Mandeville, LA – [Editor’s Note: Fr. Pokorsky hits upon themes I’ve covered hundreds of times in the last 7-8 years especially the mentality of Catholic men as sheep; blithely going along with the zeitgeist so as to keep the Netflix subscription and the 3 week family vacation well funded certainties while the fate of the souls who will participate is left to perfunctory Mass attendance if that even occurs; i.e. We’re all Nazis now. – Ed. M.C.]
The other day I found myself pondering a WWII photograph. It’s a famous picture, maybe you’ve seen it. A German soldier is about to execute a Jewish prisoner and the body of the prisoner will soon tumble into a mass grave. About a dozen soldiers are looking on. The facial expression of the executioner is not particularly cruel but it is matter-of-fact. The face of the prisoner, a split second before the soldier would pull the trigger, is angry and defiant. The prisoner doesn’t look like a very nice man.
I zoomed in to view the faces of the bystanders. They are all soldiers, but they could have been people like you and me. I didn’t see expressions of horror. I didn’t see any of them averting their eyes. Nobody is weeping or expressing distress. And if any of them are praying they are keeping their religion to themselves. Individually, they look like they could be very nice people.
A couple of soldiers appear curious and attentive. One is stretching his neck to get a better look. Others seem to be bored. But all eyes are on the scene of the impending execution—a bullet in the back of the head. There’s a time for war, and there’s a time for peace, and there’s even time for entertainment. And this is high entertainment in the execution of Jews in the midst of the prison camp boredom. Taken as a whole, I saw sheep.
After the war many of the soldiers probably lived happily ever after, allowing for the pain of reconstruction. In time, what they witnessed and what they did likely became distant memories. Perhaps they could take comfort in saying to themselves that at least they did not pull the trigger. Or they pulled the trigger with reluctant necessity. Life in the close quarters of Army barracks can be uncomfortable if there are divisive and polarizing views. Disrupting the process wouldn’t be nice. It’s nicer to have unity in the community, as spectators, allowing the cruelties of war to go without comment.
After pondering the picture for about ten minutes, I averted my eyes. As I said, the image isn’t particularly horrifying. The soldier had yet to pull the trigger, but I had a thought that became difficult to bear. The more I pondered the faces, the more I was able to see my own face among those soldiers. I saw the faces of my parishioners among them as well. Except for the angry face of the prisoner, they looked like nice people and we’re nice people. We are also sheep. – Father Jerry Pokorsky, Being Nice Isn’t Good Enough