INTRO: Humans draw conclusions based on personal experience. Lara McCaffrey brings us a commentary on coming to appreciate her father’s reasoning.
NARRATION: My father’s reasoning was frustrating to me sometimes. Often, he based a lot of it on emotion. I thought interpretation of life needed to be removed from that.
My dad liked to talk about his own father. Especially stories from World War II. My grandfather was a decorated war hero and captain.
My dad was impressed with my grandfather’s war heroism. However, my grandfather was conflicted. He earned the Bronze Star leading an ambush on an enemy camp in the dead of night. The memory of causing those deaths and losing his brother in the war brought my grandfather a lot of pain. My father witnessed this growing up.
My father’s thinking was more straightforward: Because Nazi Germany hurt my grandpa and killed my great uncle, they were at fault and were evil.
In college I become very influenced by academics. As a young and impressionable person, I needed answers. Someone with a Ph.D. seemed to provide them.
I read the German philosopher Hannah Arendt (ARE-RENT). She coined the famous phrase “the banality of evil” in her 1963 report for the New Yorker “Eichmann (IKE-MAN) in Jerusalem.” In covering the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann (IKE-MAN) in Jerusalem, she concluded that he wasn’t a monster but “terribly and terrifyingly normal.” Meaning, anyone was capable of committing the same crimes Eichmann (IKE-MAN) did if they thought they were part of a movement that was bigger than they were.
This made sense to me. I brought these ideas up with my father at the dinner table.
“A normal person wouldn’t commit war crimes,” my dad responded. “The Nazis were psychopaths.” To him, Arendt was providing an excuse for Eichmann and others that hurt my grandfather and great uncle. Arendt (ARE-RENT) and my dad both agreed that Nazis were evil but my father couldn’t accept that normal people could do the same atrocities.
Fast forward years later. I’m a graduate student going to a panel on Arendt (ARE-RENT). The panelists were esteemed academics I’d come to trust as an impressionable 20-year-old.
When the Q and A rolled around, those that stepped up to the mic were mostly older people that had a close connection with World War II. Like my father, they thought Arendt (ARE-RENT) was defending Nazis. I couldn’t help but empathize with their open emotion. I even felt angry at the panelists who tried their best to defend Arendt (ARE-RENT).
The event ended and I lingered to process my feelings. Looking back on the conversation with my father, I felt like a jerk.
I felt like a jerk because I didn’t consider that my dad’s reasoning came from a place of experience not just emotion. I realized that interpreting life like this wasn’t inferior to an academic interpretation. It’s actually more touching because it’s indicative of all the love that was in his heart.
It is still hard to find find answers sometimes even though I think I’ve grown intellectually. But I’ve been told that I don’t suffer fools lightly so maybe there’s hope for me.
BACK ANNOUNCE: This month, Lara McCaffrey’s father would have celebrated his 63rd birthday. He would have insisted on another slice of cake, not discussing philosophy at the dinner table.