quaker fencer

kathz isn't quite my name. I may be a Quaker. If I'm a fencer I'm a bad one and I don't do sabre. If I'm a Quaker I'm a bad one - but you've worked that out already. Read on. Comment if you like. Don't expect a reply.

Location: United Kingdom

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

shame and patriotism

It used to be quite common to know people who had been imprisoned in the Second World War: people who had been captured, or interned, or in transit camps or concentration camps. I suppose I grew up knowing about evil. It took me a while to become a pacifist because I believed the myth that the Second World War was a struggle between good and evil. They were the exterminators, the torturers and we were the good people, prepared to sacrifice ourselves so that this evil could stop.

Gradually I realised that this wasn't why Britain went to war. It was a war about territory. But I could see that people also fought from conviction - to prevent fascism and oppose a regime in which appalling cruelties were committed. While war no longer seemed a practical was of stopping evil - didn't it accelerate cruelties and shut off the escape route? - I still believed, somehow, in Britain as the good nation.

Over the last couple of years I have read more reports of British complicity in torture. The recent imperial past - let alone that of a hundred years ago - exposes casual and state-sanctioned brutalities. These, I thought, were the products of racism and nothing else - an evil that we could, as a country, overcome.

The recent archive researches by Guardian journalists tell another story. First they uncovered torture (to death in some cases) of Nazis during and after the war. Yesterday they described the systematic torture and starvation of communists and suspected communists, almost as soon as the war had ended.

There are photographs too. They look like photographs taken after the liberation of any concentration camp

We were the torturers too. The last vestiges of patriotism have left me. All I have left is deep shame.

We were the torturers - and I suppose we still are the torturers. There's enough evidence, after all. We are plainly complicit in torture elsewere. We have inherited expertise and can, presumably, advise on technique.

We are the torturers now. Did it ever stop?.

Fencing tomorrow. Yes, it involves controlled aggression and pain. But the friendly, tolerant community of fencers is filled with surprising warmth. And while we fence and talk and joke, the cold cruelty continues elsewhere.

This is the Guardian link, for anyone who can bear it:


Blogger Elizabeth McClung said...

I have always seen, with great sadness, people, again and again, turning into what they most fear or oppose particularly with the sentiment of patriotism or preserving "us" and "ours." When people depend on others reminding them what is "good" or "bad" and those restraints are absent, and then excess is seen as normal until eventually, people do things unable to even understand that what they are doing displays thier inability to see equal humanity.

2:26 am  
Blogger kathz said...

I can see that this happens to individuals and I think that's inevitable, though it's also possible to counter that attitude and for indivduals to resist. I think what worries me most in this instance is that one of two possibilities mus be the case. Either the government (a famously reforming Labour government) knew what was going on and approved it on behalf of the British people. Alternatively the government did not know what was going on and these activities were carried out and funded officially by another organisation. (And if that is true, who really runs the country?) Torture in this instance was systematic.

10:14 am  

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