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Report 1988: Yes, Zig Has Written About our Bavaria Trip!

By Zig and Georgia from Kentucky, Spring 2010

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Page 28 of 30: Saturday June 5 - Trip to Dachau

Today would have been my brother Jim’s birthday. I wonder if he would have enjoyed visiting Europe. Golf was his main passion. I don’t know what he would have thought about our field trip.

Talked with two Tubingen students at breakfast. They were on a sabbatical of sorts, visiting Munich to see the churches and museums. When I was going to Mississippi State University we only took out-of-state band trips for football games. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have your college education grounded by thousands of years of great art and architecture.

But then we left to visit Dachau.

How was it possible? How was such barbarism possible in such a civilized country? And Bavaria, the most religious, and the most Catholic region of Germany. Years ago I read Hanna Arendt’s Adolph Eichmann in Jerusalem, which recounts the events of his trial. She was struck by what she called “the banality of evil.” That phrase resonates with me: Evil promises to be so glamorous and exciting. But the Devil is a liar, and evil proves to be banal and boring, and deadens your senses as well.

Dachau was huge. As we walked around we listened to an audio guide and looked at all the photographs. It left me numb. I can’t process the enormity of industrialized death. It’s not that it’s just too big for my little brain. It’s a problem of focus. People who made such plans - did they think they would never die? I know they drained all the humanity out of their victims (or tried to), but didn’t they realize that would drain all the humanity out of themselves as well? How can someone know that they will die and yet be responsible for the deaths of so many?

When I arrived at basing training at Lackland AFB in 1969 I was offered the chance to go to Officer’s Training School. My eyesight was not perfect so I was going to be a navigator. The paperwork was all done and my hand was poised over the signature line: “What does the navigator do?” I asked. “They tell the pilot which way to go,” the recruiter said with a bit of irritation. “Is that all they do?” I asked. “Well, they are also the bombardier,” he said. “You mean they’re the ones who drop the bombs?” “Yep,” he said. I tore up the application. “I’ll look good in stripes,” I said.

I wasn’t a pacifist. I knew I could kill someone if the need arose, but I also knew that I didn’t want to kill “bogeys” or “blips” on a radar screen. If I was going to grasp that godly prerogative - if I was going to extinguish someone’s life-breath - I thought it should be up-close and personal. What could be more personal than killing someone? And yet, here all around us was a huge military camp built only to dehumanize and “number” thousands and thousands of people day after day. Civilized human beings punched in on time clocks and killed people all day long then went home and read bedtime stories to their children. Unbelievable. I worry about our high-tech warriors stationed in Iowa who kill people in Pakistan by video game. What kind of schizophrenia does that produce?

Back in Munich we washed the taste of Dachau out of our mouths with a memorial Mass at Christkoenig and supper at the Augustiner Biergarten. I had half a chicken, a scad of French fries, a waffle with strawberries and whipped cream, and a litre of bier. And felt ashamed that my ethnic kin deprived 6,000,000 people of the same innocent pleasure. “Just following orders,” indeed.

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