Tuesday, April 8, 2008

42 years ago


From Bulpitt to Bangkok
In Bulpitt, Illinois, there lived a young woman named Judy, the youngest of five children, who was staying with her parents, taking college classes and working as a stenographer at a bank. Her father was a coal miner, already ill with the cirrhosis of the liver and emphysema that in three short years would kill him. Her mother worked as a butcher by day and managed the family's small tavern by night. The population of Bulpitt was already dwindling rapidly -- the younger generation didn't want to spend their future underground, with the threat of suffocation, being crushed, or slow death by poisoning, and what remained of the older generation simply illustrated, for the young, exactly why they wanted to get as far away from the mines as their dreams could carry them. Meanwhile, the mines were rapidly mechanizing, so that no new wave of immigrants, whose imaginations were preoccupied with different sorts of dread, came to descend willingly into the eternal night of the shafts.

Judy was also preoccupied with dream of escape, so that one day, while sitting at her mother's kitchen table and reading the classified section of the newspaper, her eye fell on the following advertisement:

JOIN THE GOVERNMENT AND SEE THE WORLD
The ad gave a date and time and location, so she went to the high school cafeteria that had been indicated in the newspaper, where she took an exam that tested her secretarial skills. At the bottom of the test paper, there was a question about where she would like to go, with three blanks. She filled them out: London, Paris, Rome, and then underneath, in parentheses she wrote: (or someplace warm).

Within three months she had moved to Washington, D.C. and five months, she was living in Bangkok, Thailand.

Meanwhile, there lived a young man named Mike...

He had played football and studied chemistry at Cornell University, and after a tour of duty with the Marines, he had entered the family business, which his father affectionately referred to as "the pickle factory." His first assignment with "AID" was in Laos, where he lived with the Hmong people in a remote village for months at a time, making brief visits to Bangkok to check in with his superiors.

Mike had once announced to his parents, "I tell you one thing: I do not intend to be bored in my life." He loved animals and kept several cats, a horse, and a pet monkey in Laos. He also read extensively for pleasure and was particularly interested in American History and Literature. He had been born in Berlin, when he was father was working as a foreign correspondent and studying and reporting on the rise of Adolf Hitler (which eventually led to a book, People Under Hitler -- see review at the end of this post, and another review).

Mike and Judy met in Bangkok during one of Mike's short visits. They carried on a long-distance courtship, and then were married, in October of 1964.

The couple moved to Laos and set up house. Almost a year after their wedding, Mike died in a helicopter accident. Judy was three months pregnant with their first and only child, a girl. The U.S. government flew Judy back home to Bulpitt. On April 9, 1966, her baby was born, and

Judy named her Suzanne Michelle.
People Under Hitler by Wallace Deuel
November 18, 1949—Ida Nasatir book review—People Under Hitler by Wallace DeuelSouthwestern Jewish Press, page 3 : Wallace Deuel, a Gentile, is a brilliant newspaper correspondent. He went to Berlin in 1934 when he was 29 years old. While there he tried to pierce the mystery of that world. Endowed with almost dogged patience, he was inquisitive, intelligent, scholarly. Also he had great integrity. As a journalist Deuel was a fiend for facts, for detail, for documentation. His book, People Under Hitler, is packed with them. He doesn't ask you to take his word for anything. He gives you chapter and verse, the name of the law, the text, the exact number of victims. His book attempts to answer two of the most fateful questions of our era: "What was there in the lives of the German people, and all the others, that made the Nazi revolution and the second war possible? What did the revolution and the war, in turn, do to the people it embraced? The first 135 pages trace the rise of National Socialism. There is an unusual chapter entitled "The Germans: Are they Human?" This is Deuel's characterization of the German: "These , then are the Germans: Big, heavy powerful; with unusual capacities for hard work and for enduring privation and pain; on the whole unlovely, ponderous rather than graceful of manner and movement and not seldom gross, and even coarse; a people suffering from a sense of inner insecurity and lack of a sense of form and proportion of balance and control, and constantly striving to compensate for these deficiencies by seeking for authority and discipline to impose order and system." William Shirer, author of Berlin Diary, has called this the "best characterization of the German that any American has yet achieved." Deuel is often struck by the fantastic importance of small things in men. He feels, for instance, that "Adolf Hitler had a mustache like Charlie Chaplin—that was one of the fateful facts of modern times. People thought he was funny. They laughed at him. And while they were laughing, Hitler destroyed them and their whole world around them. There was nothing funny about Adolf Hitler—nothing at all. But thanks in large measure to his comedian's mustache, millions of human beings found this out too late." Deuel sees very clearly what a few Germans, even men like Fritz Thyssen saw too late, namely that Hitler had set out to overthrow all of Western civilization. In a remarkable epilogue he develops this belief. The author tells in great detail how the Nazi dictatorship regulated the life of every German from before birth until after death; of how, for instance, it decided whom you may marry, whether you may have children, what names you must give them, how many pockets you may have in your trousers, how your daughter may wear her hair, how your son may fly his kite, and what funny-paper, if any, you may read. There was NO privacy either in life or death. Even the tombstones were coordinated. Though not a pleasant tale, it is tremendously important to read it. Particularly it is so in this new "atomic age." It is well to recall that Hitler knew enough to know that you have to offer a disillusioned world some faith. He concocted a false one. The lost millions snatched at it.

4 comments:

Freder1ck said...

happy birthday!

Suzanne said...

Thanks, Fred!

kabloona said...

Mike was sure father? (I just want to make sure).

Suzanne said...

Mike is my biological father. My mother remarried when I was two, and her new husband adopted me. My adoptive father raised me and was a father to me in every sense. My mother's current husband is my true dad. And yet, Mike (in some mysterious way) has also been a true dad to me.

Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."