Letters to The Ethical Spectacle

In this month's letters column are two responses to an article on Schindler's List I published in the first issue of the Spectacle in January 1995, almost ten years ago. One of the remarkable things about this medium is that everything stays online forever. The impact of a particular article may be tiny when published but is cumulative over time. I was astonished, in February 1995, to get the report saying that 1100 people had visited my site, as I had no idea how they had found it. Today there are about 65,000 visitors a month.

In this time, my views have changed remarkably little on most issues. I was forty when I started. Old dogs and all that.

Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net


Spectacle Letters Column Guidelines. If you write to me about something you read in the Spectacle, I will assume the letter is for publication. If it is not, please tell me, and I will respect that. If you want the letter published, but without your name attached, I will also respect that. I will not include your email address unless you ask me to. This is in response to many of you who have expressed concern that spammers are finding your email address here. Flames are an exception. They will be published in full, with your name and email address. I have actually had people follow up on a published flame by complaining that they thought they were insulting my ancestry privately. Nope, sorry.


Dear Jonathan:

My first reaction to the news story being pounded over and over in the media regarding mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners was "Oh no!" I couldn't believe that our GI's would do such things. I saw a few of the pictures that depicted a female GI smiling and pointing to a hooded, but otherwise naked prisoner, and another photo of a pile of naked men with a smiling GI standing behind them. There were several other similar photos, the worst of which was of a prisoner standing cloaked and hooded on a platform holding wires in his outstretched hands. The caption said this unfortunate soul was told that he would be electrocuted if he stepped off the platform.

"None of this BS should be happening to POWS being held by Americans!" I thought. This is the kind of stuff Saddam was supposedly doing, not US!

Then, after a week of the media's continued exploitation of the story, I began to see the real impact of the event. It began to occur to me that our GI's were actually being compared to the terrorists. Wait! (I thought.) Saddam was actually electrocuting his prisoners. He was raping them, and mutilating them as a matter of social control....cutting off ears and fingers and tongues, putting them in wood chippers, poking out eyes, and other ghastly things. We weren't really doing that to these people. These photos, bad as they are, actually bear more similarity to a fraternity hazing gone awry than what Saddam did. The prisoners were being humiliated and degraded, that's for sure...and that certainly wasn't what our GI's were supposed to be doing...but for Americans to compare their treatment to the kind of stuff the Islamic terrorists were doing....with the burning, mutilating, and dragging of bodies around in the streets is just nonsense. There is a huge difference between mutilation and real physical torture, and "humiliation."

Here's a personal anecdote regarding my experience in the USAF Survival School: All USAF members headed for a combat zone had to pass through this training. Part of the program involved subjecting trainees to sleep deprivation, some physical excess, and then after crawling through a muddy obstacle course with munitions going off over our heads, we were "taken prisoner" and put into a mock prison compound. In the camp, we were hooded and stripped naked. We were questioned in a room by someone with a phony non-specific accent while standing in that naked, hooded condition for some time. Then we were given our uniforms back and placed in a confined "box" in a cramped fetal position for what seemed like hours to "soften us up." Among other things, we were subjected to propaganda, weird music, and various other mental "obstacles" to make us more easily interrogated. While there were a few trainees unable to "cope" with these "simulated prisoner of war" conditions, most of us were well aware that we were not going to actually be harmed, and we just played the game. The point of the training was to give us a small sample of what we might expect if we were captured. I am certain however, that had someone been there taking photos (especially during selected portions) of the treatment/training we received, they would seem to depict abuses almost as extreme as those Iraqi photos.

This is the point! If a photo of me standing naked with a hood on my head at survival school while some dork threw a boot at me were to be taken as "evidence of abuse" for those not there, it would be convincing. It would also be misleading.

While I do not excuse those (six or so) dumb GI's who thought abusing and humiliating the Iraqi prisoners (and taking "trophy photos" of the abuse) was funny, I seriously doubt that the abuses depicted in the pictures rise to anywhere near the level that the media has depicted. The point is also made that war isn't a tea party. Regardless of the justification of a warring nation, abuses will occur in varying degrees out of the nature of the event. As much as it is the ideal, it is never the reality that combatants in a war will rip each other apart on the battlefield, then serve tea and biscuits to the enemy once they become prisoner's of war. While our military is over there being shot at, it is highly likely that enemy soldiers and terrorists being held in local prisons won't be happy about it. Obviously however, outright abuses and inhumanity towards prisoners cannot be policy, and I don't believe it is.

Unfortunately, those who are against our efforts in the war on terrorism (and claim Iraq has nothing to do with) will exploit those photos, and frankly I consider the GI's who did it to have stupidly given our enemies ammunition to harm our efforts. Those responsible deserve punishment for their sheer stupidity, as much as for whatever violations of rules of propriety that govern prisoner treatment. Most assuredly, though the damage to America's cause is already done, and the reputation of all those thousands of outstanding heroes in service to America who aren't like them is tainted by their stupidity, they will be punished.

Bob Wilson


Dear Mr. Wallace:

I was reading your article The Treaty Ripper, and while I do agree with you, I think you made an error. You cite tragedy of the commons to someone called "Commoner", when it was actually Hardin that coined the term. I don't mean to be fiddly, but it would give more credibility to your argument if you had it all correct.

adios, Laura Mann


Dear Mr. Wallace:

Re The Unconscious Hypocrisy of "Schindler's List, I do feel the article is very wide of the mark. The author says the film is dishonest because there was so few Schindlers - but that is the point. It's the very uniqueness and eventual absolute altruism of Oskar that is so worthy of a film. He gave up his entire fortune and risked his life constantly for the Jews. For the author of this piece to dismiss him as a "gentile" and seeing the Jews as "his pets" is such a distorted and sad interpretation. And, "Schindler does not agonize in the film" apparently? Have you seen the last 10 minutes? I don't know if this article was written to deliberately misinterpret the film and provoke debate and controverter - I hope so. Because I would hate to think that the author really did see such a tender and earnest attempt (Schindler's List) to depict goodness, respect, equality against all odd as the patronizing, hypocritical and virtually racist movie he/she seems to think it is.

Andy Moore


Dear Johnathan Wallace,

I just stumbled across your article The Unconscious Hypocrisy of "Schindler's List I would like to first say that this is in no way telling that you are wrong in your views. What you wish to think is what you wish to think. I have no say in what you decide. I would just like to mention a few things that struck me wrong about your article. First off when you stated "ET is the only movie Steven Spielberg knows how to make. Schindler's List is a very affecting film (as was ET), but a dishonest view of the Holocaust." You have to look at what the movie was really made for. I defiantly takes place during the Holocaust, but in no way was it to portray the whole Holocaust. In fact to quote the book that was put in the special edition of Schindler's List. "My goal was to 'bear witness' to the Holocaust by telling his story. I wanted the film to be as close to reality as possible. Many of my films up to that time were subjects of imagination, pure entertainment, and I am proud of them, but I wanted to shoot this film almost as if it were a documentary. It had to be in black and white because that's how we saw the news, documentary footage, and books about World War II." (Steven Spielberg). This shows that he wanted to document the story of Schindler and what he did for the Jews. This also shows that he wasn't just making another ET movie. He was trying to show what life really was like during that time. In fact he went to great lengths to ensure this. He even brought in many survivors, and even brought in the surviving Schindler Jews. That way there would be no way to make it inaccurate. As for the comment of "No-one, of course, would have gone to see an honest movie about the Holocaust" well why don^t you look at Saving Private Ryan. That movie was also another very accurate movie. It was a hit in the theaters and when released to tape/DVD. The common run is that the world wants to see the reality. Hence why reality TV and movies have been a hit lately. You also talk about how the fact that there were few schindlers in Germany or Europe. I don't have any idea how many there actually were, but again Spielberg was looking to portray Schindler's story. As I said before I^m not trying to tell you that you are wrong for believing what you choice to believe. The only thing is that I would like to see that you form your opinions on facts not just pure speculation as it seems that you have when I read the article that you wrote. If you have facts that say different then please let me know. I thank you for your time in reading this.

Sincerely,

Michael


Sir-

I am certain you have heard many different takes on your website, and its statement that there is no God. I'm certain many people will try to argue this with you as well. As for myself, I have no problem reconciling the Holocaust and God's existance. Let me explain.

1) To a human being, rooted in this world, with ninety or so years of existance, and no ability to discern for himself the so-called "truth" of the universe, the concept that any loving being could allow such an overwhelming horror as the Holocaust to occur must surely appear madness, much the way you yourself appear to me to view it. 2) HOWEVER, the problem here is of POINT OF REFERENCE. To the Almighty God, who is aware of the timeless stretch of all eternity, the fact that any human, or even entire groups of humans, are suffering at any given moment, or (indeed) their whole earthly existance, is, bluntly, IRRELEVANT. God is aware that, no matter what we experience here on Earth, it is a slight bump in the scheme of our subsequent post-death experience.

Allow me to illustrate. God asks us to trust in the grand Plan, even though we are too spiritually immature to understand that scheme. We exist for ninety years, suffering, and growing stronger as beings, being purified through our experiences here, being forged and readied for what comes After.

We die, and, assuming we were faithful, we are then lifted up to enjoy ALL ETERNITY free from pain, want, or suffering. In effect, what you and I see as horror, God sees as immaterial to the whole of our being.

I am not minimizing in any way the sufferings of those who died at any concentration camp, or anywhere else. I merely pose to you that, what you have seen as an unbearable horror, and a reason to cease belief, God sees merely as another pain to be overcome with faith and belief.

The fact that "good" people suffer, or that "bad" people don't, is not in and of itself, a reason to cease belief. It only shows that we are still overly concerned with the small blip of time we have here, and NOT with the vast eternal cosmic aftermath we are supposed to be concentrating on.

I am not some "golden-spoon" who has never suffered pain. I have never (and pray I never will) suffered the way those at the Camps suffered. But each person's pain is a relative issue, as we all have different levels of tolerance. To question what happens is good and proper. To attempt to use only our own desires and goals to measure the plans of our Creator seems to me to be short-sighted and selfish.

BTW, I find your website extremely well-done, and applaud you on your efforts. Thank you for your patience in allowing me to express myself.

Very Respectfully-

Will Borrall


Dear Mr. Wallace:

Thank you so much for the Auschwitz Alphabet site. It has helped me on more than one school project and provided me with an insight on the true horrors of the Holocaust.

-MaverickX


Dear Mr. Wallace:

I just finished reading the essey, The Auschwitz Alphabet, and I am wondering after all the research you did, the things you had to look at and the people you had to talk to how did you come to the conclusion that there is no God? If you look through out the Old Testament, or Pentatuch (the jewish Bible?) there are plenty example of how God took care of them and made them prosper but then because they didn't stick to the covenant he had made with them they also were conquered and enslaved several times. Now I am not saying that the Holacaust was the Jews fault at all, however because it happened doesn't mean that God doesn't exist. You said that they're we basically two responses to what had happened: god exists but didn't care enough to help his people or that because it happened God doesn't exist. One of the Old Testament writers talks about how God's ways are so much higher than our ways and his thoughts higher than our thoughts, so just because you don't understand why it happened doesn't mean God doesn't. That is what faith in the divine is about, not to question why this had to happen but to lean on Him to get through what does happen. What must be learned from horrors like this is that one must stick to ones convictions. The Nazi's stuck to their convictions and the reason that they got away with so much is because there were not enough voices to stand up against them. And it all starts with one voice, one candle will break the darkness of the darkest of nights. Perhaps people will read your essey and realize like I have that no matter what any one else thinks, or what any one else does, or what any one else says that I and only I are responsible to make sure it NEVER HAPPENS AGAIN. And so I end this message to you with a request for you to re-examine your conclusion on there not being a God, and to let you know that you have encouraged and made brave one person to be the light against the darkness.

Sincerley, b. hall


Dear Mr. Wallace:

I agree with you that censorware is vile. I don't see why anyone would want to censor the Internet. I mean look at thing that are wrongly blocked, like the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW [Blocked by Cyberpatrol]). Sure there are some evil sites out there (Like Zundelsite) But pornography is in the minority of sites. Hopefully, the people will realise that censorware will never work and there would be no market for it anymore. This seems to be what happens everytime a new form of communication is introduced; people (Especially Christian Conservatives) call for censorship. 50 years later people will probably look upon the censors at Cyberpatrol as Fools


Hey there,

Just doing a bit of 'net research for myself and stumbled across your essays on freedom of speech.

Because I feel that many 'net writers can go under-appreciated, I just wanted to drop you a note to say:

1. Thanks for making these essay resources of yours available, and

2. They were well written, and nicely thought-provoking in the way that discourses on this particular subject, should be.

So, keep up the good work :-)

Phillip.


Dear Mr. Wallace,

I just finished reading Proust's Ruined Mirror. Interesting stuff. Curiously, I have to ask about your suggestion of Proust writing in hypertext. Just how do you propose that such a novel would be constructed (first in the writer's mind, then on to paper and, subsequently, to the reader via a Just how do you propose that such a novel would be constructed (first in the writer's mind, then on to paper and, subsequently, to the reader via a printed book) in such a way that it could be comprehended?

Anyway, sorry to take your time. I liked your article and just thought I would take a moment to say so.

Tony