There are certain dates that are remembered… if there’s not much else going on… and if not too much time has gone by since the event remembered happened. Today, it’s seventy years since the start of WWII. Most of the people who were alive then, are now dead. For most of the people alive today, 9/11 brings up a lot more memories… and thoughts too, about the nature of this world, and how to deal with it. But there are people who still remember that terrible war, and its aftermath. There are those who lost fathers… and those who lost whole families… and many who lost their sense of security about living in this world. It wasn’t thousands who were killed in that war, but tens of millions. Cities and countries were destroyed.
For those of us who were alive back then, the war was a war of good and evil. People didn’t get caught up, much, in the subtleties. They didn’t believe that the other side might be right from their point of view… as much as we were from our side. It was a time, when people still identified with their people and their nations. It was a time when people were willing to make great sacrifices for the common good. The individual was not the most important entity in that world…
And looking back now, that great human theater looks much different than it did then. For me, especially, as pure chance exposed me to large doses of German culture… the language, the literature, the poetry, and the music… Especially the music… it left a life long imprint on my consciousness, even though it was all foreign, and not really part of my world. Forgive me, those of you who learned to appreciate the human spirit through the English perspective, but in my youth, it seemed to me that the German culture was the crown of European thought and creativity. Not that I didn’t appreciate the English, the French, and the Russian contributions to mankind’s sense of awareness and aspirations. But now… so many years later, the wonder has grown so much greater… How was it possible, that a people so rich in culture were able to cheer a brutal dictator, and rally behind him, in an attempt to conquer the world?
But through life, I’ve seen truly beautiful people who failed terribly in the tests of life. And for me, a human being is a parable of a nation, or a people, and visa versa. Beautiful people, intelligent people who’ve become addicted, or been cruel to the ones they love… and sometimes to themselves as well. The longer we live, the more we know… but the mysteries of this life grow too.
There is nothing to celebrate on this day, nor is it considered a day for mourning. But it is a day which can be commemorated for thought on the vanity of nations, and an opportunity to contemplate what a thin line we walk between madness and greatness. A few days ago, Alec asked Janet, what it was she didn’t like… because she always talks about what she likes. I thought at the time, there isn’t much reason to tell of dislikes, because in getting to know a friend, one can understand the whole range of likes and dislikes just from a few assorted samples. Since everything is interconnected, you follow a thread, and eventually get to know the weave and the pattern as a whole too. In general, I prefer to discuss what I like, rather than what I don’t like. But today, thinking about the past, and how war has been more cruel than the worst tsunami or hurricane, I have to share with you one thing I really can’t stand. And that’s prejudice. People don’t always realize it when they’re prejudiced. But that very human inclination is one of the most destructive aspects of the human personality, and it destroys the very best we have, and blinds us, and leads us to madness. It is as bad as heroin.