Private Rowley

Short stories intrigue me. They allow the reader to see a snapshot of a time and place, of a person and character–even if that dim picture is incomplete. This particular one is perhaps a wee bit long for a blog post, but it’s appropriate. I’m off to the Colorado Plateau, a place desperately different, so I suppose it’s fitting to share a story set in the desert with those of you who cannot walk the edge of it with me.

Private Rowley

      Private Rowley took a long draw from his metallic canteen, the lukewarm water running down the wool cover and over his dirt-caked fingers. He leaned back and wiped his sweaty brow. Below him were four bodies; two Mexican, one Gringo and an Apache. Private Rowley hadn’t killed them all, the Apaches had, and he was just waiting it out, hoping they didn’t jump him too. He was far outnumbered in both numbers and firepower. The dozen or so braves carried Henry repeating rifles, each holding eleven cartridges. Private Rowley, he had his model 1871 Springfield breach-loading rifle. One shot, and he would have to spend half a minute preparing and loading another. In that time, twelve braves could unload six shots each, which added up to a pretty slim chance for Rowley. Read on!

Send in the Brownshirts

I am always amused by politicians and pundits on TV and radio. They get so worked up, and usually when they start to run out of steam–of witty responses and vicious jabs–they always have one thing to rely on: the Nazis. Bring in the Stormtroopers! It is amusing because they are doing exactly what the Nazis themselves did: that when all else fails, you can still bludgeon your opponent. You can always resort to violence!

But it has a deeper meaning and problem. Those pundits’ remarks betray a misunderstanding of the past by a broader audience. The next genocidal, ethnic-cleansing government won’t be the Nazis. I guarantee it. History repeats itself, but c’mon, not that closely. They rarely pop up overnight with reeducation camps, gulags, and book-burning parties. They won’t sport fantastic mustaches and march around with big boots. And they’re probably not going to be wearing white hoods. They won’t live in volcanoes or wear capes, or be aficionados of opera. Sorry, they’re not that easy to spot. But I think many do actually expect them to be like this. I am annoyed by the outlawing of Nazism. It too misses the point. As if any Nazi worth his salt is going to name his new political party the “Fourth Reich”, and wear red armbands and bash drums. Why is the swastika a banned symbol? Are we ashamed of the truth? The swastika didn’t cause the horrors of what the NSDAP did. The ideas behind it did, and of course, the people who embraced those ideas. By banning it, we give it power it does not deserve.

So when things start to get dicey in a political discussion, please don’t mention the Nazis, because it doesn’t actually prove anything. We sometimes try to bash the heads of our opponents and condemn evildoers of the past in one strike. We think we’re proving something by being gruff and calling the bad guys names. “You’re a Nazi!” may be true, but it doesn’t solve problems, and it doesn’t show that you learnt a lesson from history, or that you even know a Nazi when you see one. They’re so easy to lambast, and for good reason: they lost. They weren’t around long enough to change their own history like other despotic regimes and murderous ideas. By labeling all our enemies Nazis we miss the chance to expose the dangerous ones.

But memories pass with each generation. Less than eighty years after the Nazi regime’s passing, there are relatively large numbers of neo-Nazis in the world, and they’re growing! So yes, I suppose we’re going to repeat history, but only if we have learnt nothing. But to prevent the past from repeating itself, you’ve got to understand that it won’t do the same thing twice. And we won’t stop it by banning Nazism, or by making hate-speech a crime. All those regimes and governments didn’t start killing and pillaging and burning and destroying from the get-go. The death camps didn’t start churning from day one. Far from it, they were the culmination of an idea put into full practice. To stop it, you must meet ideas with ideas, see them, and address them. You must identify them and they must be met and defeated. Veni, vidi, vici.

Crossing the Acheron

I know this is well after December 31st or even January 1st, but this blog didn’t exist then, and to be honest, I want to have a post or two in the archives for it to feel legitimate. So I thank you for your forbearance.

It is always with a certain amount of trepidation that we approach the conclusion of the year, as though we think it might just suddenly end. And it is a concoction of hesitation and enthusiasm with which we enter the new one. In a sense, I suppose one begins each as any should–surrounded by friends and family in a party. If the world were to end at the strike of midnight many of us would find ourselves right where we would want. I think that’s why we stay up until midnight–to ensure ourselves that nothing really changes, even though we know it has. To go to our beds at the usual hour would betray the fact that a whole year has past, which is no important thing in itself or in the scheme of the world. But to us, our own selves, it is considerable: A whole year of life and living.

One brings all the year’s memories with oneself and examines them at the threshold. It is like preparing ourselves for a voyage across the Acheron. We ask ourselves, “what have I gained in the passing year?”, “what have I lost?”, “what will the new year bring?” These questions will inevitably fetch remorse as well as fondness, but it’s these questions which lead us to conclusions, and conclusions which lead to choices of improvement.

It’s these choices that we call resolutions. New Year’s resolutions are an interesting fact of human life. Besides the derision and fun we harbor for them, they tell us a lot about ourselves. Being alive for another year we feel that we may redeem what was lost of ourselves, and reject that which was gained but not loved. And we feel as though we must, lest we not live to see another. We could have done the same during the last year, but we didn’t, we never. And as humans we enjoy imaginative milestones such as the date on the calendar. Usually we make promises to ourselves and to each other, mostly about habits. You see, there’s always room for improvement, we will never be satisfied with ourselves. But we hate to change. So we make demands that we’re not fully prepared to meet, sacrifices we’re never fully ready to make.

But whether these resolutions are kept is actually not the point. The point is that we look within ourselves and find something–a desire, a spark, a little yearning that wants to change. We can’t do that without reflecting on the past, as we are–for better or worse–fashioned by it. It is healthy to ask the question “am I happy with what I have done?” And it is a question we are blessed to be able to ask. We must remember those who never made it, those who crossed the river Acheron with us the year before, and who we expected by our side for the next, but are not. For us who felt that we could command our circumstance, we’re the lucky ones. Many couldn’t, and for them the reflection is different. For them, they can only hope, which is no small thing. And which, in the end, is all any of us can do.