Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Podcatching: Radiolab - Nazi Summer Camp


As I get older my empathy and ability to see complexity in the most horrible situations has grown. I'm guessing that's what people have always referred to as "maturity." Not to say this is an easy thing, either. Today I heard something that really illustrated these complexities and what it means to be human in what is a very usual place by now: Radiolab. This time it was the recent episode Nazi Summer Camp, about how the US treated Nazi prisoners of war. You can listen to it here, (if I did this right, bear with me).

The story takes several turns between ominous, feel good, comical and upsetting. Ultimately, it draws clear parallels to today and never shies away from the more disturbing historical aspects of our country. I think the biggest lesson is how the only thing that really keeps us in check and doing what is "morally right" are rules, not lofty ideals or socially agreed upon contracts, but hard, written down rules. The only problem with that is who writes those rules and what if someone changes them? It's disturbing to say the least. I'm not a fan of being told what I can and can't do, but I am also not a fan of mob rule or might is right, which due to human nature seem to be the result of extreme hands off governance. And yet, it's not like people won't still break the rules anyway. It's a delicate balance. And it's a discussion that is probably for another place, another blog. I don't know.

Overall, it's about why we decide to be better than those that maybe don't deserve it. Do we do unto others because we are afraid they'll do worse unto us? Or do we do unto others out of a sense of maintaining our own humanity, regardless of what they may do. And also, are POWs really responsible for the decisions of their leaders? Again, these are big questions that I certainly can't answer, and I'm not sure there are definite answers.

The main take away from this episode for me though is the same as it is for most of the best Radiolab episodes I've heard: How is this not a movie? It's a question that was echoing in my head, and honestly, out loud in my car, at several points as I heard it. This story is pretty much perfectly laid out in the podcast, with villains and turns and big revelations. I can't seem to find much about a possible movie except for a TV movie called The Incident. The website for this movie has tons of information on this whole topic, if you're interested.

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