I came across an old diary last night. It was underneath a stack of German pre-WWI colonial posters that the son of Henning von Tresckow (the general who tried to kill Hitler) gave me. The son and I worked together in Africa. He was an interesting man and often said that Hitler’s crimes were not well known among the average German citizen. Over the years I have learned that the “we didn’t know” excuse is used in every country and under every type of circumstance. From Rwanda/eastern Congo to Iraq/Syria and every catastrophe in between, people are surprised that things can get out of hand. Where did all the refugees come from? Who killed those babies? Why are those women crying? Drought, what drought? Oh that one. Hey, what’s up with all the terrorists? Anyway, the son and I would stay up late drinking and he would tell me about his father. The general gets a lot of credit for trying to kill Hitler, but one thing the son never mentioned was his father was a staunch Nazi. There was that slight stumble when he signed a purification order that doomed about 50,000 Polish and Ukrainian children, aged 10 to 13 years, to the forced labor camps. Naturally most of them didn’t make it. I guess his son had buried that fact in his African garden. So like most of us, von Tresckow and his son were the kind of people who could compartmentalize, politically spin, and remember in such a way that somehow they came out ahead of the game. But then, what could I forgive? What could I forget? What bad could I do and then try to make up for it with a good? How about you? How bad would it have to be before you turned against your neighbors, your friends and family? What would have to happen before you started fighting against something that most thought was just fine? It seems that every day the people of this planet are confronted with similar questions. I am not one of those who say things are getting better. No, I’m the guy with the tin hat on; the liberal wingnut who thinks we are on the cusp of total destruction.
Anyway, here is a cutting from my old diary.
I am sick with amoeba. My weight is down and my face is gaunt. For a little R&R from my job, I have decided to come to an old haunt, La Ceiba, Honduras. It is cheap and the breeze is cool this time of year. Most gringos only pass through here on their way to the Bay Islands, but for me it is like the home I never had.
I am in a pension with pungent odors and dripping patina. It is near the dock, the kind of place where you can hear people crying through the walls or arguing in the street. Prostitutes walk by my window. It feels good to be near whores and drunks again. My Spanish always needs something extra and I can count on learning twisted vocabulary from my neighbors.
Looking down upon the street I watch barefoot kids play soccer in the traffic, a drunk sits against the wall, his legs stretched as people step over him, two colorfully dressed prostitutes walk arm-in-arm, and on the corner a group of soldiers stand smoking cigarettes, leaning on their weapons waiting for orders.
If this were a painting, it would be valuable. People move and talk with an easy society here that turns corruption and depression into a bearable way of life. The negatives are there, have always been, but somehow the garbage goes unseen and only shimmering colors emerge. Hondurans are rich in waves of light that others can’t see. The brightness forces me to wear sunglasses at night. Maybe it’s my toxic neuritis. Whatever the reason, the light is all around me and because of that I prefer to rest in a cool shade bent by vibrant ugliness and sleep in the darkness of a tick infested bed.
Violence is legion in these parts. I am working in El Salvador. My late night walks through downtown Salvador have turned into scary movies. I have been seeing young men snatched from the streets and plazas. They are thrown into the back of pickups and vans. The men grabbing them are dressed in civilian clothes and salute each other in the shadows. I occasionally come across the odd body. Once while swimming in the ocean a corpse took a wave in with me to the beach. I offered him a drink from a coconut and he declined. Some of my more helpful acquaintances in El Salvador are in the military. They speak impeccable English and tolerate me for reasons that I can’t quite decipher.