Child One is working on a paper for Modern U.S. History and she’s chosen to write about Guantanamo Bay. So we’ve been talking a lot about habeas corpus and constitutional law, the Geneva Convention, the war on terror, the failure of the Bush administration to declare war and all sorts of other things that happened while Child One was busy growing up and the rest of us were idly sitting by complaining a whole lot but doing very little. And in this conversation, we find ourselves talking about the bad guys – who they are, why they are, and how they got that way. It’s a messy business, this whole war on terror. And the issue of who is held, on what grounds and for how long seems unanswerable in a world as confused as ours has gotten.
As I was talking to Child One about all of this tonite, I realized that I sort of miss the Nazis. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Nazis and how useful they were. They were unambiguously evil. They fell on the blackest edge of the dark-light spectrum. There was no question about whether they deserved mercy or should be spared. They were just bad. And being just bad was really useful. If there are really bad guys that means there can be really good guys. But that simple premise, the beauty of good vs evil, seems terribly old fashioned and rather lost these days.
The Nazis were the last real bad guys. Even the Russians in the Cold War inspired some debate – you could always find a Commie or two willing to debate the benefits of the political policies of the Eastern Bloc. And now we live in an era of fear and racism – brown skin and a belief in Islam are reasons enough for a jail sentence. But of course not all Muslims are bad. And not all people with brown skin walk around strapped with explosives and a willingness to die. Its hard to tell who’s good and bad these days. But the Nazis were different – they were just plain bad.
Part of me longs for that kind of simplicity. TVs were black and white. Bad guys were bad and good guys were good. And part of me, the bigger part really, knows that in fact the world is a complex place, that it is all shades of gray and that the complexity of variety is both confounding and exhilarating, exhausting and energizing. The only way to really live IN the world is to embrace the complexity for its blacks and its whites and all the shades of gray in between.