Friday, April 9, 2010

Erger dan dood kan toch niet

Chapter 13 is a long chapter about a short period of time, from 1945-1950. The title comes from a discussion about death being a taboo subject for some, but a daily reality of life in the camps. The quote comes from Gjalt Mak, one of the siblings. "You can't get worse than dead."

During the war, the Mak children lost a lot of respect for grown-ups. Like their father, they had seen the pettiness of camp life and didn't like it.

What happened to them started me wondering about the nature of war. Other than Pearl Harbor, America went to war. Everyone who came back was a hero. The heroic homefront and the heroic troops accepted each other's stories. By contrast, the Netherlands and the Indies were overrun. All were overtaken together. People of all different social standings saw each other crack under pressure. Mistakes and heroism cut across all lines. Unlike the American situation, there was no chance to regroup and iron things out before celebrating victory.

Adjustment was hard for the Maks, as they went from the Indies to the Netherlands. When they arrived, someone said, "You're from the Indies, but you're not brown!" They were restless in a way, and what they had lived through had overwhelmed many of the standard answers that society gives. Some problems were just too big. What is described has the feel of descriptions I have read of Stig Dagerman's work, where people are struggling to make sense of what happened in their own terms, because the old standard terms have failed.

The experience of camp life stalked the Maks in terms of illness also. Their mother got very sick in 1948. Hans was sick for most of the voyage to the Netherlands, and he was ill afterwards. It turned out he had a kidney ailment. Antibiotics, which were then new, helped. Years later, he got a transplant from his brother, Cas.

For Catrinus Mak, readjusting to the Netherlands was also hard. He put his whole being into his ministry. It seems that the war was a high point for him. He not only preached the Gospel, but lived it. Back in the Netherlands, he came home to a schism within his own church. Two factions defined by optimism, pessimism, and different positions regarding baptism were at each other's throats. They had been patched together by Abraham Kuyper decades earlier, but this was it. What is even more appalling is that the schism started in 1944 of all years. It sounds very disheartening.

Still, Catrinus kept working too hard and let his family life slip out from under him. His only drive was to preach, and he was oblivious to his wife's overwork.

These were also the years of decolonization. Although there were treaties with Indonesia starting in 1947, there was a police action aimed at Communist factions. The Mak children listened intently to reports of the war.

At the time, the Netherlands had a strong emotional connection to the Indies, but really didn't know much about it. Churches sent their missionaries and so on. It was ons Indiƫ in many ways. The special forces ran amok. It made me wonder how much of special forces is a high level of training and competency and how much is fighting wars the old way of no quarter. Geert Mak points out that the government was able to make their story look good back home.

Finally, technology was coming in. In the late 40s, the phone was for local calls. Long distance was possible, but rarely used. When their grandmother Van der Molen got sick for the last time, their grandfather wrote everyone a letter.

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