Hitler's rise to power was legal in terms of majority rule and neither he nor Stalin could have maintained the leadership of large populations, survived many interior and exterior crises, and braved the numerous dangers of relentless intra-party struggles if they had not had the confidence of the masses.
Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism
My father owned a gun. Every now and then, I glimpse the gun in his hand. For how long he was a gun owner, I don't know. Neither could I have known or, for that matter, understood, what he thought of himself as he sat on the edge of my parents' bed cradling the hand gun so close to his chest. It's a surviving memory. This one time of one too many times: my baby brother sibling, less than a year old, lies to one side of my father while, on one side, sits the family's phone. I've come to stand at the open bedroom door because I heard the word "kill."
Out of the corner of my eye, my mother comes into view. She's walking pass me. Stopping at the bedroom door--is she screaming? His finger is on the trigger. I see the profile of the gun in the foreground of the chest of the inebriated man.
It's 1966 or 1967. I'm 12 or 13 years old. I'm already running past the apartment door and out the vestibule. I'm running toward 61 st street where there's a phone booth. I'm a girl, on the south side of Chicago, and, even if it's well past midnight, I've been taught to run as if on cue. So I invested my whole being, for brief time, to appeasing violence.
A few years later, my uncle, having graduated from the police academy, is now a member of the sheriff of police. At home, he has taken to calling us "civilians," as he walks around us while we sit, listening to him recall his day on the Force. To this day, I'm not sure if my uncle began calling us, his mother, my mother, his sister, me, his niece, "civilians" before or after he was shot in the chest by some gun-toting suspect in an ambush. (My uncle survived and continued with the sheriff of police until retirement).
Even if I never see the gun, his gun, I hear the word that designates us, family members, other.
Another uncle, drafted by the US Army, served in the Korean war. In combat. He managed to survive two terms. When he returned, this uncle, a poet, lover of books, classical music, and Jazz, shut himself off from us. Periodically, he would step out of his room, try to express something that was so inarticulate as to appear to me (a child still) surreal. Were there words uttered? Screams? What is happening when he raises a chair above his head?
Staying in place, we didn't breathe. It will be over soon enough. My uncle returned to his room. Slam the door"
We didn't know about PTSD or drugs. We didn't know what he had seen in Korea, among the people, among members of his own unit? His band of brothers? What atrocities he had seen or had to participate in? What did he think of his country? Of himself?