Horatio

Horatio
[Photo by Jacquelyn Griffin)

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Failing Uncle Fred

Yesterday, I wrote about a novel, whose hero, a scholar in 1930s England, in the grip of unbearable depression sought for a cause to lose himself in--romantic love, scholarship, religion, and, as a final desperate throw, the idea that Germany under Hitler could rejuvenate a seemingly decadent society. But, as I noted, even the fictional Roy Calvert was appalled and revolted by anti-semitism. All too many English people, like Oswald Mosley and his followers, lacked that decency, but the fictional Roy Calvert, and the man he was based in part on, did. Both the fiction and the real man gave their lives fighting the evil of Nazism.

And before we get all superior about Mosley, let me remind you of our own home-grown version. Including at least one American hero gone bad.

So today, amidst chaos and violence spurred by a march of Americans who embrace the teachings of Nazism and its American counterpart, I thought of a very different hero: My Uncle Fred.

No, not P.G. Wodehouse's fictional character Uncle Fred. An Uncle Fred you've never heard about except for from me every Veteran's Day.

Uncle Fred was the widower who first dated and then married my long-widowed grandmother--the spirited, talented, singer who had recreated herself as a Mexican singer when her opera career went bust in the Great Depression, later marrying my grandfather, whom I never met because of his early death. But I was at my grandmother's wedding to Uncle Fred, and didn't even need a TARDIS.

I mention this because Uncle Fred fought in World War II, and was among those American soldiers who discovered the ultimate Nazi horror. He helped liberate a concentration camp, caring for the victims of what I can only think of as one of the two worst systematic and thought out evils perpetuated by humankind--the Holocaust, rivaled only by the chattel slave system.

He didn't talk about it much--you had to pry it out of him, and even then needed a good lever, like when I used a family history project I was assigned in my senior year of high school to get him to open up. (My sister, whom he adored, didn't need such tools).

No "Greatest Generation" for Uncle Fred; he looked to the future, to build upon what he and his generation had to face, and to make a better world. Despite an appalling family tragedy, he never lost that faith. He was gentle as only a man who has seen too much cruelty can be. He loved my grandmother, her children and grandchildren as if we were his own. He followed a spiritual path, and devoted himself to service. He believed that the world could and should be better. If you called him a hero, he'd smile sadly and shake his head.

Three decades after Uncle Fred's death, itself 40 years after the war in which he served, what we have long called The Good War because of the sheer monstrousness our Nation opposed, Americans are marching on behalf of both of those systematic and carefully worked out evils.

We can say many things about today's events, and, as we learn more, no doubt we will. Free speech and its limits will be discussed, the wisdom (or lack thereof) of tolerance of the intolerant, what it means that there are among us some who see in Hitler's seizure of power a model for the future, instead of what it is, a nightmare from the past.

Today, I see a Nation and its children who are failing my Uncle Fred. And not just mine, but all the men and women who put their lives on the line in that struggle against, as T.H. White called it, "the ancient brutal dream of Attila the Hun."

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