Upon the liberation of the Nazi death camps in WWII, Allied forces compelled nearby citizens in Weimar and other areas adjacent the camps to walk through them, and to confront the brutal reality of Nazi genocide, as documented in this film. Please notice, when viewing the film clip, the German townspeople shielding their noses.
The Allies were familiar with the recurrent human capacity for committed self-deception, and wanted to definitively break the Nazi propaganda-hold on the populace. One way to counter this self-deception, and it is still not a 100% guaranteed way, is to do what the Allies did: to force citizens to come to view–and to smell–first-hand the terrible results of their own political choices.
The expression, “rub their noses in it” remains to this day one of the firmest expressions of disproof and refutation. Smell triggers memory, and rarely can ever be forgotten.
History is filled with recumbent and attractive myths built upon self-deception, sometimes bolstered by outright cynical lies by political and intellectual leaders. Holocaust deniers, be they Neo-Nazi punks or heads of state like the current leader of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, provide but a few examples. The dead, now buried, cannot readily be smelled without significant spadework. So new liars and deceivers arise with each new demographic cohort.
American (both North and South) and European intellectuals, revolutionaries, and radical labor activists for generations have clung to the false promises of Marxist-Leninist government, despite the voluminous documents and criminal evidence released to the world after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the writings of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn on the Russian Gulags, of Robert Conquest on the Stalinist genocide and politicide in the Ukraine, of former French communists in their Black Book of Communism, the relentless and thorough vivisection of Marxism by philosopher Leszek Kolakowski, and the complete moral and historic discrediting of the late New York Times journalist Walter Duranty, who to his and to that newspaper’s everlasting shame, knowingly hid the deaths of millions caused by Stalin in the Ukraine in the 1930s.
But despite its resounding historical failures and crimes, Marxism-Leninism is alive and well as a recurrent fantasy in academia, in journalism, in arts, letters, and film, in labor (despite the role of US Big Labor in supporting Solidarnosc), and among trendy theologians. To these true believers, the Gulags and famines, the Maoist democides of the Cultural Revolution, and the Cambodian killing fields were but mere aberrations in theory and practice, not the true Marxism-Leninism of which they themselves are surely capable. Undoubtedly the failures of Stalin and Mao must have been due to the Russian and Chinese culture or character, these true believers assume, not their own pristine theory.
Latin America, to its misfortune, remains the legacy Marxist-Leninist’s own sandbox of choice for post-fascist fantasy football, more so for some their intellectual playground for “praxis,” translate please as high-minded meddling and social engineering. From the capitalist experimentation by US drug companies with Puerto Rican women to test the dosage levels of newly generated birth-control pills (some reportedly died) in the early 1960s, to the more recent moral and cultural support given to the late dictator Hugo Chavez by Bill Ayers, Sean Penn, and Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr., misguided beneficent “praxis” on Latin America’s behalf abounds.
It is thus in the opening of graves–and in the smelling of them– that some of history’s most uncomfortable truths, and some of humankind’s most significant hopes, can be found.
Neither is it accident that some of the most determined anti-abortion activists are among those close enough to aborted babies to have smelled them, be they those who have encountered dumpsters of abortion debris, or the nurses who have been faced with the dilemma of an aborted baby surviving, and then forced to be neglected to death (a public policy earlier supported by Barack Obama about which, to use a polite euphemism, he has been less than forthcoming), or worse, intentionally terminated.
Pro-life, anti-abortion activists have for decades tried to force images of abortion into the general consciousness. But only until recently, with the Kermit Gosnell trial, has the stench of abortion as well reached the public. This trial has led prominent pro-choice writers, like veteran journalist Roger Simon, to rethink their positions on abortion.
While the smell of death rarely loses its repugnance (a term recalled recently again by physician and ethicist Leon Kass), the force of smell declines with repeated exposure. It is thus possible for a physician to deliver babies in the morning and abort them in the afternoon, a situation described by the late Bernard N. Nathanson, MD, who only stopped aborting after thousands of cases, upon quiet and persistent reflection after viewing a sonogram of an abortion.
While the English word “odious” is often associated with repugnance as if to a bad smell, it comes from the Latin word for hate.
One of the most olfactory of writers, and the person who coined (with some help from the brilliant translator Maria Boulding, OSB) the term “truth’s revenge,” in citing the memorable line of Publius Terentius Afer, “Veritas odium parit,” or “truth engenders hatred,” was St. Augustine of Hippo, who wrote:
cur autem veritas parit odium et inimicus eis factus est homo tuus verum praedicans, cum ametur beata vita, quae non est nisi gaudium de veritate, nisi quia sic amatur veritas ut, quicumque aliud amant, hoc quod amant velint esse veritatem, et quia falli nollent, nolunt convinci quod falsi sint? itaque propter eam rem oderunt veritatem, quam pro veritate amant. amant eam lucentem, oderunt eam redarguentem. quia enim falli nolunt et fallere volunt, amant eam cum se ipsa indicat, et oderunt eam cum eos ipsos indicat. inde retribuet eis ut, qui se ab ea manifestari nolunt, et eos nolentes manifestet et eis ipsa non sit manifesta. sic, sic, etiam sic animus humanus, etiam sic caecus et languidus, turpis atque indecens latere vult, se autem ut lateat aliquid non vult. contra illi redditur, ut ipse non lateat veritatem, ipsum autem veritas lateat. tamen etiam sic, dum miser est, veris mavult gaudere quam falsis. beatus ergo erit, si nulla interpellante molestia de ipsa, per quam vera sunt omnia, sola veritate gaudebit.
Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, 10.23.34, from http://www.stoa.org/hippo/text10.html, accessed 4/21/13
I’ve posted Augustine’s Latin above so his extensive word-play can be seen even by those readers not conversant with his Latin.
Here is the late Dame Maria Boulding, OSB’s translucent rendering of the passage above, which I’ve paragraphed for easier apprehension:
Why, though, does “truth engender hatred,” why does a servant of yours who preaches the truth make himself an enemy to his hearers (John 8:40; Galatians 4:16), if the life of happiness, which consists in rejoicing over the truth, is what they love?
It must be because people love truth in such a way that those who love something else wish to regard what they love as truth and, since they would not want to be deceived, are unwilling to be convinced that they are wrong.
They are thus led into hatred of truth for the sake of that very thing which they love under the guise of truth.
They love the truth when it enlightens them, but hate it when it accuses them (John 3:20; 5:35).
In this attitude of reluctance to be deceived and intent to deceive others they love truth when it reveals itself but hate it when it reveals them.
Truth will therefore take its revenge: when people refuse to be shown up by it, truth will show them up willy-nilly and yet elude them.
Yes, this is our condition, this is the lot of the human soul, this is its case, as blind and feeble, disreputable and shabby, it attempts to hide, while at the same time not wishing anything to be hidden from it.
It is paid back in a coin which is the opposite to what it desires, for while the soul cannot hide from truth, truth hides from the soul.
Nevertheless, even while in this miserable state it would rather rejoice in truth than in a sham; and so it will be happy when it comes to rejoice without interruption or hindrance in the very truth, upon which depends whatever else it true.
The Confessions of Augustine, translated by Dame Maria Boulding, OSB, 1997, Hyde Park, NY, New City Press, pg. 201; now also available in a second edition with Bibliography, and a critical edition from ignatius.com
It is no accident that early in the development of the field of psychology that scientists claimed Augustine as one of their own. For in his description of the reluctant human apprehension of truth, Augustine went beyond the theory of cognitive dissonance to a theory of self-deception based upon a paradoxical fear of truth as truth unfolds. It is our very selves that must change when we learn the truth. And as long as we hide from the truth, truth also hides from us.
It is thus very useful to truth to open the mass graves of the persecuted and even of the aborted, and not only to look, but to smell, to remember, and to speak. As Augustine noted, speaking truly of such things brings hate. We should not fear to continue this speech of truth, and to conquer this hate.
Christ, who wept outside the grave of Lazarus, about to be raised, was then warned of the smell, but stepped forward to show us that there is more than the smell of death that meets us when we seek for and speak the truth.
© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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