Wednesday, May 31, 2006

On Consistencies

For they surely cannot be called anomalies.
Atrocities. Yes. We can most certainly call them that.

There is a little tale that has came to light in the last six months. It’s not topical: most of the perpetrators and their victims are doubtless dead, more of the latter than the former, I suspect. But it sheds light on a different facet of the Greatest Generation– or at least the stiff-upper-lipped British version thereof – light which perhaps they would rather have kept concealed beneath a bushel. A pen which, all things considered, perhaps they would prefer not to have mislaid. For it concerns their conduct in that most justifiable of all wars – that perpetual thorn in the pacifist’s side. Oh not all of them of course. Just those few perennially rotten apples again. Strange how they do get about.

This little tale is probably not exceptional – many similar such may still lie like kittens in a creek, strangled and drowned at birth.

(For some reason as a teenager, the Katyn Forest massacres became so inextricably entangled in my mind with the phrase “Into the Woods” that for years afterwards I assumed that the Sondheim musical – although it predated by three whole years Gorbachev’s acknowledgement and apology for Stalin’s atrocities – was about the wholesale slaughter of Polish army officers. Except it wasn’t just Stalin’s atrocity, was it.)

Let’s pause for the high-kicking, all-singing, all-dancing chorus number now . . .

“It wasn’t their fault,
They weren’t to blame
They were all so young
It’s a crying shame!
It was just a job,
They had bills to pay
‘Twas the man at the top
At the end of the day.”

No? And I had my spangly costume all ready to go. It had medals on.

Perhaps you’d like to know what I’m talking about.

Last December, after 60 years of secrecy, it emerged that from 1945 until at least 1947 the British ran torture centres and camps in London, Bad Nenndorf and Güttersloh (this last was opened after the closure of Bad Nenndorf). As of last December, the Foreign Office was still refusing to release photographic evidence: this became available in April.

Follow the links. Read the articles carefully: you will see that the list of victims includes Holocaust survivors, German leftists – that political constituency so beloved by Hitler – and communists. Some were there because of clerical errors, other because they knew too much about Bad Nenndorf to be released. But none of them – whatever their deeds, whatever their state of innocence or guilt – should have been there because places like these should not exist. (And I’d be sceptical, moreover, of claims that these three institutions were the only ones of their kind. After all at the time the British were presiding over a Glorious Empire Upon Which the Sun Never Set – and as we all know, those take some special handling).

Do you feel a sense of déjà vu coming on? And perhaps again?

Good. Because these are not anomalies: they are consistencies. They are not bad apples, they are business as usual. They are what militaries do.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

From poco:

Wow!! Not quite the mot juste, but wow!! I am still slightly breathless with shock. I did not know about this. Even when some pens get mislaid, the conventional narrative rolls on, serene and undisturbed.

Reading your post brought to mind Caroline Elkins' work, Imperial Reckoning, which deals with the horrifying conditions at the gulags set up by the British to combat the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya.

And then reading the Guardian link introduced me to "Tin Eye" Stephens, a colonel in the Indian Army who was the commander of these camps. Thus were the colonial wars brought to Europe, to paraphrase Fanon.

A xenophobe, according to the Guardian article, Tin Eye believed that men who could break the prisoners during interrogations were "born, not made." And according to the second Guardian article, despite an inquiry, Tin Eye was not punished in any way. Too much here for my brain to comprehend in any sensible manner.

6/01/2006 12:52 am  
Blogger dove said...

Another book to add to my reading list. The colonial wars being brought to Europe is an exactly appropriate description I think.

6/01/2006 9:44 am  
Blogger DuctapeFatwa said...

I think most Americans, in fact most westerners, will be more comfortable sticking with the traditional accounts of history as opposed to delving too much into the growing tide of material that is becoming available, much of which might conflict with some very deeply held views and beliefs.

There is presently such a convergence of circumstances, so many events set in motion so long ago coming into their inevitable fruition. Especially for a population whose lives have in no way prepared them for the unfolding of this particular panel of history's tapestry, peering too closely into the past, becoming more informed regarding facts as opposed to misty-eyed sentimental stories may carry a price tag greater than the sum in the individual's purse.

6/01/2006 6:37 pm  
Blogger dove said...

It's not something I ordinarily do, you understand -- in fact, I'm not sure it's something I've ever done before, but here goes anyway:


Have I mentioned how glad and honoured I am to have met you?

In New Zealand, they were called the Silent Generation. I have reason to strongly suspect that there are reasons for that silence which have yet to make it into text, except in the most sporadic, occasional and oblique of ways.

6/01/2006 8:24 pm  
Blogger dove said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

6/01/2006 8:24 pm  
Blogger DuctapeFatwa said...

Honored and honorary great-granddaughter, I have squeaked!

Consider yourself reciprocally and similarly hugged.

It is an honor for all of us who are privileged to benefit from your adjective-defying gift for word writing.

The US calls them the "Greatest" generation, in a predictable attempt to head something of a particularly grisly and unwholesome nature off at the pass...

6/02/2006 3:04 am  
Blogger Nanette said...

So many lies. One has to wonder how many years are going to pass before we have a real reckoning on much of what is historical record now, that are just tissues of lies.

Of course, the people of 60 or 70 years from now are going to have to deal with the ones from these times, also sealed and hidden from the record.

6/02/2006 3:46 am  
Blogger catnip said...

The only officer at Bad Nenndorf to be convicted was the prison doctor. At the age of 49, his sentence was to be dismissed from the army. The commanding officer, Colonel Robin Stephens, was cleared of a charge of "disgraceful conduct of a cruel kind" and told he was free to apply to rejoin his former employers at MI5.

I remember those pictures from the first time I read that article.

As we all know...'plus ca change...' The more things change, the more they stay the same.

6/05/2006 1:47 am  
Blogger dove said...

Too true catnip.

Most times the U.S. gets visibly involved in a new war, there seems to be this sense of 'This one's a just war of liberation in the grand old tradition of WWII and the Greatest Generation.' And inevitably it does emulate many of those 'traditions' -- just the actual ones rather than those that have been mythologised.

6/05/2006 11:06 pm  
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