Saturday, November 14, 2009

Ignorance and Good Intentions are No Defense


I spent July in Prague studying literature and writing. Prague is a mystical, glorious, sad city of great writers and composers. And since the Velvet Revolution in 1989, a free society. But the remnants of Communism remain, like a bleak cloud hanging over the heart of the city. Before I stopped to consider the history of the place, the gloom irritated me. What not to be happy about? Anyone who has floated through the spires and frescoes or crisscrossed the River Vltava on the Charles or any one of the plentiful bridges would agree that if not the loveliest city in Europe, Prague is certainly among the top three. The City is a Yosemite Valley of delight.

But Communism has left its ugly stain on the place. You have to look hard and close and even chip away at the fresh paint of freedom but it is there, lurking.

I became fond of the Czech writer Milan Kundera as a result of my trip. I stumbled over him just before I prepared to return home and the timing couldn't have been better. Kundera is Czech but after the Soviet invasion in 1968 he lost his teaching position at Charles University and his books were banned. In 1975 he moved to France. He is probably most well known in America for The Unbearable Lightness of Being. One passage, particular, stands out to me.

I thought of this passage when I heard the news that the Obama Administration's intends to bring the 9/11 "alleged" terrorists to New York to stand trial. Terrorists, who are not citizens, not common criminals but unlawful enemy combatants; who are not subject to our Constitutional law, have confessed, have asked to be executed are according to the Obama Administration "alleged" terrorists. These evil men are somehow entitled to due process in our courts. Where to find a jury of their peers one wonders? How to keep the City safe during their before the camera trials? To what end? Why? Is the Administration just plain foolish?

Kundera, describing the reign of the Communists places a heavy burden on the "enthusiasts" as he calls them. The ones who embraced Communism because they thought it was the path to paradise. And they killed many in the process. And when paradise didn't appear, it was clear they had in fact been murderers. This is the group he addresses in the following passage: "And the accused (the communists) responded: We didn't know! We were deceived! We were true believers! Deep in our hearts we are innocent! ...But he said to himself, whether they knew or didn't know is not the main issue; the main issue is whether a man is innocent because he didn't know. Is a fool on the throne relieved of all responsibility merely because he is a fool?

... As a result of your 'not knowing', this country has lost its freedom, lost it for centuries, perhaps, and you shout that you feel no guilt? How can you stand the sight of what you've done? How is it you aren't horrified?"

No comments:

Post a Comment