Two Old Codgers

How the World strikes us

How do you see yourself? I mean, are you a good person or do you think there is a streak of badness in you? Are you ashamed of some of the things you have done? Maybe you see yourself as a thoroughly decent human being. If like most of us you are basically honest and law abiding but with the odd bad bit which you try hard to keep under control, what is it that that distinguishes you from the criminal and the violent murderer you read of in the news?

Who knows, perhaps we all have a bit of Jeckyl & Hyde in all of us.
Jeckyl & Hyde

Well, you have a Christian background even though you don't to Church on a regular basis. Your parents taught you right from wrong and although you might have been tempted, you have never strayed too far over the line. You have seen and heard of the dreadful things that men and women do to others. Murderers, rapists, the concentration camps of Germany and The Soviet Union, Terrorists who blow up and kill innocent men women and children. Take the Holocaust where millions of people were murdered simply because they were Jews. How could anyone do such things? They were German, different language and culture but in many ways very similar to us. After all there were very strong connections through our Royal Family.

Let's slip into imagination. I am English. As a young man I was blue eyed with blonde hair and six foot tall.

A youngster when the second world war started, I was very much aware of what was going on. I listened to the radio, saw cinema newsreels, read the newspapers and heard the views and attitudes of people around me and, although I lived in the countryside and didn’t experience air raids, I heard German aeroplanes flying over, talked with our soldiers, sailors and airmen and listened as parents talked of young neighbours who had been killed, wounded or been posted as missing.

It may sound horrifying to the current generations but in common with most people at the time, I hated and, at the same time, feared Germans. The Germans must have been worse than us, mustn’t they? I mean, just think of the holocaust when German soldiers herded millions of Jews into concentration camps, dropped gas canisters into rooms full of men, women and children. Think of it - a blonde, blue eyed German youth standing on the roof of the building, dropping in the gas and hearing the screams and cries of the people below. How on earth could they do something like that?

Just suppose, by an accident of birth, I had been born in a country town near Hamburg or Cologne. As a youngster I would have been encouraged to join the Hitler Youth movement, and I would have loved it! Fresh air, playing soldiers, camping and real comradeship. A bit later I could have been offered a smart black uniform and again, I would have loved it.

The parades,
A In Uniform
the banners, the bands and the ceremonials. Inevitably, I would have been called up into the army and might have received a posting to Dachau. It didn't mean a thing to me, just another camp. I would soon discover that it was some sort of concentration camp for people I had been taught to hate for years - the Jews.

I may not have been very happy at having to separate mothers from children and putting them in different parts of the camp but at seventeen or eighteen am I going to start questioning authority? Not on your life! I might finish up on the Russian front!

After a few weeks I am the proud owner of a lance corporal’s stripe and I have the responsibility of getting the ‘Inmates’ into the shower building. I know what the building is really for but - what can I do?
Anyway they are only Jews, it’s not that I don’t like Jews but I have been told officially that they are sub-human and the cause of all the troubles in the World. Somehow they simply have to be eliminated

When my second stripe comes through, I find myself on the roof with the Zyklon-B gas cylinders. I really don’t like this bit but there is nothing I can do.

I talked to so
meone who had been on the Russian front. He had lost most of his toes through frost bite and was a total wreck - not for me, Mate, I’m better off here.

It’s all imagination. I have no idea how I would have behaved. I would like to think I would have said ‘No!’ And gone to Stalingrad but I have a dreadful fear that I would have chickened out.

How does it happen? How could the German soldier be persuaded to do what he did? How did this young English boy think that the only good German was a dead one? How do decent American and English service men and women find themselves charged with abusing and torturing Iraqi prisoners? I don’t believe any of them are born wicked. I don’t think they are basically any different to you and me. I have a dreadful feeling that we all live on a knife edge. On the one side there is a decent, reasonable human being on the other some sort of monster who can do unspeakable things to fellow humans. What is even worse, it seem that others, who we see as ‘Authority’, have the power to very easily tip us over into the bad side.

Comment from William
The link at the bottom of this comment goes some way to explain why we make good, bad and ugly the decisions as young men and women.

We are legally allowed to get married at sixteen, drive a car at seventeen, vote at eighteen. You can join the armed forces at sixteen but can’t be sent to fight until you are eighteen.

I know I did stupid things and made ridiculous decisions as a young man. In retrospect I realise that I didn’t have good guidance but the main thing - I was nothing like as grown up as I thought I was.

Reading the following makes It makes it easier to forgive my own stupidity and bad behaviour.

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