Friday, September 21, 2007

Ordinary evil

I've become accustomed, somehow, to most photographs from concentration camps. Mainly taken of victims after liberation, they form part of our contemporary iconography of evil.

Images in the newly released album of pictures of Auschwitz guards at play, lounging in deck chairs, laughing as they eat blueberries on a day of mass slaughter, lighting candles on a Christmas tree, are more profoundly disturbing, I think. They leave nowhere to hide from the truth we have managed to conceal for half a century beneath the rhetoric of good and evil: these were not monsters, they were ordinary men and women.

Some cultures can make monsters out of ordinary people. A glance at contemporary Iranian or Saudi society shows we still have such cultures in the world. Men who would otherwise simply be fathers, husbands and sons join together to torture people to death in stonings.

We cannot let these cultures take root here, and we must work with reformers elsewhere to eradicate them from the globe.

The Auschwitz images can be viewed here.

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