This is not one of those
columns. This is a column written through eyes welled
with tears, typed with hands shaking with revulsion
I just found, via the normally smile-inducing Poor
Man blog, a site describing a documentary
committed by Afghan troops under the supervision of
U.S. Special Forces after the siege of Kunduz in November
of 2001. Here is the summary:
The film provides eyewitness testimony that U.S.
troops were complicit in the massacre of thousands
of Taliban prisoners during the Afghan War.
It tells the story of thousands of prisoners who
surrendered to the US military’s Afghan allies
after the siege of Kunduz. According to eyewitnesses,
some three thousand of the prisoners were forced
into sealed containers and loaded onto trucks for
transport to Sheberghan prison. Eyewitnesses say
when the prisoners began shouting for air, U.S.-allied
Afghan soldiers fired directly into the truck, killing
many of them. The rest suffered through an appalling
road trip lasting up to four days, so thirsty they
clawed at the skin of their fellow prisoners as
they licked perspiration and even drank blood from
Witnesses say that when the trucks arrived and
soldiers opened the containers, most of the people
inside were dead. They also say US Special Forces
re-directed the containers carrying the living and
dead into the desert and stood by as survivors were
shot and buried. Now, up to three thousand bodies
lie buried in a mass grave.
The stories of torture at Abu Ghraib bothered me
deeply, of course. The recently released footage of
American troops burning
Taliban corpses does, too. But the images this story
burns into my head touch a horror that is, for me,
deep and personal.
Why does this story resonate so deeply? Part of
the answer is that both of my grandfathers were sent
to Nazi concentration camps. It happened early, before
the primary function of the camps became extermination,
and they both got out. Other relatives of mine were
not so lucky.
The ways in which the Holocaust permeates the consciousness
of the children and even grandchildren of survivors
has been well chronicled. I will not bother explaining
it here. Suffice it to say that the revulsion –
at the Holocaust and at things that remind me of it
– is hardwired as surely as if by DNA.
And how does this new outrage echo the Holocaust?
American troops reached Dachau the very place my mother’s
father was sent – on April 29, 1945. Here is
the account of one of those soldiers:
"These people were stuffed in these cars.
The cars had bullet holes all over them, evidently
from strafing on the way to Dachau. Most of the
GIs just stood there in silence and disbelief. We
had seen men in battle blown apart, burnt to death,
and die many different ways, but we were never prepared
for this. Several of the dead lay there with their
eyes open, a picture I will never get out of my
mind. It seems they were looking at us and saying,
'What took you so long?'"
- Private John Lee, 45th Division soldier who was
one of the first men on the scene.
The gruesome pictures taken that day are here.
Look at them.
visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington a few years
ago. Overall, the museum walked the fine line that
separates trivialization from overload (a demarcation
that is probably different for every visitor) until
I reached the exhibit that contained one of the actual
railroad boxcars used to transport untold numbers
of victims to their deaths. I could not enter it –
I could barely hold myself together just looking at
it. I do not believe in an afterlife, but for me that
one rail car somehow held the distilled agony of all
the exterminated millions.
say “never again,” and genocide happens
in Rwanda. We say “never again,” and it
happens in Darfur. We are culpable in our inaction,
for the suffering we choose to ignore in those distant
places. But those are sins of omission. Now it seems
American soldiers – our soldiers – are
soaked in the blood of thousands of men in a twisted
reenactment of the Dachau death train.
I hope against all hope that the film is wrong –
that American troops did not condone and conceal the
re-enactment of some of the worst barbarity of the
20th century. But the context of sadistic lawlessness
that has been countenanced and even rewarded by the
Bush Administration blocks that hope. Today I cannot
escape the conclusion that such savagery was done,
and in my name.
To be a child of the Holocaust is to identify with
the victims of atrocity. In this sense, we should
all be children of the Holocaust. The Taliban soldiers
massacred at Kunduz may not have been innocents, but
their crimes change nothing – they were victims
of an atrocity. If Americans commit such acts without
consequence, they make Nazis of us all.
I normally write to vent, and in the quixotic, delusional
hope I might help change the world. I write to try
to maintain my balance on the tightrope that separates
hope and despair. Now I am haunted by a nightmare,
and write to escape the visions – to make it
Visit John Steinberg @ www.bluememe.blogspot.com.