Saturday, November 6, 2010

how do you prepare for violence?

since the germans invaded norway the week i was born, may 1940, and we lived in germany 1954-56, i've been interested in my own oblivious perceptions. as a teenager, of course, girls and basketball completely dominated my consciousness. that's a fair excuse.

however, seeking a writer's experience, i lived in berlin the winter of 66/67. you can listen to a bit of that time on youtube:

and i really didn't have a sense of the city's recent history, despite the wall practically in my backyard.

so i've been doing some research. yesterday, i browsed war in berlin by roger moorehouse (it just came out) and have been reading three novels by phillip kerr berlin noir. also this week i watched a woman in berlin (not for the squeamish) and murderers are among us. amazing how few people know what they're getting into when they go to war.

most of us not used to violence unless we live in a ghetto or work on a police force or serve combat missions in afghanistan. caught by surprise, it's easy to disintegrate. this summer i listened to a complete reading of night by elie weisel. his jewish village driven into a concentration camp. most people lost their identities completely and quickly.

except for automobile accidents, violence rarely throws us into an alternate world; and those of you who've been in crashes on the highway know what i mean. our perception of time changes. we act completely in the present (if we can still move). and our focus becomes absolute.

movies don't really get us ready. the vicarious detonations and mock bloodshed on the screen merely thrill us. the imaginary punishment to our nervous system doesn't so much put us into shock as to give us feelings of immortality, riding the waves of terror to a safe harbor. they may even make us less prepared for the real thing, our imaginations warped into delusions of grandeur and being 'the lone survivor.'

i suspect the martial arts might be a partial answer, even if they can't stand up to machine-guns and grenades. perhaps we wouldn't be so surprised by sudden eruptions and sneak attacks. everything in america seems to prepare us for combat, yet few things really do.