I’ve been watching “The Look of Silence” a documentary film about the slaughter of a million so-called Communists in Indonesia after a military coup took place in that nation back in 1965.  The film is a chilling tale of the banality of mass slaughter told by those who are both the survivors and perpetrators.  The film was nominated for a 2016 Academy Award in the Best Documentary category.  The slaughter was undertaken by the regime to rid the country of Communists, ethnic Chinese and/or opponents of the military rule depending, on your take.   And apparently, there were plenty of Indonesians who gleefully went about the murderous task of ridding the country of fellow Indonesians.  There is no remorse, no sense of personal responsibility for the killings, no “It was a mistake” sentiments to counter the matter-of-fact descriptions and depictions – luridly pornographic in many cases – that forty years later, the now-aged killers describe with surprising ease.  “If you cut off a woman’s breast it looks like a coconut milk filter. Full of holes.” says one old man to the camera.  It is not an easy film to watch.

I am not boastful when I say that I have been both voicing my protest against rising authoritarianism everywhere and blogging about this trend.  There are innumerable examples – don’t like Obamacare, shut the Federal Government down.  Don’t like the fact of a Black President – demean him and don’t cooperate no matter what the price ordinary folks must pay for Congressional obstructionism.  Peaceful Black folks hustled from Trump rallies for daring to think that they too enjoy Free Speech?  Sure. 

Now, these example might seem as if they are simply the workings of a dysfunctional political system, and yes, they are.  But take into account the 33 states that have passed Voter ID laws in the face of zero evidence of the kind of voter fraud such laws are designed to prevent, or the states that have passed laws to defund Planned Parenthood  (and Congressional hearings to boot over the same "atrocity") in the absence of a single piece of credible evidence that the organization actually committed the crimes they are accused of (selling fetal parts for profit) or the criminalization of exposes about food processors or the banning of Shakespeare and Morrison from school curriculum. Sadly, there are many more such examples. 

When a candidate for the Office of the President of the United States can propose – in all seriousness, if you can believe it – that the United States Government ban Muslims from entering the country, what can one conclude that this person and his supporters who cheered this announcement, have simply lost all sense of what it means to be an American.  It would be easy to say that they have lost their minds.  But they are sane, if irrational.  And this is the danger.  When we no longer believe in ourselves, when we no longer uphold the very tenets that have made America an exceptional nation among the world of nations, if, indeed, we can still make this claim, then I would say that we have reached a point in our “development” (as negative as this has been for three decades) when we have to evaluate who we are, what we really believe in and what’s to become of us in the future. 

The demonization of Muslims is no different from the demonization of Jews in pre World War II Germany.  And we too do not have a spotless history when it comes to demonization.  We slaughtered Native Americans who stood in the way of American expansion since it was "Manifest Divine Destiny" with God's blessings and we rounded up Japanese Americans during World War II since they allegedly posed a grave threat to national security.   And as most Americans would agree, we surely don’t want to repeat these atrocious acts of bigotry and inhumanity ever again.

The most horrific aspect of “The Look of Silence” is not the telling of the gruesome, pornographic details of the Indonesian men who participated in the slaughter, but the total lack of ANY discernible feelings – remorse, regret, shame, angst, discomfort – as they blandly recount some of the most revulsive, repulsive and distressing events that I think have ever been made aware of among human beings.  As I watched, I kept hoping that someone would finally feel remorse or regret or at least express some sympathy for the barbaric murders of their countrymen.  But I hoped in vain.  And this is what makes the documentary so blood chillingly compelling and tragic.  There is not a single scene of one of these horrific butcherings.  Nothing that would give this film anything more than a PG rating for "disturbing language."  What we see and hear is just the calm, matter-of-fact blow, by blow (slice by slice to be more exact) account of how their victims were slaughtered.  The banality of this evil becomes unbearable. 

 Is there some cultural or genetic explanation for this inhumane – un-human, I think is the more appropriate term – for the willing slaughter of an estimated 1 to 3  million human beings?   Is this some anomaly among the largely compassionate, humane and decent groups of the planet’s peoples?  If so, then, how does one explain the slaughter of 6 million Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and “deviants” in Nazi Germany?  How, then to explain the slaughter of 1.5 million people in Pol Pot’s Cambodia?  Or the slaughter of millions of “others” in Rwanda?  In Serbia?

No, what “The Look of Silence” depicts is not some inherent flaw in Indonesian society nor some outlying aberration of human existence.  What it shows, what it illustrates so chillingly, is that we, all of us, are just as capable of the same atrocities as were the German people who stood by Hitler as he systematically attempted to rid the Aryan Race of it’s imperfections.  And, in his terms, he largely succeeded. 

So when Donald Trump extols the virtues of banning Muslims from the U.S.A., or when Ted Cruz decries the perfidy of us liberals and says we should "patrol" Muslim neighborhoods, when politicians pass laws to prevent legitimate activities from taking place out of a superior wisdom or knowledge or rightness or sense of righteousness, when Shakespeare is banned from the lexicon of High School reading lists out of a fear of sexual exposure, when the exposure of corporate wrongdoing is criminalized, we are very much some distance down that dark, long tunnel of Fascism that leads only to collective violence, dissolution and abject misery. 

Is it too late?  Watch “The Look of Silence” to get a good picture of how ordinary humans can be turned into vicious, soul-depraved, mass killers.  Of course, we are not like those “uncivilized” folks who perpetrated one of modern history’s most brutal of mass slaughter’s.  Indonesia is a Third World country, after all, so what happened there could not happen here.  It is too cruel, too gruesome, too inhumane of a “story” that we think that it could not happen here.  The question of “could it happen here” is one that no one would willingly contemplate here in America. 

But given the universal, utter  banality of the Indonesian atrocity, on second thought the question of “Could It Happen Here” is one that we need to consider.  Is it a look into a potential future for America? Of course, you’re first response will be “Hell, no.  That’s not us.”  But recall, if you will, that Germany was the world’s leader in the arts, technology, philosophy, science and all that was good about an advanced society until the rise of Hitler. Germany was, by far, Europe’s late 19th Century and early 20th Century pinnacle of what a civilized society was all about.  No other European nation at the time came close to matching Germany’s achievements.  And then it all came crashing down.  Adolph Hitler was supported by the German people, just like Trump may be elected by the American people.  Maybe you should think about the past thirty years:  where they have taken us; how they have diminished the so-called American Dream; how they have engaged us all in the politics of demonization; how divided we are after thirty years of relentless conservative rule.  Could “The Look Of Silence” happen here? Who knows?  But this is a thought that should frighten you to your core.   And don’t claim that you weren’t forewarned or cling to the excuses of the perpetrators when it happens: “I didn’t know.” “I was just following orders.” “They were the enemy.”  “ I was upholding the traditions of the country.” “How could I know?” Such excuses only exemplify the effectiveness of the banality of evil. 

They came after the homosexuals.

But I was not homosexual. 

Then they came after Mexicans.

But I was not Mexican.

Then they came after illegal aliens.

But I was not one of those.

Then they came after Muslims.

But I was not Muslim. 

When they came after me, I told them “It wasn’t me.”

But they weren’t listening. 

Watch "The Look of Silence." 


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