I research a lot. For stories, for work, out of curiosity, out of sheer boredom. Believe me when I tell you that half the time you’ll find my nose either in a book or several websites while my brain is going haywire inside my skull.
However, lately the fun of research has shown that this coin has two sides… The topics I currently research for work have nothing in common with the exciting things I spent hours reading about the last couple of years. There are no tombs full of undiscovered treasure, hidden somewhere in the Amazon. There are no potential sight lines that, once discovered, might give a whole new purpose to Samnitic temples. And there are no psychological phenomenons involved that need explaining. The only thing I have seen in the last few days are documentaries on genocides, and that ain’t no picnic…
When I was 20, my father and I (both history geeks) visited Ieper and surroundings. Other people go to Belgium to visit cultural hubs like Antwerp and Brussel, or go hiking or biking in the Ardennes. Not my father and me, we went onto a history tour that involved some of the world’s bloodiest battlefields; those of the Great War.
Of course I know the Great War, also known as World War 1, happened. And of course I know it costed so many lives, the numbers seem immeasurable, but knowing and realising are two completely different things. So when I visited Tyne Cot cemetery several years ago, I felt crushed. Row after row after row of white tombstones. So many unidentified people lying under them. So many lives lost in a war that just makes little to no sense to everyone who can form rational thoughts.
And then it hits me… Only 30 years later, some people decided to do this all over again. Because it worked out so well the first time.
That was the past, but this week reality once again punched me square in the jaw. It was for work, I needed to research several topics. Modern genocide and Holocaust denial. Believe me, those are not topics you want to research on an empty stomach. After watching the horrors of Darfur, Rwanda, Srebrenica, the Yezidi’s, Rohingya, I got to enjoy very scary politicians yelling racial slurs and worshiping the ideology of the nazi’s. And while trying to stay as objective as humanly possible, I felt every little bit of faith I once held in humanity crumble to dust. My thoughts wandered to that moment with my dad. To all those graves that I saw, witnessed. I felt again felt the realisation that I could never comprehend what someone might have thought when they plunged themselves and millions of others in such a devastating war.
And then I hit the final crush, which would leave my believe in anything good in shatters: people betraying their own. Mothers who turned in their husbands and children to regimes, knowing fully well they would never come home again. Neighbours turning against neighbours. Friends not turning their backs to each other, but plunging knives in each other’s hearts. Poison of Alice Cooper never seemed such a good choice for music as in that single moment. The present has learned nothing from the past, and at this point I’m not sure the future will learn either… I hope to be proven wrong soon…