what if the worlds/were a series of steps/what if the steps/joined back at the margin

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Light Summer Reading: Human Smoke: The Beginnings of WWII, the End of Civilization

I like to read heavy, thick books that get me lost. Human Smoke: The Beginnings of WWII, the End of Civilization is a comprehensive document of the lead up and beginning of World War Two using first hand documents as its base. The story is recounted in third person by the people who lived it through interpretation of their diaries and other documents the author, Nicholson Baker, compiled. Baker created a riveting story through which a modern audience can imagine how such a massive catastrophe such as world war could start and take off full speed. It is a saddening book, one that chronicles many deaths and political sweeps that seek to harm certain populations while benefiting other populations.

Stefan Zweig was a German writer from Vienna who is mentioned often in the book. His work was burned in Germany along with those of “Thomas Mann, Albert Einstein, brecht, Lenin, Marx, Engels, Zinoviev, Hein, Emil Ludwig, Helen Keller, Upton Sinclair, and Jack London” (38). He wrote a pacifist play called Jeremiah and wrote eloquently about the mounting worldly tensions. He observed the beginnings of  the conflict and when it threatened to go to the Pacific as well, he and his wife took poison despite living away from Germany in Brazil. People did not take this conflict lightly and the scope of the trauma it caused affected those who had lived it even thousands of miles away from the epicenter.

The book chronicles Churchill’s rise to power and his erratic nature. He was not a mild person by any means, and said of Hitler in 1940 “This wicked man, the repository and embodiment of many forms of soul-destroying hatreds, this monstrous product of former wrongs and shame, has now resolved to break our famous Island race by a process of indiscriminate slaughter and destruction”. When Hitler took to the skies to burn England, Churchill strategically planned counter-attacks on Germany through the skies and with the help of the United States. Many speculate that Churchill’s erratic style could have been the reason why he was able to strategically counter Hitler successfully; he was nearly as crazy as Hitler, in layman’s terms. Defending England was by no means an easy task and his bravado confidence directed toward the English people to “keep calm and carry on” points to his political mindset of don’t give in and don’t give up. Certainly without that attitude the war could not have been won.

The United States for much of the book is on the side-lines waiting for Europe’s near complete destruction to step in. However, it does provide back-door military support for England such as assembling aircrafts used in the German raids. Roosevelt knew that there was massive turmoil happening in Europe, and even “wanted to draft people into the U.S. Army even though the United States was not fighting a war” (208). For much of the book, the United States gives military support to the allies in silence while a larger and larger conflict brews. On December 8th, 1941, the United States declared war on Japan thus triggering war with the countries aligned with Japan, Germany and Italy. It was an awkward way for the United States to enter the war since it had vested interests in Europe not becoming fascist.

There are relatively obscure facts in the book, such as laying out Hitler’s plan to sent the Jews to Madagascar, a French colony. This was before the implementation of the “final solution” of committing genocide against the Jews when “the Jewish Problem” could have a solution that wasn’t completely large scale death. It also tells the tales of individuals who otherwise are glossed over in history, such as Reverend Bernhard Lichtenberg who was detained by the Gestapo after it was found out he was praying daily for the Jews. “Under interrogation, Reverend Lichtenberg said he was opposed to Mein Kampf, opposed to the persecution and deportation of he Jews. He was asked whether he had prayed for the Bolsheviks. No, the Reverend said, he hadn’t prayed for the Bolsheviks, but he would have no objection to including a daily prayer for them, too, ‘to heal their madness'” (416). The Reverend died on his way to Dachau concentration camp two years later.

One thing the book makes very, very clear is that there was a massive peace movement before the declaration of World War Two that opposed any and all military intervention in Europe. This was not limited to America but included Europeans as well. It was not only regular citizens who did not want to see a repeat of World War One but also politicians and other high-ranking members of society and governments. It was on the German side as well, “Ulrich von Hassell, the former German ambassador to Italy, wrote ‘So as far as I’m concerned, the one vital thing is to avoid a world war.’ Hitler and Foreign Minister Ribbentrop had reached, as von Hassell thought, a state of ‘criminal recklessness'” (132). While Hitler was elected democratically it is important to remember that the entirety of Germany was not necessarily pro-Nazi. Many people who were registered as Nazis did so for protection while lacking the belief structure, and some with pro-Nazi opinions never registered with the party.

The book also makes clear that war involves a lot of decisions that have many questions with no right answers. Some of Churchill’s decisions were successful and others not, such as purchasing a fleet of aircraft that did not work well. It is unclear what impact the United States could have had on the war if Roosevelt had made the decision to go to war earlier, if it would have saved Europe sooner or caused a ruckus from the American people who would not have had an ironclad reason to go to war without the Japanese attack. What is clear from the book is that the worst of the worst is brought out in war as is the more shining examples of human action. When people are put into war situations they often go above and beyond the necessary for their fellow man.

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Rape in A Man’s World

We live in a patriarchal, male dominated society. This is a fact. Children typically receive the last names of their fathers, not mothers, and it is clear to anyone with eyes and a sense of reality that men are at a more advantageous position in this society (as far as I know, relatively few people lobby for the erasure of men’s reproductive rights). However, this is America, and we live better off as a whole than many, many places in the world. Indeed, from what we can gather about the state of discourse about rape and the lived reality of threats and perpetration of rape in India, there are far, far worse places for women to live.

Today I opened up, scrolled around, and arrived at this article, “Thousands-Large Mob Seized Prisoner Accused of Rape, Beat Him to Death”. Slightly sleepy, I thought, “Holy jesus, what the fuck is going on in India?”. There was also a piece on the New York Times about government action preventing broadcast of a documentary about gang rape, and an article on about the denial of a visa from the Indian government for a white American woman named Sabrina Buckwalter looking to write about the reality of rape in India. “Good lord,” I thought, “I must write about this immediately”. As a Buddhist, it saddens me that the land from which the founder of my religion hails, a man named Siddhartha Gautama, is having such a disturbing problem dealing with the dark and horrific reality of rape. Two of the world’s greatest religions, Hinduism and Buddhism, come from India. I speculate this is because of the incredibly harsh nature of Indian society that has existed as long as the civilization; the incredible discrepancy between poor and rich, the decrepit nature of the slums, the generational poverty, the danger of wildlife, all of which has essentially great insight that has come from the harsh conditions humans have endured in this part of the world.

As a Buddhist, I view rape as a deplorable crime by which a person’s safety, physical integrity, relaxation of mind, and personal control is obliterated. A perpetrator of rape is a traitor of all humanity. As a woman, I live in fear of rape because I can be a victim at any age, under any circumstances, and at any time.

As an American, I am ashamed of how our country has dealt with the reality of rape. In the military, rape appears to be viewed as a perk for the men of the military and a thing to be endured by the women. In college, “date rape” is normalized, and forced unwanted sexual contact is a somewhat regular occurrence. However, there is no difference between “college rape”, “date rape”, and rape that happens in the military. For some reason, here in America, we want to differentiate degrees of rape and explain the circumstances. It is taking away a woman’s humanity and giving power to the perpetrators. The way we talk about rape here in America contributes to global rape culture.

However, it isn’t just women who are at risk for experiencing sexual assault. I was watching “Sons of Anarchy” this weekend, or the most ultimate male soap opera in the history of ass-kicking television, and the opening scene of the start of season six is a male-on male rape scene. I was not expecting this and was jolted. I found it more brutal than the scenes of rape that we are somewhat accustomed seeing on television and in movies where the victim is female. I believe that that reaction is two-fold. First, the idea of being rectally raped is absolutely horrifying for any person, male or female. I would not say that I would prefer to be raped vaginally, however, I absolutely certainly do not ever want to experience a rectal rape. Secondly, when watching a male being raped, the viewer is also watching a man’s masculinity being taken away within the context of what our society has deemed masculinity to be. In our society’s sexual narrative, men are not penetrated, they do the penetrating. This folds into the homophobic narrative of men who enjoy receiving anal sex to be feminine, not really men, or “bitches”. This view is an out and out product of rape culture, as is the idea that a raped man has lost part of his masculinity. A raped man is no less masculine than a man who has never experienced that sort of assault, however, we look at him differently afterword.

If a man looses part of his masculinity after rape, what does a woman loose? In India, a more traditionalist society than America, it can be losing a reputation of femininity and propriety, becoming reduced instead to the assault perpetrated against you. She may no longer be a woman, but instead a different being, a raped woman. In parts of the Middle East, it can mean the woman’s life. In America, it means the safety of soundness of mind because now there is a “before”, and an “after” in life.

If rape in India is so prevalent, why was this man captured from a police station, dragged into the street, and murdered? If there is so much rape in India, doesn’t that mean that rape is accepted there? No. This is another thing that I gathered from watching so much “Sons of Anarchy”. Within the world of “Sons”, there are a lot of women who choose sex work and thus are at risk for experiencing rape. The members of the Sons of Anarchy take to protecting these women and beating up the men who rape or assault them. This is because the women raped are their mothers, lovers, cousins, friends, sisters of friends, etc. They are people the men in Sons of Anarchy care about. People who systematically rape or endorse rape as a legitimate thing to do are bad people, quite simply put. Unfortunately, there can be a high concentration of very bad people in one place if the conditions are conducive to creating unstable environments leading to unstable human behavior.

Just because there are a lot of bad people in one area does not mean all the people in that area are bad.

Many people are effected when a bad thing happens to a person that is loved. When the prevalence of rape occurs, many men are effected even if they are not the ones to experience the rape. Entire families experience the pain of rape. In India, this rage caused a man to loose his life. Rape culture breeds violence because it is one of the most violent things to do to a human being.

I feel it is time for the United States to intervene in some sort of humanitarian orientated manner with regards to the problem of widespread and systematic rape in India. In terms of policy, I am unsure of what this would look like. However, in order for this to be properly achieved, the United States must get rid of it’s own rape culture thinking. The women in the military must be treated with equal respect for their service to America as the men receive, and must stop having to endure sexual assault in their workplace. College women must be viewed as sexually independent individual’s whose assaults must be taken as crimes instead of campus incidents between two or more students. People must realize that when a man is raped, he is not less masculine because of his experience.

I can only hope, as a human being, that this can happen within my lifetime.