Dispatch From Germany, Part II
We have made our way from Frankfurt over to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a Disney-charming, remarkably preserved medieval village dating to the 12th century. It is ringed by the picturesque Tauber River, which we can clearly see from our hotel balcony, and nestled quaintly among the surrounding hills.
When the Thirty Years War of the 17th century devestated most of Germany, this place was fortunately spared, and, thereby, frozen in time instead of updated and modernized with successive waves of cultural development. Its cottages and cobblestones make an excellent setting for postcard-perfect German scenery.
But, I was shaken from this pastoral reverie with today's visit to a museum of medieval criminal justice. The museum houses one of the most extensive collection of medieval torture implements in the world. It's one thing to see this stuff in movies, quite another to look at it right in front of you. The cruelest and crudest devices for wresting confessions from suspects were on display for perfectly cultured and refined people like us to view: racks, ropes, cranks, pulleys, pinchers, gallows, stocks, belts, balls, chains. It was a graphic presentation of human barbarism, an ample justification for why historians refer to those ages in our human story as "dark." As we were all wincing and grimmacing, we were thinking: thank God we don't practice justice so primitively today.
Then, I got back to my hotel room and turned on CNN to see, once again, the now-famous cell phone footage of Saddam Hussein's final seconds, and realized that the continuum between what happened then and what happens now is not all that long, that our contemporary moral superiority isn't justified after all, and that eras like medieval and modern and post-modern may be different with regard to what we drive or how we dress, but not so different in how perfectly civilized people still insist on killing people who kill people-- even murdurous beasts like Saddam-- to show that killing people is wrong.