So, there’s this woman who is sort of on the periphery of my scene; she’s married to a friend of a friend, basically. I see her a couple times a month. She is well-educated and a good storyteller, and at first I thought she was kind of fun, although she’s a terrible egotist. If she’s not the center of a conversation she drifts away, and she likes to drown people out. Not fatal flaws though.
The other day I was in a conversation with her and others, and the topic turned to the Korean crisis. I mentioned that I felt very bad for the North Korean people because of the starvation in their country and the government they’ve got: totalitarian and insane is a rotten mix. But particularly the starvation: the numbers aren’t hard, but it seems that hundreds of thousands if not millions of people are at risk of death at any time.
She responded in a very dismissive way that they deserved their fate. “Any people who can’t overthrow their government under those conditions deserve their fate” was her line. She repeated this twice, a bit more loudly each time.
I was shocked. I asked her if she really had though this through. Let’s say five hundred thousand people die of starvation. Did anyone really deserve that fate? How easy is it to rebel in a totalitarian state? Had she been there?
She responded again, in a very dogmatic way, that peoples who cannot overthrow a bad government are responsible and deserving of whatever troubles they get, up to and including death. I said that was beyond my ethical reach; I couldn’t ever say that any huge group of people like that deserved collective punishment by a painful death. I was really upset by this time.
Her reply was “Well, I’m a historian. History tells us that people choose their government and their fate.” Literally with a dismissive wave, as if historians were anointed by God to dispense moral judgment on populations. I said “Well, I’m an educated person too, and I’ve read lots of books, but I have ethical limits.”
Two weeks later I’m still angry about this. Really angry. I saw her tonight and she was going on and on about how Europeans are irrelevant or something else equally offensive and inane.
I wanted to say to her, and maybe I’ll have the cojones to say it next time: “Hey you know what? You’re rich, privileged, arrogant, and morally vacant. History tells us that you’re the last decayed remnant of a dying empire and that your high-handed racist hand-waving at the miseries of millions will be an example of evil to the schoolchildren of tomorrow. Enjoy the legacy, you stuck-up little bitch.”
Bonus points: she’s a high school teacher.