The Stutthof Diaries Collection — A Worthy Kickstarter Project

Whether you are a lover of history, a World War II buff, or enjoy unique and powerful literature, you will have an interest in helping me support the Stutthof Diaries Collection on Kickstarter. Its aims are as valuable as they are captivating:

The Stutthof Diaries Collection are actual diaries and interviews with Norwegian police imprisoned during the Nazi occupation of Norway. The Nazi leadership, under Reichskommissar Joseph Terboven, became intolerant of the Norwegian police and set out to determine the disloyal element in the police and therefore a security threat. That opportunity came with the arrest of Oslo Police Chief Gunnar Eilifsen, for refusing to arrest several young girls who did not show up for mandatory labor. Terboven demanded Eilifsen’s execution and on the morning of August 16th, 1943 Eilifsen was executed for insubordination. He had the opportunity to neither contact his family or a defense lawyer. On the same morning of August 16, police all over Norway were arrested and forced to declare their loyalty to the Nazi Regime. Failure to do so would result in imprisonment or execution. Hundreds of police refused to declare their loyalty. My father was one of them. He was deported, along with 270 other police men, to a concentration camp in northern Poland called Stutthof. There the police kept personal diaries of their experience hidden from their captors. The Stutthof Diaries Collections are diaries, memoirs and interviews collected over the last dozen years which are a treasure trove and describing how personal sacrifice can triumph over purposeless greed and violence.

As of this post, the project is just six days away from its funding deadline, and so far it has sadly garnered only a fraction of the money it needs ($2,181 out of $15,000). I have seen many projects reach their goal despite the most unlikely circumstances, so while it is a tall order, it can be done.

If this endeavor interests you, give what you can or spread the word. These valuable but largely unknown perspectives need to be known. Thankfully, the creator has expressed the intention to publish these diaries one way or another in 2015, but either way he can certainly use the help. Learn more by visiting the official Facebook page here.

Anders Behring Breivik

I feel conflicted about bringing more attention to this murderer, given how men like him often relish in it. But I must confess a morbid fascination – a mix of disgust, shock, and sheer wonder – at how evil a human being  like him can be. Whenever an act of senseless and cold-blooded brutality is perpetrated, we almost reflexively explain it away as a product of insanity: only a person with a warped and abnormal mind could kill so many people with little empathy or regret.

But from what can be discerned, this wasn’t a spontaneous or psychotic outburst – it was premeditated and strategically calculated months in advance. He compiled a 1,516-page manifesto consisting of propaganda, plans for the attack, and even personal confessions. In it, he expressed support or sympathy towards a wide-rage of extremist beliefs: xenophobia, ultra-nationalism, fa-right Zionism, Islamophobia, right-wing populism, cultural conservativism, anti-Marxism, and anti-multiculturalism. He even outlines an ideal dress-code, which he apparently finds valuable, and enjoys being seen only in Freemason garb or military attire. This was clearly man with a sophisticated political and ideological basis for his actions.

Among those who he described as influences and sources of admiration are the Freedom Party of Austria, the Hindu nationalist movement (known properly Hindutva), the right-wing Swiss People’s PartyWinston Churchill, Norwegian resistance hero Max Manus, Islam critic Robert Spencer, former Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, Patrick Buchanan, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Dutch politician Geert Wilders. Even a quote by philosopher John Stuart Mill was paraphrased: “One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100,000 who have only interests.” A disturbing indication of how valuable he thought his cause was.

On a side note: Breivik has variously been described as a Christian terrorist, Christian fundamentalist, or right-wing Christian. As far as we can tell, his religious views are ambigious: he describes himself as either Christian or “cultural Christian,” admits to not being “excessively religious,” and even claims to have no personal relationship with God or Jesus Christ; at the same time, however, he expressed an intention to pray to God for his actions to succeed, and seemed keen on the scenario of a clash between Christendom versus Islamism. Ultimately, I reject any definitive labels with respect to his beliefs, and I frankly think that some on the left are exaggerating his religious motivations for the sake of trying to equalize Christianity’s proclivity for terrorism with Islam’s.  – but that’s a discussion for a different day.

>>>>[Edit] It’s been brought to my attention by a friend that there is some evidence of a strong theocratic basis for Breivik’s actions. Watch the video here and decide for yourselves.<<<<

While he is currently undergoing examination by psychiatrists – following claims by his defense attorney that he is insane – experts agree that there is little to suggest he suffers from insanity. He described his actions as self-awarely “atrocious” but “necessary,” and denies any criminal responsibility. He’s also made a number of bizarre egotistical requests since his arrest, while those who knew him describe a man that was peculiar and egotistical, but far from displaying potential anti-social behavior (it seems typical that killers, prior to their crimes, display a certain oddness to them while nonetheless bearing no signs of any potential for the horrible things they end up committing).

However, he has been diagnosed with “malignant narcissism,” a psychological disorder that may popularly  be considered to fall under colloqually notions of insanity. But for all intents and purposes, this was a man who knew exactly what he was doing and why. When you combine extreme ideologies with narcissism, a sense of purpose, and a pathological lack of empathy, you have the recipe for a mass-murdering terrorist ideologue. In an age where ideas can diffuse very easily, and like-minded people can connect with each other from across the globe, this is certainly something to be concerned about (though on the other hand, this same technology can be used to proliferate counter views, and can be utilized by law enforcement).

I have no doubt that Breivik enjoys all this and likely he seems himself as having fought for a noble cause. Indeed, no evil person ever sees their acts as such: they’re just doing what they perceive to be the right thing. Even during his incarceration, the Oslo killer is already writing up speeches and composing more sociopolitical propaganda. He’ll no doubt receive life in prison without the possibility of parole – Norway, like most of Europe, has abolished the death penalty – and will be put in solitary confinement.  He’ll certainly spend his days continuing to espouse and refine his ideology, perhaps even inspiring similar ideologues (as he himself was).

I’m curious as to the effect all this will have on Norway, a nation that’s long been viewed as “innocent” when it comes to experiencing these sorts of tragedies. It’s historically been a very tolerant, open, and relaxed society, and despite the emergence of an ultra-nationalist like Breivik, it has far fewer problems with immigration and multiculturalism that most of Europe does. There could be a rise of right-wing militancy, or a development of reactionary actions against strong partisan rhetoric. Norwegians may become less carefree about their relatively lax gun laws; gun politics, which is pretty much nonexistent, might emerge as it tends to following these kind of events. A cultural of “securitrization” may take hold, much as it did in America following the 9/11 attacks. Or maybe Norway will simply move on from all of this.

Ultimately, that’s what makes these sorts of murderous, ideological figures so fascinating. Their characteristics, eccentricities, and ideologies stand out and captivate our imagination, in the same way the Charles Manson, the Unabomber, or Osama Bin Laden still do. We’re appalled and awed at the capacity for human beings to do such horrible things and maintain such violent beliefs, all while displaying none of the remorse, reflection, and empathy that we expect of all people. Most of all, these single individuals can influence millions of people, or even the entire world, and become empowered not only by the gravity of the actions they commit, but by the effect they have on society and it’s perceptions. These people become immortalized by the communities they impact, becoming a shorthand for evil incarnate or a cult-like figure for would-be followers – exactly what they often intended to achieve.

Reflections On Another Sobering Tragedy

Yesterday, nearly 100 people in Norway – most of them teenagers – woke up to what they would’ve never known was their last day alive. A lone madman fueled by a toxic mix of ideology, and no doubt insanity, was all it took to end so many lives. No matter how many horrible events like this occur, we are always left asking how and why someone could do this (and we never reach a satisfying answer).

Events like this really get to me, especially given how many of them I had to study for my major; International Relations encompassed researching all sorts of conflicts, including terrorism and genocide. Couple all that with a tendency to over-saturate myself with news, and it’s no wonder I respond to all this intimately. While one would think such constant exposure and immersion would have the opposite effect – numbing me to the same extent that veterans become battle-hardened – I find that the opposite is true. Obviously, I’m more detached in a visceral sense: I don’t respond with shock, awe, and raw emotion. But my empathy remains unchanged, especially given my own anxieties about death (my own and others’) and my realization that I could easily be in any given victim’s position.

That is what really disturbs me the most. The perpetrator impersonated a police officer, and was thus able to lure these people to gather around him before indiscriminately opening fire (and in so doing, gaining the distinction of having committed the greatest act of violence on Norway’s soil since World War II). Were we there with the victims, what would have done? Who among us would’ve known there was something up? Speaking for myself, I most definitely would have been among those to cooperate, not knowing any better and not having any reason to fear for my life (after all, how often does a police officer turn out to be a mass murderer, especially in as peaceful and stable a place as Norway?) I could just as easily have been killed in such a deceptive and utterly unexpected matter. And such is often the nature of death.

That’s always what follows from my mind when I read of such things. It could be me. It could be someone I love and who be devastated to lose. You can minimize your chances by avoiding risky activities, substances, and circumstances, but that only gets you so far. There is never any full-proof way to avoid death, and there is absolutely no way our limited cognitive and sensory abilities could ever predict such things. To paraphrase a friend: death is all around us, and it’s amazing we get by without losing our lives. Indeed, events like this are yet another reminder of how frail our existence is. The fact that we need such constant reminders, assuming we even derive such a lesson in the first place, is proof of how detached most of us are from this grim possibility (not that I could blame anyone for not indulging in such morbid reflections).

However, that is the value of this macabre exercise. However much anxiety, paranoia, and sadness it may inflict on me, it allows me to appreciate every second I have on this Earth (all the more precious given that I am agnostic about any sort of after life, and thus live this one as my only).  It’s a big reason why I try to stay optimistic and see the beauty in things, and why I obsess about making the most of my life. An understanding of mortality, however grim and nerve- wracking, and be quite good at boosting your sense of appreciation and spurring you to making sure that your moments on this Earth as pleasurable and fulfilling as possible. I could only hope that the victims of this attack, many of them adolescents, had lead the best lives possible, however short.

A final comment before I conclude my reflections: it’s been noted that this incident has received tremendous – some say excessive – attention, to the extent that the media is being accused of sensationalism. I’m not quite sure how I feel about this claim, though I could understand the contention, and could very well be clouded by my own sympathy.  Whatever the intent of the relevant news agencies, I think they’re just responding to human society’s innate fascination with these sorts of brutal acts. The fact that it was Norway, a country seen as “innocent,” peaceful, and friendly, may also contribute to the sense of shock and interest (after all, the media, in response to relative public apathy, rarely devotes much attention to the everyday tragedies that occur in the “usual” suspects we’ve come to get used to as blighted).  If something this horrible could happen in such a “nice” country, imagine how vulnerable the rest of us must feel? Perhaps most humans are as secretly concerned and fascinated by the prospect of  an untimely death as I am.

In any case, the issue of there being too much attention to this, in light of numerous other stories,  is difficult issue to address and requires a very delicate balance. If such incidents aren’t given attention, it may be perceived as cold, whereas too much attention appears – as we’re seeing – as sensationalist and narrow-minded. I feel strongly for the victims, but immersing ourselves in the grim details of their demise is ultimately inconsequential to them and their loved ones. We should extent are deepest sympathies, feel for their loss, and count our blessings. But there is little else anyone could do, as is the case with any attempt at consoling or trying to make sense of pointless death (and even natural death for that matter).

If I could ever derive any sort of silver limning for myself from such a horrific occurrence, it is how I am left with a strong sense of appreciation for my continued existence in this world. Nothing reaffirms our good fortune to be alive than the realization of our own mortality. It is sad that must take something like a fatal tragedy to do it, but such is the way of humans. That I can sit here and pontificate about the misfortune and death of others, rather than the other way around, is reason enough for me to be infinitely grateful.