law in the streets. Over the years, one of my cousins and several family friends have survived kidnappings. A few years ago, one of my uncles was tortured and murdered by leftist guerillas. War has been a constant, gut-wrenching theme in my life.

My mother's side of the family was almost destroyed by an earlier, much larger war between right and left - a war that assured their participation in what is arguably the greatest evil perpetrated by modern people. My maternal grandfather was an officer in the Waffen-SS. That's almost everything I know about him. I have a photo of him in his uniform so I know he was a handsome guy too. Fortunately, I did get to spend time with my maternal grandmother a few times before she passed away. The last time I saw her was about 20 years ago. I had been extremely curious for years, so I got her to open up to me for a little while. You have to understand that it was like opening a big, painful wound, so I didn't learn as much as I wanted to. What I did learn knocked me for a major loop.

She told me a little about the battle for Berlin, and how she was spared from being raped and/or murdered by Russian soldiers only because she was pregnant with my mother. I learned that she left post-war Germany, and with the help of the American secret service, settled in South America - along with a gang of infamous war criminals whose sinister influence still resonates in Latin American politics. My grandmother knew Klaus Barbie, Josef Mengele, Martin Bormann, Friedrich Schwend, and Adolph Eichmann. And she worked for one of them for several years.

It's unsettling indeed that I owe my very existence to such disgraceful circumstances. But that inescapable fact has helped me develop what is becoming a unique and valuable perspective. Perhaps my words resonate because I'm intimately aware of the reality that rightist politics creates. I'm no leftist, but I can recognize the injustices that force powerless people to fight back. I can also see quite clearly which side holds all the cards, and, I know the kinds of things that it's capable of.

Let me tell you a little secret about the U.S.A..

You'll have to lean closer so I can whisper it in your ear.

The best things about life in the U.S.A. have nothing to do with money and everything to do with ideas like freedom, equality, democracy, justice, and human rights. If you're impressed by wealth, you should see how rich people live where I come from.

Once upon a time, American politicians played out their rightist fantasies only in other lands. That doesn't appear to be the case anymore.

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