Grandma Kelley

Today, were she still with us, my paternal grandmother Clara Caroline would be celebrating her 113th birthday. She always said “Ah was born in nahn-teen two.” She spoke with the gentle drawl of the rural Flint Hills, her homeland.

I am very fond of Grandma Kelley’s memory, because she seems to have been the good gal among a number of bad people, and because she was pretty fond of me. Her only grandson, and first grandchild…well, I’d have had to be pretty awful to disappoint her.

My grandmother came from a typical, large, religiously grim Kansas German farming family. She spoke only German until she was seven. Clara grew into a somewhat awkward young lady, tall for her age. There is every reason to believe her father was abusive, and that at least some adult male in that family was molesting the girls, though I have never known either for sure. My family isn’t very forthright about past closet skeletons, on either side, nor has it ever been.

She married very late for her era, I believe in her early thirties, to a man who turned out to have a violent temper. I don’t know how abusive he was to her and my father, the only issue of the marriage, but I have trustworthy evidence that he (a hardscrabble laboring man) was brutal to horses he worked with. Based upon my father’s behavior as a husband and father, I’m betting that’s where he learned to be so dogmatic, emotionally abusive, and violent. In any case, my grandfather died when my father was about fifteen, and my grandmother became a widow. She never remarried. One suspects that she’d had enough of that type of life. She worked at cleaning and other laboring tasks, helped get my father through college, and was elated when I came along in her early sixties.

She often watched her grandchildren, and we enjoyed visiting her. After we moved to Colorado, then Washington, we saw less of her for a time, but when I was in junior high school, she came out to live with us. Grandma was in her seventies, and a bit forgetful. My mother would get frustrated with her, but I could understand that, because it’s not easy for any woman to have her mother-in-law living in the house. Even so, my mother saw that she was taken care of, and Grandma often took the senior citizens’ bus to town, where she could hang out with her peers. She had in effect a one-bedroom apartment in our enormous house, with a refrigerator and hot plate, and managed her own basic affairs.

During that time, I took as my duty to be the voice of the real world: a loud but loving teenage boy. I’d bang on her door, too loudly, and when invited in: “Howdy, Granny! How’s your day! Not those soap operas again, good lord!” I’d give her a big hug, visit with her a bit, and then see if somehow any interesting food items had materialized in her pantry since yesterday’s raid. They rarely had. In hindsight, I was very obnoxious and failed to show suitable deference, but I was one thing she got nowhere else. I was authentic in all things. Authentically opinionated, authentically selfish, but always authentically loving. I especially enjoyed when the senior citizens’ bus would drop her off with a couple of bags of groceries. The driver, a very kind fellow, would always offer to carry them in for her. I was having none of it. And on some level I knew that she was enjoying having her burly grandson insist that if her groceries were going to be carried, he’d be doing the carrying, where it would give her face before her peers.

Whenever I went back to college from vacation, she wept.

What she never really knew was that the chain was going to break here. I looked at my father’s behavior and swore to myself never to have a home that was emotionally or physically abusive. I also swore to kick his ass some day. Kept both commitments.

My grandmother’s hobby was quilting, and my word, did she quilt. Many of them came to me, artworks in cross-stitch. None of them were the fluffy batting duvet type; Grandma’s quilts were made of multiple bedsheets, and felt like sheet lead conforming to the body. I remember when Deb moved in with me and we were opening boxes after a move, and she opened a box of quilts.

“What the hell are these?” My wife doesn’t use her inside voice when she is animated.

“They are quilts, dear. You know what quilts are?”

“Of course I know what they are! These are beautiful! What the hell are they doing in a box?”

“Well, I wasn’t using them, so…”

“You dork! People pay hundreds of dollars for quilts that aren’t as good as these! Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I never thought of it. I mean, doesn’t everyone have quilts? I thought all grandmothers were biologically compelled to quilt.”

“NO! They aren’t! Take these to the washing machine, they smell like mothballs. We’re going to put them on our bed!”

“Good idea, dear. They are good quilts.”

At that point, I think, my future wife realized there was nothing useful to say to such a slow-witted fiancé, who would have to be guided carefully through life lest his clearly impaired judgment of value lead him to commit further errors.

We are still using the quilts. When the stager for our Boise house, whose job it is to tell homeowners that their decor sucks, took a look around the master bedroom, her eyes fell upon my grandma’s state flowers quilt. “That stays,” she said. “That makes this whole room feel homey.”

Yes, ma’am. Reckon so.

My grandmother passed away on December 9, 1988. I was two years out of college. While I suspect she was very bright, and I know for sure she was quite creative else how did all those quilts happen, I knew her as a very quiet, simple, loving, unobtrusively religious Kansas German farm woman. And she would pardon my numerous shortcomings, because every day, I stopped by to sit with her a bit and hug her and tell her I loved her.

Such is grandmotherhood.

She would have loved Deb, but she would love best that her grandson and his bride, in a home of peace and kindness, take their rest at night covered in the artworks she assembled with those veiny, calcium-deposited hands, ignoring her increasing arthritic pain to create functional beauty.

I miss her. She was a great lady.

Cleaning eave-troughs at two in the morning

Years ago, I learned the fine art and essential wisdom of clean eave-troughs (some of you call them gutters) from my grandfather. Grandpa farmed and ranched in Kansas for a good percentage of his life, in some fashion or another. Every time I came back for a visit–always understood to be a working visit, in which I would assist him with whatever project came to hand–one of my first jobs would be to clean the eave-troughs. Always on the farmhouse, a sprawling limestone building that has to be 4000 ft² or more with a Shakey’s roof shape that means eave-troughs 360º, and often on two of the three enormous stone barns. (The third lost a roof long ago, I believe to a tornado, and thus no longer needed my assistance.)

Eave-troughs have been part of my life all through adulthood, even before I was a homeowner. The only ex-girlfriend I make an effort to stay in touch with, on my first visit, I had volunteered to tackle her house’s eave-troughs. This was in Seattle, and it poured that day. Of course, she made protestations that I didn’t really need to do it. Of course, being a young male, I was going to do it hell or high water. The metaphor never fit quite so well. It was a Midwestern thing; she was an Oklahoma native, I was a Kansas man, and she knew that I had to do it for my own sense of rugged pride and promises kept. Some would say I was an idiot. Others would understand, and think it meritorious to keep a commitment and assist a nice lady. It sparked a relationship with the nice lady, one that would teach me a great deal about good ways to help my future wife when I met her.

One day, should we ever make it to Hawai’i, my beautiful bride has many reasons to thank this lady. And being the class act that she is, my wife will do so.

Thus, in Kennewick, I took one look at our first home’s ludicrous eave-troughs and ordered them replaced. Unfortunately, I hired a professional contractor, who promptly sent out a disgruntled employee on the verge of quitting his job. He didn’t even screw the corner pieces together. The foreman treated me like a liar on the phone, at least until he finally came out under legal threat. That was my first experience with contractors, and it gave me an idea of what to expect from there on out.

Never needed them much in Boise, but when we moved back to the wet side, one of my first surveys of the home I’d just bought was of the eave-trough situation. (Yes. I signed on a house I had only seen in pictures. My wife had chosen it, and in married life, it’s one thing to talk a good game about trust and respect; quite another to lay those cards on the table and gamble six figures. If you refuse to trust your spouse with a major decision, it’s my opinion that you’ve got a problem.) They looked rock solid, but filthy, so I borrowed a ladder from a neighbor and cleaned them out. Thought I’d taken care of the problem for the near future.

Then it didn’t rain in Portland for two months. I dawdled buying a ladder, mostly out of a silly reluctance to cough up money that I knew without doubt I would need to spend before long. This very day, so happens, I broke down and bought one. Good thing.

Friday night was windy, and a lot of pine needles had come down. This evening, Portland began to return to its normal weather pattern: steady intermittent rain. Since I had cleaned the eave-troughs earlier, I remained serene.

Around 1:45 AM, I was taking my ease in the library, reading a library book (not one of mine), contemplating going to bed. I heard a mighty pouring sound. Exactly as tradition requires, I swore before getting up to survey the situation. At the midpoint, the eave-trough was blocked enough to overflow. I could see enough needles sticking up in the cloudy moonlight to grasp the problem.

I said some more bad words, then went in to wake Deb up. Nothing would freak her out like awakening to the splucking sound of wads of eave-trough crud hitting the patio outside her window; better to wake her now and explain than to scare the hell out of her. (That, and I didn’t want her coming out with her Gurkha knife to investigate me. Deb is Alaskan, and more prone to handle her business than to call 911 and cower.) Bless her, she offered to help, but that wasn’t needed. No reason for both of our lives to be unpleasant.

So: jacket (where the hell did we put it?), tuque, shoes, brand new ladder, eave-trough tool I’d bought, flashlight, and out I go. Of course, the clog is where the hot tub will not permit me to put the ladder, so I will need the reach of the tool. It’s pouring, I’m up on the ladder in my summer attire plus jacket and tuque, and every time I grab a spiny handful of muddy pine needles, I slosh about a pint of water onto myself. In the dark, not so enjoyable, but the nice thing about getting wet is that once you are soaked, you can’t get any more soaked. I used the tool to drag a clog of needles toward me, dug them out, threw them wherever, and repeated until one section was clear. Then I moved the ladder and repeated, working my way toward the downspout. It was clogtacular. It wouldn’t be worth writing about if it’d been daylight, but 2:00 AM in the rain is not when most of us experience a sudden impulse to set up a ladder and begin eave-trough maintenance.

The only sound sweeter than free-flowing water into the storm drains was the pouring of Laphroaig into my favorite whisky glass. One drop of tap water, as is traditional, and a return to my calm reading. Then I decided you folks would find most amusing the image of a fat balding middle-aged guy up on a ladder in the rain at 2 AM being uncomfortable, and decided to write while I rewarded myself with a snort of single-malt.

Good night, folks.

J.K. 3, Flies 1

Even if it was an own goal.

For some reason, and in some way, flies are getting into our house. I hate flies. The aperture, wherever it is, must be very small, because there are enormous fat blowflies out of doors, but only the dinky ones inside. Those, of course, are harder to kill.

Most of the conventional weapons aren’t very good. The standard flyswatter gets gross, and can’t be swung against some surfaces. We have one of those electric badminton racket swatters, which is all but pointless. I bought some fly traps that are supposed to drown the little scumbags, and all I’m getting for my trouble is the rotting-corpse bouquet of the attractant. Charming.

(This is as good a time as any to remind all writers that it’s never okay to write “the sickly sweet stench of death.” There is nothing sweet about it. Go find a dead deer, inhale until you get the full decompository pleasure, and tell me how sweet it is. I’ll wait. Every writer who uses that description drops in my estimation.)

My favorite anti-fly weapon is good reflexes combined with a short towel. You know, the kind everyone has some of, but that are useless for everything else. Double up the towel, swing it randomly at the fly to tire it out, wait until it lands in a place where it’s safe to hit, and swooomp. Wall, ceiling, mirror, some windows, cabinet, all okay. Even if you whiff, you’ll agitate it, it’ll have to rest again, and eventually you’ll destroy the little vermin.

Or yourself.

Since the motion is from the elbow, a couple times I’ve felt a version of the pain I used to get from throwing too many sliders (or one screwball). Other than that, I’m mostly delivering the damage. Until today.

One of them was in our guest bathroom, and my swooomplust kicked into gear. You little bastard, you do not leave this room alive, I thought, taking a few swipes at the fly to get him worked up. (Call me a fly chauvinist pig, but I have a hard time seeing flies as female.) True to form, he soon alit on the mirror above the sink. He was in my sight picture.


I felt a sudden pain, as if punched in the lower stomach. Well, and another pain one further down. I missed the fly, but got myself a direct hit in the groin. Men don’t need an explanation of this. For women: the deep, sudden testicular ache is bad enough, but worse is the immediate pain in the guts. I didn’t even hit myself terribly hard, and it was almost enough to double me over. If I’d swung much harder, I’d have thrown up (that’s the next level). To envision the pain, imagine the worst gas pain you’ve ever had. Same feeling, same general region. It takes a couple of minutes to fade.

(This would seem to support the conventional wisdom that a good self-defense strategy involves a kinetic energy blow to the nuts. I don’t want to support that, because I believe it’s wrong. The problem with going for those is that you have to hit just right, and if you do not, you deliver your adversary a powerful adrenaline rush without harming him. Nope, I’m a believer in knee hunting as a self-defense mechanism. Impair the attacker’s mobility, and you now control the range of engagement. Plus, if someone is attacking you, breaking his knee sideways will cause him enormous pain, and since he’s attacking you, he deserves enormous pain.)

This was the first time in years I’d taken a direct hit there, and man, I’d forgotten how debilitating that was. So I guess that has to count as a score for the flies, even if it eventually cost that one his life.

Stupid flies.

Headlines + Dow = artificially generated freakout

In the past, I’ve written about how financial media spread panic, and how handy the Dow Jones Industrial Average is for them. Right now, this very day, I can give you a case in point.

As I type, the DJIA is off by 311, which takes it to 16,680. That is a decline of 1.83%. And Marketwatch is splashing the headline in huge bold letters: It’s getting ugly – Dow nosedives by 350.

Let’s take this one out with a series of quick snapshots, like in urban warfare training.

  • Obviously the index has rebounded by a fair bit, but the frantic headline remains. An alarming percentage of people absorb headlines as gospel, making them prey to the modern art of the misleading headline.
  • 1.83% is not that ugly. It’s a definite down day if that’s where it ends (and as I write, there are two and a half hours left in the trading day), but the sky isn’t falling. Ebola wasn’t found in all our supermarkets. A Kardashian didn’t have a wardrobe malfunctian.
  • Notice the verbiage: ‘ugly.’ Implies there’s blood in the aisles. There isn’t. ‘Nosedives’ emphasizes the deception: ZOMG PANIC DO SOMETHING OMG OMG YOUR ALL GONNA DIE OMG THIS IS THE END! This is the equivalent, in terms of common sense, of recommending someone get an ambulance ride to the ER because he or she woke up with a headache.
  • On the year, the DJIA is slightly down. It began the year at about 17,250. That’s fairly close to a flat year, if it ended today, which is not great, but it hasn’t been very volatile for most of the time. It’s been dull, and the media haven’t had anything to wet themselves over. Anything will do.
  • For the last five years, the index is up from almost exactly 10,000. I’m not doing the arithmetic, but that looks to me like annual gains of about 10%. After five years of that, you’d probably start to anticipate a flat year. No bull market is eternally sustainable. When it hiccups, that’s not a ‘bloodbath,’ another term MW is bandying.
  • People, in obedience to punditry whether they realize it or not, are still reacting to the Dow’s numeric change the way they did when it was at 10,000, or even 5,000, and such a numeric change was greater. When the index was at 10,000, a decline of 350 would be 3.5%, which is a bad day, but not a disaster. If you watch indices long enough, you’ll see those days a few times a year. At nearly 17,000, a decline of 350 is 2%, which is the kind of bad day you’ll see rather more often in a given year.
  • It follows that, after paying any attention to the Dow in the first place, the next dumbest investing blunder is to pay attention to its number rather than its percentage. Show me a day when it’s down by 10%, or 20%, and that’s at least got me looking at valid indices to see if there really is a bloodbath. For 2%, it’s not worth my time.
  • In the meantime, we can use MW’s helpful tools to find out what’s driving the decline. There are thirty stocks in the Dow. Microsoft, Apple, and Nike are taking the biggest hosings, along with Goldman Sachs. The first three are down over 4% each. It’s raining, but the sky isn’t falling. Three of the companies most unlikely to fail, are seeing a lot of selling today. That is all this means.
  • Since the DJIA is compiled according to a formula that was infantile and distortionate at inception (1896), it’s idiotic anyway. On a field of baseball players maneuvering to hit behind the runner, put the curve ball on the outside corner, and shade toward the line to avoid that long hit into the corner that could become a triple, the DJIA is the naked fan who streaks the field while we’re all trying to be observant.
  • Marketwatch is a publication of The Wall Street Journal, which is a publication of Dow Jones & Co., a subsidiary of News Corp. So you’ve got a website owned by the people who maintain this index. And they love this index, because the S&P 500 (a saner large-cap index) is around 2,000. You won’t get many triple-digit days from it, so it’s harder to generate a freakfest with the S&P.

Behold the current state of a venerable name published by a venerable name. Misleading garbage.

Gar items

Unpacking has been sort of a multidimensional* chess game.

This would be easier if the packers had been a little more specific. Anything they packed, that happened to be in the garage, they simply labeled ‘Gar items.’ The basement, which to them was all one room (rather than a guest bedroom, living room, laundry room, unfinished space, and big closet) contained two things: ‘Books’ and ‘Misc items.’ So, for example, I could open a Basement – Misc items box and get some of Deb’s dolls, a lamp, two pillows, Trivial Pursuit, an art kit, one of those imbecilic gingham rabbits I had hoped and prayed we were rid of (probably mated in the box and raised a litter), and five hockey pucks. A Gar items box might contain a circular saw, an Alice pack, a bag of grass seed, some old army wool glove liners, the electric pumpkin I use for Halloween, a socket set, and those two overhead bike hoists I decided not to install when it became evident we were leaving Idaho. A book box usually contained some books, but could also include whatever other crap was within someone’s reach.

Sample problem: we needed to figure out a decent place to put the spare 16′ baseboard pieces. Overhead made sense, except that it’s not as easy as it looks. Once those were moved, we could get at some more Gar items, another couple of boxes of Basement Misc items, and so on. Because once I got these two boxes of Gar items out of the way, we could make a decision about this item and that item, and so on.

Second sample problem: once I could assure access to the right tools, I could help the situation in many ways. However, the tools could have been stuffed in any random box of Gar items. Could I go out and just buy what I needed, task by task? Sure. Keep doing that, and one goes broke buying things one doesn’t really need. We don’t have a counterfeiting operation, or a congress, where we can just print money. Plus, in the end, we’d end up with that many more Gar items. Already got two channel-lock pliers; do I really need three?

Oh, and then there was the AC going out in the middle of this. And then when that was replaced, the new condensate pump went wack. The contractor had the knack of getting back to me just as I was preparing to give him both barrels: “Look. It is not my way to patiently keep asking a contractor to please sell me a thing. I humbled myself because my wife has diabetes, cannot take the heat, and my pride came second to her health and comfort. Well, I did that, but I have done all the self-humbling I plan to do with you. Either stand behind your goddamn equipment, or I’ll find someone who will. And I’ll sign onto Yelp, first time ever, with the express purpose of letting people know what they’re getting into.” Of course, it took a couple of completely failed promises before it actually got done. I extemporize very poorly, so when I want to cut loose, I have to plan in advance. Almost needed this one.

The ant invasion in the master bedroom was actually a relief, because at least there I knew what to do. I had those in Boise. The few visible ants there now are corpses. Come at me, you little pirates, I will destroy you root and branch. Terro ant baits, great product.

Anyway, it’s a chess game, or maybe more like a giant housewide slide puzzle, but we are gradually winning. The library is functional if not finished or organized, we finally found the file cabinet (entombed as deeply as possible in the middle of the Gar items and Basement Misc items; deeply enough that we could not even locate it for some time), and I can see a day when I may feel slightly organized, more or less, to some degree.

When we get all this crap dealt with, though, it’ll be a nice place to live. We still have to find a respectable Mexican restaurant, though. First World Problems.

I just have to keep plowing through the Gar items.


*(That’s not hyperbole, because we have some rafter storage in the garage. However, hoisting anything heavy up there on a ladder is an issue, so we will need to reserve it for totes containing stuff I can carry up a ladder. When I break down and buy one, which I am irrationally resisting, mostly because I forgot our ladders in Idaho and they are not cost-effective to recover.)

Let’s wait until drones are completely out of control, and it’s too late to do anything

Why not? We did it with jetskis, cell phones, cell phone cameras, and quite a few other technological advancements.

Suppose a game-changing technology comes along. There are a couple of approaches we could take:

  1. Stop and consider the implications, and restrict at least the worst potential abuses. We’ll probably miss a few, but at least we won’t let people get comfortably entrenched in some of the bad behaviors. When the other bad behaviors become issues, we’ll restrict those. Orderly adjustment.
  2. Do absolutely nothing until they are ubiquitous and people are used to misusing them. Then, and only then, come in with draconian rules that are poorly thought out, unenforceable, and cause far more annoyance than if reasonable basic rules had been enacted at the start.

Guess which way we roll as a society?

This is foolishness. It is not an infringement of freedom to say “You cannot drive while using that device.” It is not an infringement of freedom to say “We are going to restrict some areas so you can’t ruin it for everyone with that goddamn noise.” It is not an infringement of freedom to say “You can’t use that to invade people’s privacy.” Unless, of course, your definition of ‘freedom’ includes freedom to put other lives at risk, screw up every decent lake for everyone else, and so on.

Drones are the Next Big Bungle.

We’ll find out when they start to endanger air traffic near airports.

We already found out how easily they can wind up in supposedly secure locations (White House lawn, for example).

We’ll find out as they become the police snooping tools of choice.

We’ll find out as they become neighbors’ snooping tools of choice.

We’ll find out as people start to take out .22s and shoot them down.

We’ll find out as citizens hover them over protests to capture police responses on film.

We’ll find out when some poor helicopter pilot, who was following things called rules, collides with one.

We’ll find out when a few other things happen, thanks to drones, that are sufficiently undesirable I’m not willing to mention them lest I give bad people ideas.

And by the time we step in to lock yet another barn door after another horse has already escaped over the hills, the impact will already be made.

Scumbag studies: SS-Oberführer Dr. Oskar Dirlewanger

When you go rooting around in the scumbag files, WWII Nazi Germany is fertile ground. Therefore, to achieve historical notice as one of the most loathsome officers to serve the Third Reich, that person must be abnormally messed up. While he lacked the level of authority to match crime for crime with the likes of Adolf Eichmann, or Rudolf Höss, Dirlewanger was a war criminal of a different sort. He commanded an anti-partisan unit held in low esteem by many even in the Waffen-SS: what began as SS-Sturmbrigade Dirlewanger, and ended as the 36th Waffen-Grenadier Division-SS “Dirlewanger,” carrying out his own personal Holocaust in command of some of the worst cutthroats ever to wear the uniform of any German army in history.

At least on paper, the Waffen-SS eventually fielded thirty-eight divisions. Some were elite, some were failures. Some have no record of atrocities; some existed only to commit atrocities. Many weren’t even German. But of them all, what became the 36th Division has few rivals for the title of worst of the worst.

The histories of Dirlewanger himself and his signature military unit are not quite the same, and this is about the man, so let us dispose of the Dirlewanger Brigade and its successors. Nazi Germany had a partisan problem in its occupied Soviet and Polish territory. Simply put, the locals had decided against accepting consignment to the status of ‘Slavic subhumans,’ and were resenting this designation in arms. The Nazis, always eager to wring maximum value from human resources, had decided to release enough convicted poachers to form a military unit. It soon expanded to incorporate SS men convicted of crimes not quite vile enough to warrant the gallows.

The Dirlewanger Brigade soon became the Waffen-SS penal unit. It made the French Foreign Legion look like a Mormon Boy Scout troop. In time, a fair number of recruits came from concentration camps. The unit spent much of the war hunting partisans and committing atrocities in eastern Europe. In May 1945, a flood of Soviet flame and steel wiped out Dirlewanger’s unit.

Thanks, Premier Stalin. That nullifies at least a small portion of the other things you did in life.

As for Dirlewanger, one might best describe him as a harmonic convergence of awful. Born in 1895 in Würzburg, he served with distinction in World War I. Rising from the enlisted ranks to Leutnant, Dirlewanger suffered six battle wounds on the way to the Iron Cross 1st Class. That’s the only good part. By then, he was already an alcoholic, a predatory sexual brute with a taste for minors, and a sadist with a tendency to run amok. Even then, twenty-five years before his WWII infamy, one may very reasonably suppose that atrocities were done under his leadership.

War changes most who see it, and especially those who fight in it. In Dirlewanger’s case, war made a bad mind worse. He spent the 1920s and early 1930s fighting in nationalist/fascist militias while embezzling from his employer and, somehow, obtaining a Ph.D in political science. When a court convicted him in 1934 of raping a fourteen-year-old girl, the Nazi party kicked him out. He even spent time in a concentration camp. What saved him then, and would save him later, were connections. His old army buddy Gottlob Berger had since risen to high rank in the SS, and sprang Dirlewanger from confinement. Finding the Spanish Civil War most convenient, Dirlewanger volunteered for the Spanish Foreign Legion. When Germany intervened, Berger got Dirlewanger transferred to the ground component of the Condor Legion. Cowardice was never one of Dirlewanger’s many deficiencies. His performance in combat gave Berger the necessary ammunition to reinstate Dirlewanger in the Nazi party.

Then came the outbreak of war, and in 1940, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler assigned Dirlewanger to the battalion of paroled poachers that represented the beginnings of the Dirlewanger Brigade. What we learn from his conduct at the helm of this unit, or at least what I take away from it, is what can occur when a man with a perverted code of morality receives absolute power in a situation where nothing he can do in the enemy’s general direction will earn him reproof. Dirlewanger spent the remainder of the war leading the most loathsome unit in the German armed forces with ferocious bravery, and committing rape, arson, torture, and murder with equal ferocity.

There is no evidence Dirlewanger ever asked a trooper to do a thing Dirlewanger would not do himself. What would normally be a commendable military leadership virtue, in this case, becomes one of the few ways to make a bad record worse. As bad as some of the Latvian, Lithuanian and Ukrainian SS police were–and if you do not know how bad, you have no idea how much currency Premier Putin’s accusations against modern Ukraine carry in the minds of those who know anything about eastern Europe–Dirlewanger’s polyglot force of condemned criminals, failed officers, and conscripted POWs was worse than any. The unit spent minimal time in frontline combat until very late in the war. It made war upon partisans and defenseless civilians in the occupied western USSR and Poland. All that they did, they did under the orders of SS-Obf. Oskar Dirlewanger.

After the German military collapsed, and his eponymous unit fell to broken bits, Dirlewanger tried to hide out. Acting on a tip, French occupation authorities detained him. Considering that the French knew exactly who they had, and considering that the detention camp had Polish guards, and considering that the French are not fundamentally naïve, I find it asking too much for us to believe that the French ever intended Dirlewanger to face a trial. While some of the details are murky and disputed, there seems no reasonable doubt that sometime around 5 June 1945, Polish guards beat Dirlewanger to death.

Merci. Dziękuję.

Naturally, it didn’t take long for rumors to begin that Dirlewanger had escaped beyond justice. A 1960 exhumation put those to rest in most evidence-oriented minds. Fifty-five years on, and seventy after his death, the modern mind often forgets Dirlewanger. At least, until one sees a photo of his gaunt, high-cheekboned face, with deep-socketed eyes that gaze out at the viewer to warn: if you’re soul-searching, don’t bother looking here. If you found one, you’d wish you hadn’t.

Every time someone does something truly awful–a school massacre, for example, or a day in the life of ISIS/ISIL–a number of wonderful, kind-hearted, truly decent folk will lament: “How can people DO that? WHY?” I understand that they do not understand. Their inability to see the world from the perspective of a Dirlewanger, or a Joseph Kony, or their like, is an enviable virtue. I hope they preserve it. One suspects that you rarely hear such a question from, for example, a Supermax guard, because they work in surroundings saturated by evil. As for me, I have never seen evil on that scale, but I’ve seen and felt enough of the real deal to answer the innocent lamentation. The answer’s simple:

“You wouldn’t understand. Rejoice in that. I wish I didn’t.”


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