“Evil — can overcome and lay waste the whole world precisely because it spreads like a fungus on the surface.” (Hannah Arendt http://en.wikipedia.org)
It is that time of year again which, for Americans, means Halloween. Lost in the mythic origins of Ireland, Scotland and the North Lands, it is the day of the dead: all souls, all saints, and otherwise departed once human entities. Naturally, in the land of largesse it is all about a billion dollars worth of retail sales, costumes, and candy. Carved pumpkins, the mannequins of monsters, escape their vegetable berth only briefly before transforming into Thanksgiving totems and Puritan symbols of plenty and piety. That’s the illusory reality of it.
The truth is more like Walpurgis Nacht, wherein it is evil that visits the earth in its dissembling visual corrupt form and heralds, ironically, the end of winter—- not its beginning. Halloween andWalpurgis Nacht are the observation of terror’s advocate among us. By trivializing terror, we commercialize horror and render it as amusement.
Author Irène Némirovsky , a holocaust victim, whose works have been recently revived, among them the Suite Française, summed up evil as chaleur du sang (fire in the blood):
“The true stranger, the anarchic intruder, is the chaleur du sang that has its way—–perfect and otherwise. How is this fire lit within us? It devours everything and then, in a few years, a few months, a few hours even, it burns itself out. Then you see how much damage has been done.”
Hannah Arendt’s insight about evil is even more disturbing than the concept of an epistemological absolute. Her often misquoted “banality of evil” in regard to the horror of Nazi Germany yanks Nietzsche from the grave to haunt us with the relativity specter of goodness and to quote Susan Neiman in Evil in Modern Thought: “from the enlightenment on there have been two views: ‘The one from Rousseau to Arendt, insists that morality demands that we make evil intelligible, The other, from Voltaire to Jean Améry , insists that morality demands that we don’t.’”
Both views perfectly fit Arendt’s metaphor of toxic fungus, particularly those ancient colonies that exist below ground, over square miles of territory and on occasion, under just the most advantageous conditions, burst forth to ‘bloom’ above ground. For those in the Voltaire/Améry camp of thinking, fungus, that efficient, primary decomposer of organic matter, is a necessary evil ( if evil at all), like the Kali Durga, mistress of the universe, whose terrible form stirs a universe of suffering, horror and death.
For those in Arendt’s mind, evil is the contemporary Spectacle of Kali Durga, whose insinuating charm, desirable addictions, and faux scrim of reality create the parallel universe of a pleasurable patina over horror. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Society_of_the_Spectacle Nazi Germany is the perfect paradigm and its Walpurgis Nacht, the sublime celebration when Spring heralds death, not rebirth. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kali Arendt, like any of us, had to ask at some point, “How was it that those patriotic, bourgeois, housewives living near the outskirts of Auschwitz, grew annoyed when waxy ashen flakes fluttered down from the sky, day and night, to spoil their pure-white Aryan laundry.” How was it that ‘good’ people believed that millions of their own country men, women and children were ‘criminals’ and thus it was correct to ruin, torture, imprison, brutalize, murder and burn them? The horror of it still brings many Germans to angry, resentful silence and a new generation of denial often antithetical to Santayana’s dictum: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”— Life of Reason, Reason in Common Sense
The maw of monstrous incarnation is not Germany’s particular mark of Cain. The perfect lie has come again. How does it happen? It happens just as it did in Germany. A democracy is reformed by the reality that governs it. Laws are changed; justice redefined; a mythic enemy emerges from the zeitgeist to threaten and terror’s advocate assumes power—-total power. Evil assumes the hand of an almighty lord God in usurpation. Religion becomes synonymous with the power state. “Good’ people stop asking questions—- to borrow liberally from Edmund Burke‘s “The Triumph of Evil.” Truth becomes the hidden world, evil the manifested day-to-day normal reality.
To paraphrase Joan Didion’s Play It as It Lies: “we are too weary—-or leery—-to parse out the whys and wherefores of even Shakespearean villains: ‘What makes people evil? some people ask,’ goes the opening sentence. ‘I never ask.’”
All through history the fire in the blood repeatedly manifests through myth, art, music, poetry, storytelling, and factual accounts the rise of exceptionalism, its furious entropy and eventual catastrophic collapse. For Germany in its time and context it was the ‘Thousand Year Reich.’ America’s illusion is imperial democracy based on corporate elitism. Its time too will come to ruin. Redemption is justice and accountability.
Justice is notoriously slow in accountability concerning matters of historical horror. Just ask Armenians about Turkish genocide, which is still being denied over a century later. Usually, only those monsters of exceptional evil, or those whose seemingly ’normal’ banality of life catchs the ‘pivot-notice’ of transgression, wakens the mind and triggers the break of a transfixed spell. It’s a moment similar to dropping a fine crystal glass full of exquisite wine . In a crashing twist of dejaveau , there comes the realization that the elegant art opening one is attending is actually held in an exceptionally ugly industrial warehouse filled with lingering aromas of toxic waste.. One either sees or denies. “Evil in Modern Thought“. http://www.susan-neiman.de/docs/b_preface.html
People of conscience must make evil intelligible and intelligible, accountable, most particularly in matters of life and death, war and peace. Where Arendt’s observations fail is the misunderstanding of evil’s pervasive saturation in the affairs of humankind: “Evil possesses neither depth nor any demonic dimension.” How tragically wrong is that understanding and consequently has led to a misinterpretation of Arendt’s “Banality of Evil.” Better, is Némirovsky’s ’Fire in the Blood’ or ‘chaleur du sang.’
‘Blood’ in American English has become neutered of its passion by decades of commercial exploitation, entertainment, and jingoistic, bloodless, patriotism on the safe side of empire. ‘Sang,’ however still contains the historic legacy of sacrifice, the sacred and redemption. In recent history, that was manifest in the ‘accountability’ of evil in the courts of Nuremberg, the Geneva Convention and numerous treaties up until the Bush Neo Con junta seized control of American government and began to systematically destroy its republican democracy. Those that are traitors and war criminals enjoy high status, immunity from law and act unilaterally in a fashion not that far removed from the Nazi administrative deus ex machina.
The most pungent and toxic symbol of America’s democratic road kill is adaptation of ‘torture’ as national policy, the creation of an unaccountable police state and the destruction of habeaus corpus, or the right to a trial. America, now the pathological projection of George Bush, stands in sadistic defiance of international law, civilized and humane treatment of captives , citizens and civilians.
We have become a national version of that little boy Bush, who blew up frogs and cats with explosive fire crackers. On the highest level, in the manner of totalitarian officials, Attorney Roberto Gonzales deems the Geneva and Nuremberg Conventions, “quaint” and irrevelant. John Yoo, lawyer to fascist ideologs, writes the legal adaptations of ‘torture’ into ‘Homeland Security Law’ and assumes a prestigious chair in Bolt Hall at The University of California, Berkeley. If history is any judge the day will come when these individuals will be seen for what they are —-traitors and war criminals.
The most notorious war criminals are often those of the Arendt-kind—-toxic fungus inhabiting the normalized surface of evil. Time and again, the Nuremberg trials exposed the normality of horror and the banality of evil. Particularly noteworthy, was the sensational trial of Ilse Koch, the most notorious among exceptional war criminal monsters. Ilse Koch, was the wife of Karl Otto Koch, the infamous former Commandant of the Buchenwald concentration camp. Karl had already been put on trial by the Nazis themselves and executed before the war ended, not for crimes against humanity, but for embezzlement and black market trading .
Frau Koch, was also investigated by the SS in 1943 for murder and corruption. She stood accused of ordering lampshades to be made out of human skin. The charge was never proven, but after the war in a new trial it was revealed that she participated in the creation of ‘souvenirs’ such as eye glass cases, album covers, cigarette and knife cases decorated with tattooed human skin and even a lamp base made from human bone. This monster was given the title of Commandeuse by the prisoners of Buchenwald. Ilse, a former secretary, housewife and mother of three gave full fruition to evil incarnate in the normalization of Arendt’s ‘Banality of Evil.’
The high level ideologues of evil are bad enough, but it is those capos, those activists, and Ilse Kochs who participate with a conscious chaleur du sang in the establishment of horror’s praxis, torture and inhumane pleasures that are the true face of monstrous criminality.
It will come as a shock to many Americans that this former democracy has its own shadow version of Ilse Koch, a gorgon of the first rank. Her name is Major General Barbara Fast, Intelligence Commander of Fort Huachuca in Arizona. Fort Huachuca is the new name and center for what was once called the School of the Americas. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Western_Hemisphere_Institute_for_Security_Cooperation
For those unacquainted with The School of the Americas, it was the notorious training ground of exported covert state terrorism, torture techniques, paramilitary and assassin training.
While the Bush administration has been transferring such training academies to privatized mercenary entities like Blackwater in an attempt to avoid future transparency and accountability, Barbara Fast remains the representative point woman for torture at the highest levels of government.
Fast comes by her reputation in a rapid fire climb to the top as a directing intelligence authority of torture at Abu Ghraib. After the white-wash of that scandal , she was awarded with command at Fort Huachuca. The flimflam at Abu Ghraib is so transparently a miscarriage of justice as to be a crude farce. General Janis Karpinsky, military police commander of Abu Ghraib was ultimately ruined in a set-up engineered by military intelligence and the administration, whose main offenders included Lt. General Ricardo Sanchez, Major General Walter Wojdakowski, Major General Barbara Fast, Colonel Marc Warren and the unspoken presence of General Miller of ‘torture’ Gitmo fame and Colonel Thomas Papas, who served directly under Fast. Twenty five additional officers were charged with misconduct.
Ultimately all torture guilty intelligence officers, including Barbara Fast, were investigated by those that instituted the policies and found innocent. Charges were dismissed. Karpinsky, an unsympathetic character reminiscent of Eileen Brennan in the film Private Benjamin, took the full shift of blame and saw her career destroyed. What most don’t realize is that she was exonerated of all culpability in the Abu Ghraib torture incidents, but was ruined by ‘failure to obey an order’—-to torture.
Karpinsky was done-in by an old skeleton in her closet—- a shop lifting charge, with which to make her the chief scape-goat for the whole Abu Ghraib scandal. At the end, a handful of grunts were punished, village idiot Lynde England chief among them. Those that were responsible were exonerated and promoted, including Major General Barbara Fast, who now heads the American Intelligence Center torture school at Fort Huachuca, the new School of the Americas.
There is a voice of justice crying in the wilderness and it belongs to Louis Vitale, 75 a Franciscan priest, well know for his advocacy with the homeless and the poor in the Tenderloin slums of San Francisco. Also, there is Steve Kelly, 58, a Jesuit priest. Both men were arrested for attempting to deliver a letter to Barbara Fast opposing the teaching of torture at Fort Huachuca. They were sentenced to a half year in prison by Judge U.S. Magistrate Hector C. Estrada of Arizona in October 2007. http://www.dissidentvoice.org/2007/10/priests-protesting-torture-jailed/
When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I wasn't a Jew.
When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.
Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)