Please Bow at the Sniper Shrine

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Lew, we watched Katyn last night (streaming from Netflix, natch), a brilliant move about the Soviet extermination of 20,000 Polish officers in WW II. When the mass graves were discovered in Katyn Forest, Stalin immediately blamed it on his former ally Hitler, of course. The movie is riveting in its portrayal of the psychological tsunami inflicted on the survivors — and classics majors will marvel in old-fashioned awe at the brilliant reference (you have to watch closely not to miss the placard) to the university’s upcoming performance of Antigone and its vital role in the subplot.

But most harrowing of all was the machine-like precision with which two Soviet soldiers would drag one Polish officer after another from a truck to the edge of a mass grave, while a third would calmly put a bullet through his head while chatting with his comrade. Twenty thousand times. The depths of depravity and loss of human qualities stunned me and haunted me all night  — and then I awoke to read your post recounting the saccharine coating that the Telegraph bestows on man’s inhumanity to man in this century. The irony is this: man-victim is perceived to be less human, and thus less worthy of life, than the man-shooter — when in fact the “eager, engaging, laid back, calm” professionals have apparently long since been emptied of their humanity. But we celebrate it in an “ally” (ah yes, those Soviets were our “allies” too, were they not?)

Three images come to mind: Pope Benedict recently condemned (yet again) violence perpetrated in God’s name; Solzhenitsyn observed that falsehood always brings violence in its wake; and in 1984’s Ministry of Love, Inner-Party torturer O’Brien is recognized by torture-ee Winston, who says, “They got you too!”

“They got me a long time ago,” answers O’Brien, wearily.

The Telegraph fairly glows with sniper-lust:

“Osmond, 25, was an engaging, fast-talking enthusiast, eager to display his encyclopedic knowledge of every specification and capability of his equipment. He had stubbornly remained a rifleman because he feared that being promoted might lead to his being taken away from sniping, a job he loved and lived for. Potter, 30, was more laid back, projecting a calm professionalism and quiet confidence in the value of what he did.”

UPDATE: No, it is not surprising that the snipers dub a target wearing blue as a “Virgin Mary.” I do wonder if they characterize bearded victims as “Abe Lincolns.”

9:30 am on March 14, 2011