I pick out a book on the trial of Adolf Eichmann. I have a vague notion of him as a Nazi war criminal, but no special interest in the guy. The book just happens to catch my eye, is all. I start to read and learn how this totally practical lieutenant colonel in the SS, with his metal-frame glasses and thinning hair, was, soon after the war started, assigned by Nazi headquarters to design a “final solution” for the Jews – extermination, that is – and how he investigated the best ways of actually carrying this out. Apparently it barely crossed his mind to question the morality of what he was doing. All he cared about was how best,in the shortest period of time and for the lowest possible cost,to dispose of the Jews. And we’re talking about eleven million Jews he figured needed to be eliminated in Europe.
Eichmann studied how many Jews could be packed into each railroad car, what percentage would die of “natural” causes while being transported, the minimal number of people needed to keep this operation going. The cheapest method of disposing of the dead bodies- – burning, or burying, or dissolving them. Seated at his desk Eichmann pored over all these numbers. Once he put it into operation, everything went pretty much according to plan. By the end of the war some six million Jews had been disposed of. Strangely, the guy never felt any remorse. Sitting in court in Tel Aviv, behind bulletproof glass, Eichmann looked like he couldn’t for the life of him figure out why he was being tried, or why the eyes of the world were upon him. He was just a technician, he insisted, who’d found the most efficient solution to the problem assigned him. Wasn’t he doing just what any good bureaucrat would do? So why was he being singled out and accused?
Sitting in the quiet woods with birds chirping all around me, I read the story of this practical guy. In the back of the book there’s a penciled note Oshima had written. His handwriting’s pretty easy to spot: It’s all a question of imagination. Our responsibility begins with the power to imagine. It’s just like Yeats said: In dreams begin responsibilities. Flip this around and you could say that where there’s no power to imagine, no responsibility can arise. Just like we see with Eichmann.
I try to picture Oshima sitting in this chair, his usual nicely sharpened pencil in hand, looking back over this book and writing down his impressions. In dreams begin responsibilities. The words hit home.
I shut the book, lay it on my lap, and think about my own responsibility. I can’t help it. My white T-shirt was soaked in fresh blood. I washed the blood away with these hands, so much blood the sink turned red. I imagine I’ll be held responsible for all that blood. I try to picture myself being tried in a court, my accusers doggedly trying to pin the blame on me, angrily pointing fingers and glaring at me. I insist that you can’t be held responsible for some thing you can’t remember. I don’t have any idea what really took place, I tell them. But they counter with this: “It doesn’t matter whose dream it started out as, you have the same dream. So you’re responsible for whatever happens in the dream. That dream crept inside you, right down the dark corridor of your soul.”