Letters to The Ethical Spectacle

The Columbine shootings struck a nerve this month. I received more unsolicited submissions about them than any topic other than the impeachment proceedings.

The Spectacle is increasingly hooked into the outside world. Whenever Schindler's List is shown on television, I get a lot of email the same night. People get onto the Net, searching for more information, find my review from January '95, and write me.

The reprint request for the People's Republic of China, given below, is the second I have received from China. Articles from the Spectacle have been picked up in a variety of other print media over the years: law reviews, free speech textbooks and librarian's publications, among other places.

I enjoy your email and can be reached as always at jw@bway.net.

An Auschwitz Alphabet

Dear Mr. Wallace,

I want to thank you for your surprising and unusually honest depiction of the Holocaust, the people involved, and your own personal feelings on the subject.

In your section titled "Introduction" you asked "Please let me know what you think?" Well, this is what I think.

I am not a historian, nor Jewish, nor an expert on the subject of the Holocaust or any other atrocity committed by humans. However, I have read about the Holocaust and other tragedies fairly thoroughly and found your personal essays to be remarkably intelligent and honest. There are few sources which come right out and say being a Holocaust survivor does not automatically equal being a good person.

My children are homeschooled and I will be using your web site as a reference source and your personal essays as starting points for discussion. This is not the first time I have exposed my children to the reality of the Holocaust. I believe it must be something studied in pieces, but also in depth. The causes, those involved, the reactions (or lack thereof) of other governments, the methods used to gain control over such a large population of people, and many other facets need to be understood as well as Auschwitz. Although I am not, my first husband was Jewish. We had a daughter who is now thirteen. Had she been alive in Germany during The Holocaust she would have been considered a Jew and subjected to the same torture and killing as any other Jew. She would have worn a yellow Star of David. She may have been gassed at Auschwitz. So might I have, since I married a Jewish person. One of my friends and her husband are Jehovah's Witnesses. They, too, would have been some of the first to have perished in that time and place.

Our daughter researched Latin America recently. Part of that research was the torture and murder of children, women, and men during the regime of Pinochet. The Pope stepped forward to assert his innocence. The United States had helped his totalitarian government find someone who had escaped and was hiding in this country. Most people don't even recognize the name Augusto Pinochet.

We had a French exchange student live with us last year. She was openly antisemitic. She was also an atheist. At first it puzzled me about how she could be both. Obviously, her anti-Semitism was based upon ethnic and not religious differences. The Brazilian exchange student we had the previous year thought of the indigenous peoples of Brazil to be poor, uneducated subsistence farmers out of their own choice. I have friends in Australia who feel the same way about the Aborigines, and friends in New Zealand who barely know the Maoris exist. I don't think I've ever heard of the native Indians of Canada, but obviously they were there.

I could go on, but my point is we found it much more difficult (or impossible) to find in recent or past history a country, a people, or government innocent of "ethic cleansing," decimation of original populations, harboring official or simply widespread prejudices, torturing and killing "dissenters" of totalitarian regimes, keeping slaves of one sort or another, or allowing or aiding in all or part of the above. The Holocaust was unique in its' scope, but not in its' intent.

You said in your essay that you learned from Auschwitz that there was no God. This is not what I learned. I believe there is a God which has given us all free will. In my own personal experience and reading, I have come to believe most people tetter on the brink of good and evil and their actions depend on external events much more so than what they thought they believed or their own consciences and concepts of right and wrong. I don't think Auschwitz or the Holocaust taught anyone anything about God. I do believe it taught many a lesson about what people, human beings just like anyone, really are and what they are capable of doing.

I watched the movie "Shindler's List" with my nine year old son. He asked why people would or could do such horrendous things. My explanation was the only one I could come up with. I told him people, all people including me and him, have bad and good in their hearts and minds. I told him it seemed the bad part was like a vigorous weed; given just a few sprinkles of water and left to itself it or given the slightest bit of encouragement would grow much bigger than the good side and crowd it out. I told him the good side was much more difficult to keep alive; like a finicky house plant which needs constant care and attention. I explained to him he must always keep up on the good and bad parts of his thoughts and actions and do his best to keep any nourishment from the bad side and to nurture the good side. I do believe this. I've seen it in a "micro"climate and studied it when it has happened on a much larger scale.

Yes, I watched the movie "Schinder's List" with my son and daughter as part of educating them about the Holocaust. I agree with your assessment of the movie. Yes, the central character was not a Jew. Yes, the peripheral characters were Jewish. Yes, there was a definite sense that came across that those people "belonged" to Oskar Schindler. Yes, it was a very rare instance of a few people being saved when millions died.

However, I also thought it was the most realistic mainstream movie as far as the violence and conditions Holocaust victims endured. Some of the images I remember most vividly from the film are the ones which come closest to depicting real events: A Jewish woman in a concentration camp being forced to dig up bodies to be burned. An SS officer pushes her into the pit with the dead and half decomposed corpses and the head falls off one; the fear and humiliation throughout the film; the scenes which looked nearly identical to real film taken of corpses stacked and dumped as if they were no more than sacks of trash; that some people had friends and got lucky and most did not. I saw people who turned their backs on others to save themselves; people scrabbling to stay alive at any cost.

No, I don't think it accurately portrayed the reality of the Holocaust. I don't think any film could.

However, I did not feel any closure upon seeing the film; no washing of the hands; no warm fuzzies. I found it very disturbing and left me with nothing but more questions about how humans can be so inhuman. This seemed to be the general feeling of most of the people I knew who saw the film. On the other hand, I did have a very educated friend (a Phd in History, no less) who said the film was inaccurate by indicating at least some of the German people knew of the fate of those on the trains. She insisted the "regular people" could have had no idea what was happening or they would have stopped it. I argued it was impossible for the majority not to have known. I still believe I'm correct. I do see how revisionists could possibly persuade some to believe the Holocaust never even happened.

Moreover, the film answered in part some of the many questions I had about how such a thing could have happened. I always wondered how any government could possibly get people to go to their torture and deaths so quietly and obediently. I wondered how such a large undertaking could have possibly been accomplished. I wondered why so few fought back, whether Jewish or any another targeted "group" deemed less than human. I don't believe those questions can ever truly be answered, but I did have a better understanding after watching the film.

My first husband had thirteen brothers and sisters. It never occurred to me that he had no extended family, not a single uncle, aunt, grandparent, or cousin. In part, because his family get togethers seemed as crowed as my own. Too, we were young, stupid, and having too much fun to ask or think about questions like that (which is basically why the marriage didn't last). It wasn't until our wedding that his mother told my mother she and my husband's father had married against the wishes of both families, fled to Austria and then to the US in 1939. All of his father's and mother's family stayed behind and died in the Holocaust.

Why my interest in the Holocaust and other atrocities? I don't think "interest" is exactly the correct word, but I want to be sure I am aware, and ensure my children are aware, such things have happened, are still happening, and will continue to happen. I want them to keep a constant watch on the two sides of their own hearts and make sure they will always do what is right. I was probably ten years old the first time I saw film of the death camps . In one segment it showed a barn the Nazis had locked a group of men in and set fire to when they realized the Allies were coming. There was a shot of a man who had somehow pushed his head out under the bottom of the barn before he died. The space looked to be no more than four or five inches and the bottom boards pressed against his neck, yet he had somehow pushed his head out in a vain attempt to stay alive. Years later, in pre-med in college, I saw a dead, full-term fetus which had a very unusual birth defect. Its neck had somehow become twisted around several times and was significantly smaller than it should have been. What was the first thing I though of? The image of the man's head poking under the barn. His neck seemed as small as misproportioned as the fetus'.

You asked what I thought. Well, there it is in a very condensed version. I have a daughter whose biological father is Jewish. The Jewish community would not consider her to be Jewish because I am not, but Nazi Germany would have. Perhaps that changes my perspective just a little bit, maybe a lot.

I think you have an informative web site and am glad it is linked to the snapshot site so more people may find their way there. I appreciate the honesty in your essay and ideas most of all. I hope some people will come away slightly better people, or at least more informed, after reading your whole site. I hope they will realize there is genocide and other atrocities occurring right now, and people eager to keep it hidden or rewrite their own versions.

Unfortunately, I also believe genocide and other atrocities committed by humans against other humans will never cease. I believe the play will stay the same, and only the actors and the stage will change.

Lisa Viger (apologizing for being so long winded)

Dear Mr. Wallace:

this site has been very educational....an awakening/informative that people need.its important to see the atrocities of the past to prevent furture Auschwitz's.


Dear Mr. Wallace:

I wanted to let you know that I appreciated the information provided in your web page. I am at a lack of words- I just finished reading Primo Levi's- Survival in Auschwitz. Some how saying what a terrible awful experience just doesn't seem to do it.

Thank you

Laura Johnson jvoigt@clinton.net


You admitted that your family missed the holocaust. Yet you still have a holocaust page like it happened to you personally. I submit to you that the holocaust was not the worst thing to happen during this century. It was not even close. The atrocities and loss of life the Germans suffered were as bad, and the atrocities committed by Jewish communists in Russia (the ones listed in Jewish published lists of important Jewish figures of history) are many times worse than the worst even claimed about the Germans.

I do not condone killing Jews. It is a disgusting concept, which I am sure that we agree on. However, I am sick and tired of seeing the holocaust being promoted for cash, as if it were the worst thing to ever happen. It is to the point where sympathy is being destroyed, like a child, even clearly wronged, throwing a temper tantrum and demanding sympathy, long past the point of reasonableness. Bad things happen in this world. Get over it.

If this makes no sense to you, or if it only makes you angry, I am sorry for wasting both of our time, and for offending you, because I am sure that you and I will never have a thing to discuss on this issue. I feel sorry for you and your people that your whole existence is focused on the wrongs of the past, while destroying the pleasant future that you will now almost certainly never have with those among whom you live.

-Al- PwerStroke@aol.com

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Is there anyway I can search by location?

This is the list I have - these women were roomed together at Auschwitz; they were seamstresses by day and bed partners to the German Officers by night - they had NO choice in this matter; I suspect they were in Block 10 and they were survivors.

The list - (they were in the same room)

1. Masuriche Frau - Ostpreufau?
2. Schwabner, Madchen Hessen
3. Chimgauer Bauerin Berzen
4. Altenburger Bauerin Thuringen
5. withheld
6. Halberstadtler Bauerin
7. Bauerin Aus Dem Weyacker Bel Pyritz, Pommern
8. Friesin Von Wyk Auf Fohr
9. Bauerin Von Westschelt, Wesfalen

They carved Nine wooden dolls and dressed them elaborately - they are a sight to behold.

They were authenticated by Christa Glache in Limberg/Lahn, Schaumburg???

I am writing an article about these dolls before they are put on the auction block.

I want to save them from going into a private collection - but I need to find information on the above list.

Can you please help me?

Kay Pennington KPennington@webtv.net

Dear Mr.Wallace:

I have been an active reader of your website for many months now. I was originally drawn to your site for your commentary and social views. I have continued to visit your site because of the quality of writing and insight.

However, previous to today, I have never read any of your fiction. In a way, it almost seemed incestuous, like getting involved sexually with a friend. I didn't want my reactions to your works of fiction, good or bad, to cloud my enjoyment of your commentary.

Fuck was I wrong!

Presently, I find myself reading Charlotte Stein's journal from Someone to Lean On. I will desist from a specific critique of the work, and only comment on my reaction to the generalities. This may seem backwards from a literary point of view, but is far more accurate to my experience.

The experience of reading this work is great. Each time I am tempted to speculate on the author's perspective of the story, the characters and plot consume me. Please don't take it as an offence, but reading this fiction is in a way more satisfying than reading your commentary.

I'm going to take some time out of my self-imposed schedule of editorials and opinions to read more of your fiction. I suggest your other readers do the same...I would consider myself the least likely person to enjoy this work, yet I find it wonderful.

What's in it for me in writing this note? Just that you would continue to write more, if you produce, I'll consume...Talk about a mutually co-operative system from game-theory :)

Yours truly
Steven J. McArthur madmord@home.com

Dear Jonathan:

Jeeze what a bunch of crap.

From The Republican Revenge Crusade:

"I am 44 years old and have no maturity problems when it comes to staying faithful to my wife."

"On a recent episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, someone commented that truly modern vampires don't get involved in revenge crusades..."

Buffy the Vampire Slayer??

Something about those two statements just seems to evoke a smile.... Face it Jonathan, you're just a liberal Democrat...willing to overlook just about anything if your guy (Bill) is involved. All of your loquacity aside...you're just as hypocritical as the next liberal... You just use a lot more words to reveal your biases. Yawn..

Bob Wilson

Dear Mr. Wallace:

he screwed up he went where he souldn't have gone yugoslavia will destory him politically serbs helped the americans in 44 and he was a lousy draft doger coward how many american lives will be lost by this cowards dission, does he think he is god i don't think so he is no better then a pimp on the street looking for another fuck. it is not yugoslavia i don't agree with milosovich he needs to be taken out but not at the expence of the albainians or serbs maybe they should both be charged with war crime's and let the world courts deceided. when american and nato casualities are brought back in body bags then maybe someone will listen

a concerned canadian of yugoslav heritage and proud of it

joe vukovic joe.vukovic@sympatico.ca

Re your Living Downstream from the NRA:

On the Crown Heights riot, the author seem to see blacks as some kind of animal...implying that of course they rioted and killed--the rabbi didn't apologize to them! As if that's all we can expect of black folks, who can't be expected to behave calmly and rationally. As for the "alleged racism" of ambulance drivers...well, Crown Heights had one real death and much destruction and abuse on our hands, no "allegedly" needed. But your liberal bleeding heart would rather side with the mob than the victims. Mob Rule?

So by taking the side of the Crown Heights pogrom, by assenting that the don't think government has no obligation to protect the safety of its citizens, the only sensible recourse is to take up arms and to protect oneself.

Regarding the Tom Clancy preface, the question is: If there is no gun control in his Maryland suburb, then why isn't the crime rate as high there as it is in D.C.? Perhaps crime has nothing to do with "gun control," but with criminals who want the guns--who live in DC and NYC. But you can't say that, of course, because then someone might call you a racist. And a liberal would much rather spout any kind of lie then have someone think he's a racist.

By the way, antigun nuts (Waco) are far more dangerous than progun nuts will ever be.

Clay Waters Edmundburk@aol.com

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Once again I find myself thanking you for one of your articles - this time for the stimulating discussion of Proust's ruined mirror.

The physics of life

The application of quantum physics (the parable of Schrodinger's cat) and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle to the novel is fascinating but there is a more immediate application - my own relationships.

What is the truth about me?
What is the truth about you?
What is the truth about my relationship with you?

If for you there is no truth about me then you allow me to be a person in change (favouring velocity over position). If I take the same attitude then our relationship is one with no fixed position: this is a necessary condition for change.

On the other hand, if you decide that you know about me, or I decide that I know about you, then the possibilities are forced to coalesce into a single reality; our relationship now has no velocity, and is now fixed. We have arrived at an outcome, although not necessarily a cathartic one because it does not necessarily release us both.

This mutual non-judgement is a symptom of trust: the progressive feeling that it is safe to engage with one another.

In this schema, love is that which breaks position and creates possibility. If you refuse to see me as fixed you create the possibility for change and set me free.

The flawed mirror

Just as in the novel, we face in life the impossibility of perfect knowledge and like Proust, we lie when we are unaware of the imperfections of our mirror.


This simple analysis, in-line with your own conclusions on Proust, seems to entirely prefer velocity over position, at least insofar as human relationships are concerned. Identity remains the province of position, and I would be very interested for someone to extend the topic into that domain.

Mike Lavocah tanguero@compuserve.com

Dear Mr. Wallace:

I've just read your article "Why I Am Not a Libertarian". I really appreciate the article, and want to introduce it to Chinese readers. Could you kindly give me the permission to translate this article into Chinese, and publish them in P.R.C. in Chinese language, with authorship clearly acknowledged ? The publishers will pay you remuneration according to China's standard, though the author's remuneration is very low.

Also, if you kindly permit me to translate your article, please send me the permission and your background you would like to inform Chinese readers by e-mail.

Hoping to hear from you soon.

Yours sincerely
Liu Ti tliu@sse.com.cn

Dear Mr. Wallace:

Hello. I would first like to say that this website is really an enjoyable site.

But now to the point. I am really sorry for the families of those who died in the Littleton shooting Tuesday and I don't justify what the two young men did, or the racism and hate surrounding their "trench coat mafia'. But I am really just sick and tired of these forty-something white guys trying to explain to me on tv why these people killed. The usually suspects of course. It was the music. Why in the crap is everyone blaming Marilyn Manson for this. I mean in my opinion MM is like a person who represents freedom to say what ever you want and not be fascist or racist or a bigot.


Dear Mr. Wallace:

Re Saving Private Ryan--I believe you've totally missed the point. many of us have fathers who served- and lost the closest friends of their youth (and lives)- in WWII. my dad was a submariner who missed a sailing due to hospitalization- at age 18 (he lied and joined at 16 in '41). i'm sure living in a steel can underwater -in the service that had the highest mortality of all- at that age- was a bonding few of us can ever really know the depth of.

he had survivors guilt to the day he died.these people who lived thru the depression only to have the 2nd WW thrust upon them were forced into acts of heroism that are uncomprehendible (and unappreciated) to us today. this film is an attempt to ask why- why did i survive while others- men i saw as better than myself even- did not.was i worth their sacrifice? its obvious- the transposition of faces. to say the movie is about a "rescue" TOTALLY misses the point. my dad never talked about his experiences. what i know came from my mother. and if i had ever tried to say thanks to my father for his sacrifice and courage i doubt he would have seen it that way or accepted or been comforted by my thanks. steven s. thanked his dad for all of us.

mike meninger niteshft_me@yahoo.com