Friday, June 02, 2006

The Only Story

The Perpetual Refugee has been writing about significant personal turmoil lately. Thanks to Lisa I learned about his blog. In his case the political and the personal have caught up with each other in an unavoidable way: he's a Lebanese businessman whose work now requires him to oversee the management of a branch in Israel, so he's recently made several clandestine trips to Tel Aviv, and bravely recorded his feelings here, here, and here.
I'll wait for you to read them before I continue...


Because I'm fortunate to have lived long enough with my memory intact (well, relatively), I can experience history repeating itself in front of my eyes. Here's how...

When I was a little girl, America was fighting World War II. Our enemy was The Germans. And also the Japanese. My brother was in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific, fighting the Japanese, so they were an immediate danger to him. But the Germans, they were destroying my entire People…the Jews who didn't leave Europe when my grandparents did at the beginning of the 20th Century, not to mention the American GI's on the ground and in the air. Maybe for that reason, or maybe because the Yiddish I heard from my relatives and the German language were so closely connected, maybe because the Germans were always portrayed in the movies and cartoons brandishing riding crops and wearing sinister boots and sounding angry, maybe because I knew they had injured my uncles when they fought in the U.S. Army in World War I - both of them gassed in Flanders - to me as a little girl the Germans were The Ultimate Enemy. So easy to hate. Far away. Evil. Easily identifiable by their riding crops and their sneering barks. Think Dr. Strangelove. And after the war, as the horrors of the Holocaust were revealed, hating Germans became not only automatic, but also righteous.

17 years later (1962), with barely a second thought I bought a Volkswagen, just because it was the best car I could afford. 19 years after that (1981), my son had a choice of languages to study in Junior High School: Spanish or German. The parent news network, a pre-blogging phenomenon similar to the sandbox mother's group for absolute reliability, had it that the German teacher was the best teacher in the school. It was then I recalled a song I had learned from our 1949 original cast recording of the show South Pacific, a Rogers and Hammerstein musical set in 1943. Lt. Cable, an American soldier stationed on one of the Solomon Islands falls in love with Liat, an Asian girl on the island but has to forsake her, and sings this bitter song (you can listen to a clip, scroll down to #14):

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught.
You've got to be carefully taught.
Well I was six and seven and eight during World War II, and I was carefully taught to hate Germans and Japanese. We all were.

So 40 years after that war ended my son studied German, went with his beloved teacher on a class trip to Germany, and 10 years after that he married an American woman whose late mother was Japanese. I love her.

And now my American children and I are somebody else's Enemy. It became real and immediate for me when Saddam Hussein sent SCUD missiles my way in 1991 and my Tel Aviv windows rattled, and then it became real for my children in 2001 when Osama Bin Ladin sent planes crashing into New York's World Trade Center, but it became human to me when Perpetual Refugee published his posts.


Fred said...

Hate knows no boundaries, and has no end to it. It must have been terrifying when the Scuds were headed your way.

The Perpetual Refugee has a compelling blog. I'll be reading it...thanks for writing about it.

samirah said...

My grandma was in a nazi work camp during the war. She was raped by a soldier, lost 4 of her 9 siblings, saw both her parents get shot, and everything she ever had was blown away. So I think I'm going to keep holding my grudge against the germans. They let it happen, they don't deserve forgiveness. At least not yet.

Savtadotty said...

Fred - I'm glad you're enjoying PR's blog. He's a really good writer!

Samirah - How does your grandma feel today about the people who did that to her? About germans who weren't born then? There is so much still to be learned about Hatred, Vengeance, Justice, and Reconciliation. For some reason, the words of Dr. Phil come to mind: "How's that workin' for ya?"

samirah said...

My grandma died last march. But never in my whole life did I ever hear her say a word about the war. Good or bad. She did tell me once that hatred turns good people into monsters and makes them lose sight of themselves and they end up doing things they wouldnt normally do. So there's that I guess.

Savtadotty said...

samirah - You honor your grandmother's memory when you repeat what she said about hatred.