Some things are hard to wash off

Not that long ago millions of Iraqi men and women boldly took to the streets, eager to vote for freedom and a chance to shape their own lives, and proud to show off their purple fingers, dipped in die as a simple way to prevent voter fraud but also perfect for delivering a collective poke in the eye to terror and tyranny.

I try to remember their faces and fingers as the media machine clanks and hums, blowing smoke and steam into its depiction of gang warfare as a civil war. The purple fingers were not enough to prevent fraud of outrageous proportions; a small but deadly minority subverts the will of the people and the efforts of a fledgling government, intimidating the majority not just with violence but with the idea that the forces standing for Reason and Order will themselves be cowed and will again abandon the innocent to the protection of paper treaties holding back a cyclone of hate. The brutal few are aided by the symbiotic complicitness of foreign media and political elements with their own desire to overthrow a government and replace it with something less of a hindrance to its own thirst for power and right-thinking, regardless of the cost to a country as a whole. Small wonder there are those who wring their hands while they still may, and reach for the soap to remove the tincture.

There are some things you get on your hands, however, that can never be washed off, as Michael Yon reminds us in his post No Darker Heart:

A Killing Field, Cambodia
After the monsoon rains abate, the draining earth offers up fragments of clothing, human teeth and bones as final testimony of the restless, wronged dead. Murdered on this now sacred ground, thirty or more years ago, they are among the millions of souls sacrificed to a fevered ideology that was completely broken only a decade ago. The remains that seep up through the mud under my feet in this Killing Field are from a different war, but they echo a mournful reminder of how jarringly common it is for societies at war with themselves to descend into madness. Death squads under holy orders, suicide bombers in mosques, machete-wielding mobs in Rwanda, industrialized gas chambers in Europe, fire-breathing Janjaweed militias in Darfur, and here the tree named for its function as “killing tree against which executioners beat children.”

Powerful, philosophical memes, forever pulsing through human populations, are never far from pushing us to some brink. The best memes land people on the moon; they create more cures than afflictions, more freedoms than restrictions, more heroes than villains, more hope than despair. These memes tend to pump knowledge into the human mind rather than vacuum it out. Perhaps memes are just memes, philosophies just philosophies, mental scripts piled atop mental scripts much as we build upon the lands where our ancestors lived and died. I once spent two days coursing down the Mekong River deep into Laos, wondering who had gone before me, and how many times humans have reinvented the boat. Today, we walk across the bridges, a concept others imagined then built, and we walk along trails and routes that have lasted for centuries or millennia, all while making new connections. Some trails lead to Hell.

Despite that many paths are clearly marked “This fork to Hell: Take right fork to nicer place,” a herd inertia prevents stopping long enough to read the signs or heed the caution. Signs appear in many forms, but they are always there. Jets crashing into buildings, yellow stars on lapels, people disappearing into the night, mass graves appearing on the edge of town, official languages, and always, the silent assent of enough people greasing the sides of the slope: visit enough genocide memorials in Germany or Poland or here and the patterns of pathology present themselves.

Here in the sweltering jungles of Cambodia, the educated, cultural elite Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge denizens perpetrated horrors ranging from ripping off nipples with pliers to vivisection, all part of a master plan to create a Utopia cleansed of all impurities of Western influence. Although Cambodia had been an ally of the West, during Cambodia’s years of darkness the eyes of world leaders were studiously averted, providing complicit cover for a charismatic zealot to excavate along ancient cultural divides and exploit rich veins of resentment.

Read the whole thing.

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