Jewish World Review June 4, 2002 / 23 Sivan, 5762

Stanley Crouch

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http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | While all manner of symbolic gestures might be made to attempt to reduce the grief of those who lost family or beloved friends Sept. 11, I doubt that such gestures will lead to closure or help those grieving get on with their lives.

I say this because it seems to me that mass murderers are far better at putting things behind them - of getting perspective - than those who suffer the response of grief to those killings. The great villains are as good as people can get at having closure or getting on with their lives.

In the winter of 1864, a U.S. Army officer, one Maj. Chivington, who was dedicated to the extermination of Indians, led his troops to slaughter a few hundred who were peacefully camped at Sand Creek, Colo. Two-thirds of the murdered were women and children. When the bloody scalps of the dead were put on poles and brought from the wings onto the stage of the Apollo Theater in Denver, the audience stood, clapping, cheering and whistling.

Geronimo, an Apache who butchered with great determination and glee, never expressed any contrition about the bloodstains on his reputation. Take a look at those Nazis during the Nuremberg trials that followed World War II and the discoveries of the death factories in which millions of Jews had been gassed and incinerated. The charges of crimes against humanity seem to concern them less than what their chances might be of slipping the noose.

Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, who may have ordered the murders of as many as 20 million people, always appeared pretty calm and satisfied with himself. There is no record of his being haunted by the ghosts of his victims the way Shakespeare's Macbeth was. He would get paranoid every now and then, but he could calm himself by standing his regime up to its neck in blood for whatever amount of time it took to relax again.

When they finally got their hands on Pol Pot, he was no more than an old man in sandals, seated and fanning himself. No blood-filled cloud of memory seemed to float above his head. The millions who died as part of his plan to rebuild Cambodia fell only because they were untrustworthy obstacles to a brave, new world.

Of course you must recall Osama Bin Laden and his boys, laughing and giggling about how good G-d had been to them by delivering so much more than they ever expected was possible Sept. 11.

The Indians who survived Sand Creek, the Jews who lost so many to what the Nazis termed the final solution, the Russians who made it through Stalin's purges, those Cambodians whose gloomy books we now read have much in common with those grieving for lives lost Sept. 11.

They suffered the kinds of losses that ceremony will not remove the memory of or make sense of or be able to reduce to the silent condition of a scar that one always forgets having until seeing it in the mirror.

As a people always trying to deepen our civilized understanding of others, we must support them in almost anything that is rational. But we should never forget that when those murders have slipped out of our minds, there will be thousands in whom the horror remains as real as it was the day it happened.

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JWR contributor and cultural icon Stanley Crouch is a columnist for The New York Daily News. He is the author of, among others, The All-American Skin Game, Or, the Decoy of Race: The Long and the Short of It, 1990-1994,       Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, and Don't the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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