Break His Bones:
The Private Life of A Holocaust Revisionist
A feminist attends a beauty contest wearing a dress made of uncooked pork chops sewn together. An unpublished writer, who it’s said has no talent but is certain of his worth, auctions off his pathetic memorabilia. His typewriter, outlines for stories he never wrote, rejected manuscripts with contemptuous notations by editors, old erasers, ball point pens. He invites the press. His attractive fiancée slips her arm through his and smiles and nods to the attendees. An amusing story, but I want to know how much money the writer makes. What’s his real income?
It wasn’t the money that drew me to revisionism, obviously. There’s no money in revisionism. So what the hell was it? It must have been the contest. Every intellectual elite in America is contemptuous of revisionist theory. Every institution of higher learning cooperates in the suppression of revisionist scholarship. No book or periodical distributor will handle revisionist publications. No philanthropic organization will contribute funds to revisionist research. It looks like those are the kinds of odds I like. I feel irresistibly attracted to a contest where so many are committed to destroying so few. A handful of scholars and researchers and the handful of books they have published. What a long shot. How hopeless it all feels. Gorgeous!
No matter what I’m doing at the moment, thought has its own agenda. In my life thought has a life of its own. While I wrote the above paragraph, thought took another direction entirely. It recalled the place in David Irving’s first volume of Hitler’s War where he describes the give and take, the lack of resolution in the Nazi inner circle before Hitler made his decision to invade Poland. Hitler didn’t have to kick off that little affair. There were other choices available to him and Hitler knew it. Irving reports how in the last days before the beginning of World War II Goering urged Hitler to relax about invading Poland. He tried to convince Hitler that the invasion wasn’t necessary. At one point Goering said to Hitler, “It isn’t absolutely necessary for you to go for broke.” And Hitler replied, “That’s what I’ve done my whole life. Go for broke.” Within a week then, as Irving has it, a stain of blood began to seep across the map of Europe.
What was thought trying to get at with this little diversion? Remind me that Hitler loved the long shot too? What kind of invidious analogy is that? I’m suspicious of men who choose to try to do the impossible. Often as not they’re more than half in love with easeful failure. They use flamboyant gestures to evade ordinary responsibilities. There will always be those who will admire your willingness to court certain disaster, not wanting to understand that what makes you uneasy is the possibility that you might not achieve the possible.
And at the end, when the European peoples lay broken and smashed all around him, Hitler changed the rules. Time and again he had ordered his soldiers to fight to the death and spewed his rage and contempt over those who would not. Unwilling himself at the end to bear any longer the responsibility for his people, from whom he had asked so much, he chose to die among the women and the children. I can only try to imagine how much humiliation he might have saved Germans, and how many lies and how much horseshit he might have saved the rest of us, if he had chosen to fight it out to his death in the dock at Nuremberg. After all the fat jokes are finished with, Goering behaved with more honor than the Hitlers and Goebbels.
I work through the afternoon at the office then go downstairs and outside to the taco stand. There, a powerfully built one-armed Mexican is laughing and whooping it up with his friends. His laugh says he doesn’t have a care in the world. The instant I see him thought flies out of my head like a scalded dog and runs me back twenty years. I see myself in the Mekong on the road leading west out of Sedec. It’s morning, the sky is heavy and dark, the paddies are lush with the uniquely beautiful green of young rice. I’ve hitched a ride in a Vietnamese army jeep. My typewriter and bag are on the seat beside me. We’ve come to a roadblock. We get out of the jeep and walk forward past the trucks and buses to where the tree trunk is lying across the road. It’s about four feet thick. Six hundred yards to the north across the paddies the tree line is dark and quiet. I don’t like it. Then there’s the explosion on the road behind us. None of us throws himself to the ground. We’re all old-timers.
When I look back I see the little French passenger van settling on its side and up underneath the dark clouds the maroon and black colors falling back down into the beautiful green paddy. Inside the colors, I know, is an assortment of body parts. The van had pulled off the two-lane highway onto the dirt shoulder. A moment before we had walked past the place where the mine had been buried. When you’re a Vietnamese bus driver you are supposed to know that you do not drive off the pavement onto dirt shoulders, especially at roadblocks.
I watch myself start to walk back toward the bus to look at the results. That’s my job. I’m not going to carry a weapon in this war. I have a different discipline. My discipline is to not avert my eyes, ever, from the results of so much passion institutionalized. This is the morning I change my mind. I know what it is that I’m going to see. I can hear the babies crying in the gray green air. This is the morning I decide I don’t want to look anymore. I’ve seen enough. I’m going to change my discipline. I watch myself stop and wait in the middle of the asphalt road.
Now the one-armed man dressed in black pajamas saunters up with a couple Vietnamese officers. He’s short and powerfully built. I ask a Vietnamese about him. The one-armed man is bodyguard to a Vietnamese colonel. A Viet Cong rocket blew off the arm. Now someone spies the hand grenade lying down the embankment in the paddy a few yards away. One of the Viet Cong who had pulled the tree trunk across the road during the night had probably dropped it. The babies are crying very far away and the heavy dark sky is about to burst itself open while we all pause to consider the grenade. The one-armed man is not the contemplative sort. He goes down the embankment and approaches the grenade. I feel an awful surge of anxiety. I want to yell out in English, “Let a two-armed man do it!” The one-armed man bends down, picks up the grenade with thumb and forefinger, looks it over like it might be a toad, and tosses it farther out into the paddy and climbs back up on the road. There are pocks and lines on his face and a shock of thick black hair falls over his forehead. The chances that he understands English are pretty remote. I’m beside myself with the idea that he has taken the chance of blowing off his last remaining arm, gratuitously.
At the taco stand I eat a machaca burrito then walk over to the newsstand on Cahuenga. While I was eating and daydreaming, the sun had set. To the west over the end of Hollywood Boulevard the hills are black beneath the green and pink horizon. In Mother Jones there’s a photograph of a Nicaraguan girl with the stump of one leg wrapped in bandages. Some progressive-forces group is using the photo as anti-contra propaganda. The one-legged girl is laughing and the propagandists are asking for money. These are the same folks who did not take photographs of the one-legged girls manufactured by the Sandinistas when the Sandinistas were guerrillas. They are also the folk who did not take photographs of the one-legged girls manufactured by the Viet Cong. The folk who advertise in Mother Jones don’t take photographs of the girls who have their legs blown off by the progressive-forces people around the globe because their own politics are more important to them than the one-legged girls.
When I telephone the house, Marisol answers. She’s fifteen now. I make a little joke about the photo of the one-legged girl, I don’t know why, and Marisol says: “Bradley, that’s a total barf.” When Alicia comes to the telephone we speak in Spanish. After a moment she says: “You don’t sound right, Gordo. How do you feel?”
“I can’t wake up. I feel torpid.”
“Oh, Gordo,” she says urgently, “come home right away. I like you so much when you’re torpid.”
At the house Marisol is at the kitchen sink washing dishes. I can hear Alicia and the baby in the back bedroom. When I put my arm around Marisol I see she’s been crying. She shakes off my arm and won’t speak to me. It isn’t hard to figure out. She’s had an argument with her mother over washing the dishes.
“Marisol,” I say, “I suffer because I can’t sell my writing and I can’t pay our bills. Sometimes I don’t know what we’re going to do. You suffer because you have to wash the dishes. Maybe both of us should look around for better things to suffer over. It should be easy for you. You’re a Christian. Christians have immense issues to worry about. God, death, morality and sin, the creation of life. Those are real problems. They’re worth worrying about. Washing dishes isn’t a problem, Marisol. You want to suffer about something? Suffer about heaven and hell. Don’t even bother suffering about having to wash the dishes. It’s not worth it.”
Marisol isn’t buying it. She goes on washing the dishes and sniffling, her chin on her chest. I decide to take a hot bath. As I draw the water I notice I feel better than I did earlier. Cheered up somehow. I hear Marisol in the kitchen begin to hum along with some Christian hymn being sung in Spanish on the radio. I think about how much I care about her, what a good kid she is. She’s boy crazy, which I somehow half-suspect is my fault, but she’s a good kid. Maybe if I’d been more demonstrative a few years ago she wouldn’t be so boy crazy now. I don’t think it really works that way.
The hot water is wonderful. In the kitchen Marisol is singing about Jesus. Thought turns to his story – it’s a wonderful story – and the next thing I know I’m seeing Jesus there before me hanging on the cross. The image is unusually clear. In a moment of doubt I reach out with my toe and turn on the hot water tap. Then I see him vividly. He’s pierced with arrows, but thought recalls I’ve seen that in a painting. I see the lips of the slit in his side where the spear has been thrust in, opened up like a coin purse, but thought counters that that’s a painting too. Then somehow I see his face with its unbearable anguish and the sponge with vinegar pushed into his mouth and for the first time ever I see he’s sweating. I’ve never seen the sweating before and now I feel the awful anguish driving itself into my own heart like a nail being driven into a wall stud.
The next moment the image has disappeared and thought is off and running again, like it usually is. It’s telling me I have no moral obligations toward Jews that I do not have toward Germans and Ukrainians and Poles and Palestinians and all the others. That the answer to the Israeli-Arab problem is that there is no answer. Thought has told me these things before but now it’s telling me them again, with great clarity. The answer for Americans, thought tells me for the thousandth time, is to stop paying others to blow the legs off children no matter what the political beliefs of their fathers might be. The answer for the Jews of Israel is to bring them here since we’re responsible for them being there. The answer for American Jews is to start telling them the truth. I’ve known all this for years but for some reason thought wants to go over it again. The answer for you, thought says, is to tell yourself the truth too and to go on writing and to say the same thing to everyone. That’s your cross, thought says, to say the same thing to everyone.
It’s Sunday noon and I meet O’Keefe downtown at Philippi’s. It’s rained and now the air has turned chilly. We walk over to First Street and eat Chinese noodles. O’Keefe says that Israel is the Jews’ Apollo program. They think it’s under attack by aliens. He says that the Holocaust Industry people want to explain everything to everyone when what they ought to do is just be quiet for a change and watch what’s going on. We walk back to Philippi’s and drink beer for a couple hours. The conversation turns to race, as it does so often in this country. I say that the problem with racial idealism is that it doesn’t take seriously the question that race isn’t a problem for the day. What about a thousand years from now? Ten thousand years? What about a hundred thousand years in the future? The thought of still having to wrestle with race that far down the line exhausts me. Sometime, somewhere, we’re going to have to give up on it. On this planet anyhow.
Everyone is in bed asleep and I’m watching a documentary on television about the Jains in India. In a parched, treeless Indian village children are marched into the village square and sat down in the dirt in a wide circle. A naked, middle-aged Jain holy man enters the circle, his dangling genitals swinging from side to side. He sits in the center of the circle and begins to lecture the little children on the meaning of life. I feel a wave of longing and nostalgia wash through me. I’m half afraid my life has been sidetracked, that I have switched myself onto a siding with the Holocaust and revisionism that goes nowhere. That I’m using up my life explaining something I have no interest in to people who don’t want to know about it. Watching the screen before me, I’m filled with longing to leave explanation aside and return to a life of observation. Have I ever lived such a life?