Reading “Night” by Elie Wiesel

I have always known about the book, but I dared not opening it for fear that it would change me.

Today, my fear has just caught up with me: I could not finish my bread without thinking, what if I had been in that concentration camp, with other prisoners around me. Would they let me finish my breakfast unharmed? How did we turn to be that way? Who allowed it to happen? Why did it take that long for good men to come to the rescue? Will humanity be able to look at itself in the mirror? Every act that we now consider indecent is pale in comparison.

It’s not that I was naive about our human condition. I saw it first hand when volunteering as a relief worker in the South China Sea. I sat next to victims of piracy. Cannibalism not by choice but by default. Rape victim. Ship captain turned captive.

In short, an upside-down social order, all co-located in a very tight quarter of then heavily populated Hong Kong Peninsula.

This was 6 years after I had lived through similar condition, sleeping in barracks, “last night in Subic Bay”, “last night in Wake Island”, “last night in Indiantown Gap” etc… Like Elie, I understood and looked at Darkness via my innocent eyes.

He was 15 then. I was 19.

Don’t tell me kids look so “angelic”, “adorable” etc… Keep dreaming.

Don’t tell me some priests, the Pope, and the President are saints. Keep on dreaming.

Don’t tell me football coach – defensive that was – tried to do good to juveniles he took into the Beaver Stadium lockers.

And don’t tell me the banks are safe, that flights are a sure thing. That Ivy League schools open the heavenly gate.

That mortgage debts are Triple A’s rated. That Richard Nixon did not curse, or Howard Hughes did not screw call girls.

Don’t tell me TIME magazine reporter during war-time was working for just one side.

And that the American Dream is more real than the Chinese Dream.

We might have evolved to a higher state over the last 200,000 years, inventing the wheel and the watch (Swiss to Apple), but we are still the same dormant and dual nature.

Yes. I am capable of both. So are you.

From morning til “Night”, we are forced to put on those make-ups and masks.

We tolerate one another. We collaborate and compete, strengthen our alliances and weaken our enemies (by slitting their spies’ throats) etc…

We kidnapped school girls, forcing them to be our concubines.

We invented the A  bomb and the beta semiconductor.

We distract ourselves with the things of our own making, among them, our own images.

We have stepped into that self-invented role, with new twists to the script.

Had that script been set in Auschwitz and Buchenwald in 1944–1945, are we sure we can live to tell the truth about ourselves, are we sure we can still look at ourselves in the mirror?

I know quite a few South Vietnamese who fled at the end of the war with their unsubstantiated claims of heroism (while the SS perpetrators went underground in Venezuela shores somewhere in complete anonymity).

We look at our shadow in the cave, and become content with our own edited version.

Then, when “night” came, our last night at such and such place, we no longer recognize where we are, or who we are, for that matter.

I have always been afraid of touching that book, for fear of what I would find out about myself. Now it’s your turn. Your night!


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