A few years ago I was traveling in a remote part of South America, a spot where the jungles blur the borders so that I can’t really say if we were in Brazil or Paraguay. We were traveling by boat and one member of our party fell overboard and was attacked by savage biting fish.
There were no hospitals or clinics or regular doctors in the region but our guides spoke of some person who had medicine two days away, one day in the canoes, then another on foot.
The second day was virtually hallucinogenic. My companion was feverish and raving. He was had to be carried on a makeshift stretcher and I was, on and off, one of his stretcher bearers. The track was narrow and difficult, the heat was intense, the insects were ferocious and my fear of jungle creatures and tropical diseases and for my friend nearly overwhelmed me.
Then this bastion of civilization – or should I say Europeanization - appeared. It was a plantation with a mowed lawn and a large house that had square corners, glass windows, screens, fresh paint and a generator that produced electricity. The owner was a very, very old man. He introduced himself as Frederich Hoffmann and seemed delighted to have American visitors in any condition whatsoever. He was German and when he found out that I was a writer he couldn’t do enough for us.
We struck up a friendship and remained in contact, at first by mail and then later, when he got satellite phone service, by email.
He had a great admiration for high culture and he desperately craved educated conversation, so the fact that he chose to live in such isolation, along with his age and nationality, gave rise to certain suspicions about his past. I could never bring myself to ask him about it and the matter was never mentioned, until Tuesday when I got this email from him.
Is it safe? Is it truly safe now?
I have read on the Internet that it is now the policy of the United States that there is no liability for so called ‘war crimes’ if a person was only following orders.
Of course that should be so. I have waited fifty years for this moment when the light of good sense would dawn over mankind.
That would have been my defense at Nuremberg. You are too young to remember, but the Tribunal there would not even let us use that defense. They said it was up to the individual to stand up to orders that were criminal. Can you imagine if I had said “no” to our leader? Nor should anyone say “no” to your leader, Mr. Bush.
Also, we never performed our experiments on anyone for the purpose of inflicting pain. Believe me, I am a doctor, I got no pleasure from their pain. The reason we were putting the subjects in ice water to see how fast they froze was to help defend the homeland, after all we had men fighting on the Russian front and it was important to know this. Mr. Rumsfeld and his lawyers seem to understand that such behavior is not torture because the purpose was not to inflict pain but to gather necessary information.
Believe me, if these defenses had been available to me in 1946 I would never have gone into hiding. It is ridiculous, as you can see, that I should ever have had to go into hiding over such so called war crimes.
I am very pleased that America has finally woken up. I knew the day would come. After all, it is only logical.
At last, I can return to civilization, civilization is ready for me again.
Forgive an old man his doubts and hesitation. I write to ask you if it is true, if the newspapers, which I read on the net, actually got it right, and that it is true that today, in America, they understand that no man is a criminal if he was only following orders.
Dr. Frederich Hoffmann
(when I arrive I will tell you my real name.)
Larry Beinhart is a screenwriter and an author who lives in Woodstock, NY. He is best known for American Hero which became Wag the Dog. His newest book is "The Librarian," a political thriller.