Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Boxing Day

I had to work the day after Christmas, and after work, I decided to treat myself to the yummy Chicken Curry - half on french fries, half on rice - at Kinsale Tavern.

Kinsale is a neighborhood Irish bar on the Upper East Side, a few blocks away from the lower lip of Spanish Harlem. Despite the fact that I moved to Brooklyn three years ago, I occasionally make the trek because it's that kind of warm neighborhood bar. Most nights, that is.

It wasn't particularly crowded the day after Christmas. I was eating my dinner when I began to overhear the conversation at the end of the bar. The reason I could overhear it is because the people were screaming at each other. "I think you are a Nazi pig!" a lady screeched. She didn't mean this rhetorically, but literally. A German gentleman at the bar was trying to explain why his countrymen got a bad rap for WWII, and the lady, whose family had to emigrate from Europe to Puerto Rico to avoid Hitler's armies, was having none of it. Loudly having none of it. The German gentleman tried the emotional appeal, saying that his father was killed fighting the communists and that he's tired of Germans getting blamed for everything.

As both the pitch and the volume of their argument grew, I thought: is this still controversial? Isn't it a given that the Third Reich was, you know, wrong? Not just misunderstood, not an example of relative ethics, but genuinely bad. It's not like the man was denying the Holocaust - their argument hadn't even gotten that far. Did he really expect to get a sympathetic hearing in an Irish bar in New York City?

The fact that his argument's thesis was the emotional and personal (father killed not only needlessly, but fighting for the wrong side) pretty much guarantees that shouting would eventually play a part in the debate. Still, despite the fact that I probably disagree with everything he would say, I can't help but be touched by the fact that this old man is still upset at the death of his father more than 60 years ago. Old grudges never die, in which case I guess he does make sense that he was in an Irish bar. My friend Tammy worked with Bosnian refugees and discovered that people are still angry about wrongs committed before World War I.

I found it interesting that the gentleman kept mentioning that his father and the Germans were fighting "the communists." Not the Russians or Soviets, mind you, but the communists. Every other group in the discussion was referred to by their nationality: Germans, Americans, the French. But the Russians were only referred to by their economic system, a propagandist play for sympathy. Had there been any Russians present, I'm sure the argument would have been even louder, and I certainly wouldn't have blamed them. I wouldn't want to be referred to as a capitalist rather than as an American.

So the yelling went on and the bartender didn't step in until people began cursing. Then "enough" was declared and everyone took their last cheap shots ("I should know better than to ever discuss politics with a woman"). Old nationalist resentments continue on.

What was I doing while all this was this was going on? I was reading all about "The Carol Burnett Show" in TV's Grooviest Variety Shows Of The 60s And 70s because I'm an American.


Julie said...

While I completely agree that Nazis suck, it makes me feel sad and not very hopeful for mankind when I hear exchanges like that. While some atrocities should never be forgotten or even necessarily even forgiven, this woman's hatred of a German who was too young to participate in anything that happened is the same hatred that urges people to war hundreds or even thousands of years after an event.

Erin said...

"As both the pitch and the volume of their argument grew, I thought: is this still controversial?"

Apparently, it is. One of the people I work with was wearing an army-green coat. One of my co-workers joked that it looked like a "Hitler coat." The guy wearing the coat was not amused. I also remember Price Harry wearing the Nazi uniform to a party (that must have been some party), and catching tons of shit for it in the papers. It seems that the subject is still so sensitive, you can't joke about it or discuss it without someone coming down on you.

But the real question is: how was the chicken?

Anonymous said...

Hi, John,

I haven't checked on "The Hanged Man" for quite a while. Mainly, because I was too busy with moving, preparing for Thanksgiving and Christmas, etc. My apologies.
Actually, the fact that people do not forget their grudges makes sense. How are you going to have a good war or ethnic cleansing unless people can trot out something that happened 100 to 1000 years ago? Lord, if we all tried to get along with our counterparts in other civilizations, well, what would happen to the munitions business in the world?
Of course, I do have to admit, as a person of mostly Irish descent I have never really forgiven the English for their treatment of the Irish. But, by the same token, I don't really want a war with them.
Anyway, it must have been a very interesting evening.
Love you,